Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/March/Paper of Dr. Jos. Jones on causes of mortality

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Southern Historical Society Papers: Volume 1 Number 3  (1876)  by Joseph Jones
Paper of Dr. Jos. Jones on causes of mortality
Southern Historical Society Papers, March 1876

In reference to the causes of the mortality at Andersonville, we have the highest medical authority, testimony which the other side cannot impeach, for it was on his testimony (garbled and perverted, it is true) that they hung Captain Wirz. Dr. Joseph Jones, now a professor in the Medical College at New Orleans, and then one of the most distinguished surgeons in the Confederate service, was sent to Andersonville to inspect the prison and report on the causes of mortality at Andersonville. He has recently sent us a MS., from which we make the following extract:

Statement of Dr. Joseph Jones.

In the specification of the first charge against Henry Wirz, formerly Commandant of the interior of the Confederate States military prison at Andersonville, during his trial before a special Military Commission, convened in accordance with Special Orders No. 453, War Department, Adjutant-General's Office, Washington, August 23d, 1865, the following is written:

"And the said Wirz, still pursuing his wicked purpose and still aiding in carrying out said conspiracy, did use and cause to be used, for the pretended purpose of vaccination, impure and poisonous matter, which said impure and poisonous matter was then and there, by the direction and order of said Wirz, maliciously, cruelly and wickedly deposited in the arms of many of the said prisoners, by reason of which large numbers of them—to wit: one hundred—lost the use of their arms; and many of them—to wit: about the number of two hundred—were so injured that soon thereafter they died; all of which he, the said Henry Wirz, well knew and maliciously intended, and, in aid of the then existing rebellion against the United States, with the view of weakening and impairing the armies of the United States; and in furtherance of the said conspiracy, and with full knowledge, consent and connivance of his co-conspirators aforesaid, he, the said Wirz, then and there did."

Among the co-conspirators specified in the charges were the surgeon of the post, Dr. White, and the surgeon in charge of the military prison hospital, R. R. Stevenson, Surgeon C. S. A. As the vaccinations were made in accordance with the orders of the Surgeon-General, C. S. A., and of the medical officers acting under his command, the charge of deliberately poisoning the Federal prisoners with vaccine matter, is a sweeping one; and whether intended so or not, affects every medical officer stationed at that post; and it appears to have been designed to go farther, and to affect the reputation of every one who held a commission in the Medical Department of the Confederate army.

The acts of those who once composed the Medical Department of the Confederate army, from the efficient and laborious Surgeon-General to the regimental and hospital officers, need no defence at my hands. Time, with its unerring lines of historic truth, will embalm their heroic labors in the cause of suffering humanity, and will acknowledge their untiring efforts to ameliorate the most gigantic mass of human suffering that ever fell to the lot of a beleagured and distressed people.

The grand object of the trial and condemnation of Henry Wirz was the conviction and execution of President Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and other prominent men of the Confederacy, in order that "treason might be rendered forever odious and infamous."

In accordance with the direction of Dr. Samuel Preston Moore, formerly Surgeon-General, C. S. A., I instituted, during the months of August and September, 1864, a series of investigations on the diseases of the Federal prisoners confined in Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Georgia.

The report which I drew up for the use of the Medical Department of the Confederate army, contained a truthful representation of the sufferings of these prisoners, and at the same time gave an equally truthful view of the difficulties under which the medical officers labored, and of the distressed and beleaguered and desolated condition of the Southern States.

Shortly after the close of the civil war, this report, which had never been delivered to the Confederate authorities, on account of the destruction of all railroad communication with Richmond, Virginia, was suddenly seized by the agents of the United States Government conducting the trial of Henry Wirz. I have since learned that the United States authorities gained knowledge of the fact that I had inspected Andersonville through information clandestinely furnished by a distinguished member of the medical profession of the North, who, after the close of the war, had shared the hospitality of my own home.

