Soldiers’ Health: An 1861 Primer

Greg Sheppard has unearthed the following item from the Semi-Weekly Raleigh Register; May 18, 1861; page 2, cols. 2-3.

“Soldiers’ Health.” From Hall’s New York Journal of Health.

1. In any ordinary campaign, sickness disables or destroys three times as many as the sword.

2. On a march, from April to November, the entire clothing should be a colored flannel shirt, with a loosely buttoned collar, cotton drawers, woolen pantaloons, shoes and stockings, and a light-colored felt hat, with board [sic] brim to protect the eyes and face from the glare of the sun, and from the rain, and a substantial but not heavy coat when off duty.

3. Sun-stroke is most effectually prevented by wearing a silk handkerchief in the crown of the hat.

4. Colored blankets are best, and if lined with brown drilling the warmth and durability are doubled, while the protection against dampness from lying on the ground, is almost complete.

5. Never lie or sit down on the grass or bare earth for a moment; rather use your hat — a handkerchief even is a great protection. The warmer you are, the greater need for this precaution, as a damp vapor is immediately generated, to be absorbed by the clothing, and to cool you off too rapidly.

6. While marching, or on other active duty, the more thirsty you are, the more essential is it to safety of life itself, to rinse out the mouth two or three times, and then take a swallow of water at a time, with short intervals. A brave French general, on a forced march, fell dead on the instant, by drinking of cold water, when snow was on the ground.

7. Abundant sleep is essential to bodily efficiency, and to that alertness of mind which is all important in an engagement; and few things more certainly and more effectually prevent sound sleep than eating heartily after sundown, especially after a heavy march or desperate battle.

8. Nothing is more certain to secure endurance and capability of long continued effort, than the avoidance of every thing as a drink except cold water, not excluding coffee at breakfast. Drink as little as possible, of even cold water.

9. After any sort of exhausting effort, a cup of coffee, hot or cold, is an admirable sustainer of the strength, until nature begins to recover herself.

10. Never eat heartily just before a great undertaking; because the nervous power is irresistibly drawn to the stomach to manage the food eaten, thus drawing off that supply which the brain and muscles so much need.

11. If persons will drink brandy, it is incomparably safer to do so after an effort than before; for it can give only a transient strength, lasting but a few minutes; but as it can never be known how long any given effort is to be kept in continuance, and if longer than the few minutes, the body becomes more feeble than it would have been without the stimulus, it is clear that its use, before an effort is always hazardous and is always unwise.

12. Never go to sleep, especially after a great effort, even in hot weather, without some covering over you.

13. Under all circumstances, rather than lie down on the bare ground, lie in the hollow of two logs placed together, or across several smaller pieces of wood, laid side by side, or sit on your hat, leaning against a tree. A nap of ten or fifteen minutes in that position will refresh you more than an hour on the bare earth, with the additional advantage of perfect safety.

14. A cut is less dangerous than a bullet-wound, and heals more rapidly.

15. If from any wound the blood spurts out in jets instead of a steady stream, you will die in a few minutes unless it is remedied; because an artery has been divided, and that takes the blood direct from the fountain of life. To stop this instantly, tie a handkerchief or other cloth very loosely BETWEEN!! the wound and the heart; put a stick, bayonet, or ramrod between the skin and the handkerchief, and twist it around until the bleeding ceases, and keep it thus until the surgeon arrives.

16. If the blood flows in a slow, regular stream, a vein has been pierced, and the handkerchief must be on the other side of the wound from the heart; that is, below the wound.

17. A bullet through the abdomen (belly or stomach) is more certainly fatal than if aimed at the head or heart; for in the latter cases the ball is often glanced off by the bone, or follows around it under the skin; but when it enters the stomach or bowels, from any direction, death is inevitable under all conceivable circumstances, but is scarcely instantaneous. Generally the person lives a day or two with perfect clearness or intellect, often not suffering greatly. The practical bearing of this statement in reference to the great future is clear.

18. Let the whole beard grow, but no longer than some three inches. This strengthens, and thickens its growth, and thus makes a more perfect protection for the lungs against dust, and of the throat against winds and cold in winter, while in the summer a greater perspiration of the skin is induced, with an increase of evaporation, hence, greater coolness of the parts on the outside, while the throat is less feverish, thirsty, and dry.

19. Avoid fats and fat meats in summer and in all warm days.

Return to Main Articles Menu