An early example of a young child being incoluated in his upper arm. Image Credit: ScienceMuseum

Small Pox is a contagous disease that no longer exists throughout the world due to advances in medical science. During the Civil War, Union and Confederate soldiers died by the thousands from the disease which had the capacity to spread quickly throughout encampments. Soldiers who suffered from small pox were quarantined and their clothing and bedding needed to be burned. Most hospitals throughout the course of the war maintained seperate wards for the treatment of patients with contagous diseases including small pox, typhoid, maleria, and pneumonia.

Early Vaccines:

During the 19th centruy, the idea of incoulation was first introduced by Edward Jenner. You can read about the history of his work in my post HERE. Early vaccinations involved making a small cut in the leg or upper arm and inserting a slight amount of pus from an indiviudual or animal with the disease. This allowed the body to build up an immunity to the disease following a weaker, and therfore, less dangerous exposure. Both Union and Confederate army medical departments required vaccinations and revaccinations for troops. Doctors were in need of scabs and pus from individuals previously inoculated with Small Pox. One ingenious plan they had in order to obtain these supplies involved advertising in local papers for parents to get their children incoulated against Small Pox in exchange for the crusts that formed over the site. Many parents jumped at the opportunity for their kids to recieve free vaccinations and some children even recieved vaccinations in six locations on their arms. The crusts that formed a few days later were then collected and shipped to various surgerons throughout the country. Northern doctors could rely on the shippments of these crusts more than Confederate doctors who were greatly affected by blockades.

Civil War Era inolcuation kit Image Credit: Smithsonian Magazine

Possibly as a result of the blockade, the Confederacy was known to use the scabs from other inoculated soldiers and vaccinate entire regiments in this way. Some men even shipped their crusts home to their families so that they could inoculate themselves as well. Unfortunately, a major issue arose from this method. Two brigades were affected when the pustule matter was taken from someone of a questionable background. One brigdage became entirely infected with syphillis. They traced the vaccine back through the men and found one who had previously recieved his incolation from the pus of a prostitute. Children were preferred vectors for Small Pox crusts because they did not run the risk of contracting or spreading veneral diseases like that of their adult conterparts.

Despite some unexpected side-effects, the overall success of vaccinations throught the war led to more widespread acceptance of inoculation by the general public in the following years. Small Pox remains the only infectious disease that has been fully eradicated by humans.

If that doesn’t make you thakful for modern medicine then I don’t know what will

Until Next Time



Freemon, Frank R. Gangrene and Glory: Medical Care During the American Civil War. University of Illinois Press, 2001. print.

Reimer, Terry. “Small Pox and Vaccination int he Civil War.” NAtional Museum of Civil War medicine. 9 November, 2004. Accessed 12 July, 2022.

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