It was with extreme pain that I contemplated the diversion of my labors, in the cause of medical science, from their true and legitimate object; and I addressed an earnest appeal, which accompanied the report, to the Judge-Advocate, Colonel N. P. Chipman, in which I used the following language:

"In justice to myself, as well as those most nearly connected with this investigation, I would respectfully call the attention of Colonel Chipman, Judge-Advocate, U. S. A., to the fact that the matter which is surrendered in obedience to the demands of a power from which there is no appeal, was prepared solely for the consideration of the Surgeon-General, C. S. A., and was designed to promote the cause of humanity and to advance the interests of the medical profession. This being granted, I feel assured that the Judge-Advocate will appreciate the deep pain which the anticipation gives me that these labors may be diverted from their original mission, and applied to the prosecution of criminal cases. The same principle which led me to endeavor to deal humanely and justly by these prisoners, and to make a truthful representation of their condition to the Medical Department of the Confederate States army, now actuates me in recording my belief that as far as my knowledge extends, there was no deliberate or willful design on the part of the Chief Executive, Jefferson Davis, and the highest authorities of the Confederate Government to injure the health and destroy the lives of these Federal prisoners. On the 21st of May, 1861, it was enacted by the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 'that all prisoners of war taken, whether on land or sea, during the pending hostilities with the United States, should be transferred by the captors, from time to time, as often as convenient, to the Department of War; and it should be the duty of the Secretary of War, with the approval of the President, to issue such instructions to the Quartermaster-General and his subordinates as shall provide for the safe custody and sustenance of prisoners of war; and the rations furnished prisoners of war shall be the same in quantity and quality as those furnished enlisted men in the army of the Confederacy.' By act of February 17th, 1864, the Quartermaster-General was relieved of this duty, and the Commissary-General of Subsistence was ordered to provide for the sustenance of prisoners of war. According to General Orders No. 159, Adjutant and Inspector-General's office, 'Hospitals for prisoners of war are placed on the same footing as other Confederate States hospitals in all respects, and will be managed accordingly.'

"The Federal prisoners were removed to southwestern Georgia in the early part of 1864, not only to secure a place of confinement more remote than Richmond and other large towns from the operations of the United States forces, but also 'to secure a more abundant and easy supply of food.' As far as my experience extends, no person who had been reared on wheat bread, and who was held in captivity for any length of time, could retain his health and escape either scurvy or diarrhœa, if confined to the Confederate ration (issued to the soldiers in the field and hospital) of unbolted corn meal and bacon. The large armies of the Confederacy suffered more than once from scurvy; and as the war progressed, secondary hemorrhage and hospital gangrene became fearfully prevalent from the deteriorated condition of the systems of the troops, dependent on the prolonged use of salt meat; and but for the extra supplies received from home, and from the various State benevolent institutions, scurvy and diarrhœa and dysentery would have been still farther prevalent.

"It was believed by the citizens of the Southern States that the Confederate authorities desired to effect a continuous and speedy exchange of prisoners of war in their hands on the ground that the retention of these soldiers in captivity was a great calamity, not only entailing heavy expenditure of the scanty means of subsistence, already insufficient to support their suffering, half-starved, half-clad and unpaid armies, struggling in the field with overwhelming numbers, and embarrassing their imperfect and dilapidated lines of communication, but also as depriving them of the services of a veteran army, fully equal to one-third the number actively engaged in the field; and the history of subsequent events have shown that the retention in captivity of the Confederate prisoners was one of the efficient causes of the final and complete overthrow of the Confederate Government.  *   *   *   *  It is my honest belief that if the exhausted condition of the Confederate Government—with its bankrupt currency—with its retreating and constantly diminishing armies—with the apparent impossibility of filling up the vacancies by death and desertion and sickness, and of gathering a guard of reserves of sufficient strength to allow of the proper enlargement of the military prison and with a country torn and bleeding along all its borders—with its starving women and children and old men, fleeing from the desolating march of contending armies, crowding the dilapidated and overburdened railroad lines, and adding to the distress and consuming the poor charities of those in the interior, who were harassed by the loss of sons and brothers and husbands, and by the fearful visions of starvation and undefined misery—could be fully realized, much of the suffering of the Federal prisoners would be attributed to causes connected with the distressed condition of the Southern States."

The Judge-Advocate, N. P. Chipman, Colonel U. S. A., was not only deaf to this appeal, but in his final argument before the Military Commission, or so-called "Court," whilst excluding all portions of my testimony which related to the distressed condition of the Southern States, and the efforts of the medical officers and Confederate authorities to relieve the sufferings of these prisoners of war, deliberately endeavored to arouse the hatred of the entire North against the author of the report and the medical officers of the Confederate army. This statement will be manifest from the following quotation, which I extract from the "argument" of the Judge-Advocate before the "Court:"

"He had called into his counsels an eminent medical gentleman, of high attainments in his profession, and of loyalty to the Rebel Government unquestioned. Amid all the details in this terrible tragedy there seems to me none more heartless, wanton and void of humanity than that revealed by the Surgeon-General, to which I am about to refer. I quote now from the report of this same Dr. Joseph Jones, which he says (Record, p. 4384) was made in the interest of the Confederate Government for the use of the Medical Department, in the view that no eye would see it but that of the Surgeon-General.

"After a brief introduction to his report, and to show under what authority it was made, he quotes a letter from the Surgeon-General, dated Surgeon-General's office, Richmond, Virginia, August 6th, 1864. The letter is addressed to Surgeon I. H. White, in charge of the Hospital for Federal prisoners, Andersonville, Georgia, and is as follows:

'"Sir—the field of pathological investigation afforded by the large collection of Federal prisoners in Georgia is of great extent and importance, and it is believed that results of value to the profession may be obtained by careful examination of the effects of disease upon a large body of men subjected to a decided change of climate and the circumstances peculiar to prison life. The surgeon in charge of the hospital for Federal prisoners, together with his assistants, will afford every facility to Surgeon Joseph Jones in the prosecution of the labors ordered by the Surgeon-General. The medical officers will assist in the performance of such post mortems as Dr. Jones may indicate, in order that this great field for pathological investigation may be explored for the benefit of the Medical Department of the Confederate States armies.

"'S. P. Moore, Surgeon-General.'

"Pursuant to his orders, Dr. Jones, as he tells us, proceeded to Andersonville, and on September 17th received the following pass:

"’Andersonville, September 17th, 1864.

"'Captain—You will permit Surgeon Joseph Jones, who has orders from the Surgeon-General, to visit the sick within the stockade that are under medical treatment. Surgeon Jones is ordered to make certain investigations which may prove useful to his profession.

"'By order of General Winder.

"'Very respectfully,

"'W. S. Winder A.A.G.

"'Captain H. Wirz, Commanding Prison.'

"When we remember that the Surgeon-General had been apprised of the wants of that prison, and that he had overlooked the real necessities of the prison, shifting the responsibility upon Dr. White, whom he must have known was totally incompetent, it is hard to conceive with what devilish malice, or criminal devotion to his profession, or reckless disregard of the high duties imposed upon him—I scarcely know which—he could sit down and deliberately pen such a letter of instructions as that given to Dr. Jones. Was it not enough to have cruelly starved and murdered our soldiers? Was it not enough to have tried to wipe out their very memories by burying them in nameless graves? Was it not enough to have instituted a system of medical treatment, the very embodiment of charlatanism? Was it not enough, without adding to the many other diabolical motives, which must have governed the perpetrators of these acts, this scientific object, as deliberate and cold-blooded as one can conceive? The Surgeon-General could quiet his conscience when the matter was laid before him, through Colonel Chandler, by endorsing that it was impossible to send medical officers to take the place of the contract physicians on duty at Andersonville; yet could select at the same time a distinguished gentleman of the medical profession and send him to Andersonville, directing the whole force of surgeons there to render him every assistance, leaving their multiplied duties for that purpose. Why? Not to alleviate the sufferings of the prisoners; not to convey to them one ounce more of nutritious food; to make no suggestions for the improvement of their sanitary condition; for no purpose of this kind, but, as the letter of instruction itself shows, for no other purpose than 'that this great field of pathological investigation may be explored for the benefit of the Medical Department of the Confederate armies!' The Andersonville prison, so far as the Surgeon-General was concerned, was a mere dissecting-room, a clinic institute, to be made tributary to the Medical Department of the Confederate armies."

The denunciations of the Judge-Advocate were leveled not merely against a defenceless prisoner of war, whose papers had been seized and himself dragged as a witness to this crucifixion of his native land, but they were sweeping in their character, and were designed to arraign the humanity, honesty and intelligence of the Surgeon-General and the entire corps of medical officers of the Confederate army.

This charge had the desired effect, and was reiterated even by eminent medical men in the North. Thus the son of the Vice-President of the United States, Dr. Augustus C. Hamlin, late Medical Inspector United States Army, Royal Antiquarian, etc., etc., in his "Martyria, or Anderson Prison" says:

"Here came a medical officer of the highest rank in the Rebel army, and one of the most eminent savans of the South,, to study the physiology and philosophy of STARVATION. The notes of that FEARFUL CLINIC are preserved, and may some future day startle the scientific world with their clearness, their candor, their positive evidence of the cause of deaths. Thus the scalpel silences the argument, the reasoning of sophistry."

A similar statement has been made by Dr. Austin Flint, Jr., in his recent work on the "Physiology of Man."

It was clearly demonstrated in my report that diarrhœa, dysentery, scurvy and hospital gangrene were the diseases which caused the mortality at Andersonville. And it was still farther shown that this mortality was referable, in no appreciable degree, to either the character of the soil, or waters, or the conditions of climate. The effects of salt meat and farinaceous food, without fresh vegetables, were manifest in the great prevalence of scurvy. The scorbutic condition thus induced modified the course of every disease, poisoned every wound, however slight, and lay at the foundation of those obstinate and exhausting diarrhœas and dysenteries which swept off thousands of these unfortunate men. By a long and painful investigation of the diseases of these prisoners, supported by numerous post mortem examinations, I demonstrated conclusively that scurvy induced nine-tenths of the deaths. Not only were the deaths registered as due to unknown causes, to appoplexy, to anascarca, and to debility, directly traceable to scurvy and its effects; and not only was the mortality in small-pox and pneumonia and typhoid fever, and in all acute diseases, more than doubled by the scorbutic complaint, but even these all but universal and deadly bowel affections arose from the same causes, and derived their fatal characters from the same conditions which produced the scurvy. It has been well established by the observations of Blanc, Pare, Lind, Woodall, Huxham, Hunter, Trotter and others, that this scorbutic condition of the system, especially in crowded camps, ships, hospitals and beleaguered cities is most favorable to the origin and spread of fatal ulcers and hospital gangrene.

By the official reports of the medical officers of both the English and French armies, during the Crimean war, it was conclusively shown that notwithstanding the extraordinary exertions of these powerful nations, holding undisputed sway of both land and sea, scurvy and a scorbutic condition of the blood increased to a fearful degree the mortality, not only of gunshot wounds, but of all diseases, and especially of pneumonia, diarrhœa and dysentery. I have recorded numerous incontrovertible facts to show that the scorbutic ulcers and hospital gangrene, and the accidents from vaccination arising at Andersonville, were by no means new in the history of medicine, and that the causes which induced these distressing affections have been active in all wars and sieges, and amongst all armies and navies.

In truth, these men at Andersonville were in the condition of a crew at sea—confined on a foul ship, upon salt meat, and unvarying food, and without fresh vegetables. Not only so, but these unfortunate prisoners were like men forcibly confined and crowded upon a ship tossed about on a stormy ocean—without a rudder, without a compass, without a guiding star, and without an apparent boundary or end to their voyage; and they reflected in their steadily increasing miseries the distressed condition and waning fortunes of a desolated and bleeding country, which was compelled, in justice to her own unfortunate sons, to hold their men in this most distressing captivity.

The Federal prisoners received the same rations, in kind, quality and amount, issued to Confederate soldiers in the field. These rations were, during the last eighteen months of the war, insufficient, and without that variety of fresh meat and vegetables, which would ward off scurvy, from soldiers as well as prisoners. As far as my experience extended, no body of troops could be confined exclusively to the Confederate rations of 1864 and 1865, without manifesting symptoms of the scurvy.

The Confederate rations grew worse and worse as the war progressed, and as portion after portion of the most fertile regions of the Confederate States were overrun and desolated by the Federal armies. In the straitened condition of the Confederate States, the support of an army of one hundred thousand prisoners, forced on their hands by a relentless policy, was a great and distressing burden, which consumed their scant resources, burdened their rotten lines of railroad, and exhausted the overtaxed energies of the entire country, crowded with refugees from their desolated homes.

The Confederate authorities charged with the exchange of prisoners used every effort in their power, consistent with their views of national honor and rectitude, to effect an exchange of all prisoners in their hands, and to establish and maintain definite rules by which all prisoners of war might be continuously exchanged as soon as possible after capture.

Whatever the feelings of resentment on the part of the Confederates may have been against those who were invading and desolating their native land, which had been purchased by the blood of their ancestors from the English and Indians, the desire for the speedy exchange and return of the great army of veterans held captives in Northern prisons was earnest and universal, and this desire for speedy and continuous exchange on the part of the Government, as well as on the part of the people, sprang not merely from motives of compassion for their unfortunate kindred and fellow-soldiers, but also from the dictates of that policy which would exchange on the part of a weak and struggling people, a large army of prisoners (consumers and non-combatants, requiring an army for their safe keeping) for an army of tried veterans.

Apart from the real facts of the case, it is impossible to conceive that any government in the distressed and struggling state of the Confederacy, could deliberately advocate any policy which would deprive it of a large army of veterans, and compel it to waste its scant supplies, already insufficient for the support of its struggling and retreating armies.

And the result has shown that the destruction of the Confederate Government was accomplished as much by the persistent retention in captivity of the Confederate soldiers, as by the emancipation and arming of the Southern slaves, and the employment of European recruits.

After the trial of Wirz, I published a small volume, entitled "Researches upon Spurious Vaccination, or the Abnormal Phenomena accompanying and following vaccination in the Confederate army during the recent civil war, 1861-1865," in which I examined the charge that the medical officers of the Confederate army had deliberately poisoned the Federal prisoners with poisonous vaccine matter.

Copies of this work were sent to several of the most prominent Generals and medical officers of the Confederate army, with the request that they would communicate such facts, as were in their possession, with reference to the sufferings of the Federal and Confederate prisoners. The universal testimony was to the effect that the sufferings of the Federal prisoners was due to causes over which the Confederate Government had little or no control, and that the sufferings and mortality amongst the Confederate prisoners confined in Northern prisons were equally great and deplorable.

From this correspondence, I select the following letter from General Robert E. Lee:

"Lexington, Va., 15th April, 1867.

"Dr. Joseph Jones:

"Dear Sir—I am much obliged to you for the copy of your Researches on Spurious Vaccination, which I will place in the library of the Lexington College. I have read with attention your examination of the charge made by the United States Military Commission, that the Confederate surgeons poisoned the Federal prisoners at Andersonville with vaccine matter. I believe every one who has investigated the afflictions of the Federal prisoners is of the opinion that they were incident to their condition as prisoners of war, and to the distressed state of the whole Southern country, and I fear they were fully shared by the Confederate prisoners in Federal prisons.

 "Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

"R. E. Lee."