Appalachia Civil War Letters

Vaccinations In The Confederate Army

Cedar Mountain, Va. A Confederate field hospital

Cedar Mountain, VA – A Confederate Field Hospital – Library of Congress

HOW THE CONFEDERATE ARMY WAS VACCINATED C. W. P. BROCK, M. D., Chief Surgeon of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, and Late Surgeon in the Confederate Army.

In the fall of 1863, during the late war between the States, I was sent for by Surgeon-General S. P. Moore and told that smallpox was assuming alarming proportions in the Confederate Army and that he wished me to secure enough vaccine virus to vaccinate all the soldiers, and this done very speedily. He offered to place at my disposal as many surgeons as I deemed necessary.

I asked him how many soldiers were to be vaccinated, and he told me about two hundred and fifty thousand-that is, the entire Confederate Army at that time. I asked to have Dr. Russell Murdock report to me, which he did at once. I instructed him to start in at the western end of Richmond, and making a house to- house visitation, to vaccinate all healthy children of healthy parents, while I myself did the same in the eastern end of the city. The children were vaccinated in six places on each arm, thus securing later twelve healthy vaccine crusts. It is of interest to note that in no instance did a mother refuse to have her child vaccinated when told that this was done to stop an epidemic of smallpox among the soldiers.

On the fourteenth day after vaccination, the crusts were collected, being then about to drop off. Not a single untoward case developed among the children. The crusts were wrapped in tin foil and distributed throughout the Army, with directions how to use them. All this was done in six weeks’ time. The threatened epidemic was promptly and completely controlled. In no case was any other disease communicated by the vaccine. The takes were much quicker than with bovine virus, and the arms were nothing like as sore. The protection was at least as good.

Even up to the present time I occasionally see some man or woman with six faint scars on each arm, standing as a record of service rendered as an infant to the soldiers of the Confederate Army in 1863.

* Read before the American Public Health Association, Havana, Cuba. 1911. 23


Fascinating article! Sounds like vaccines were improved upon during the Civil War-much like the items listed in this post from the other day.

The US stopped giving smallpox vaccines in 1972 since the disease had been virtually eradicated. The vaccine left a round scar on the upper arm of its recipients. I have one do you?


p.s. Thank you to Ed Ammons for sharing the vaccination article with me.

*Source: HOW THE CONFEDERATE ARMY WAS VACCINATED C. W. P. BROCK, M. D., Chief Surgeon of the Chesapeake anid Ohio Railway, and Late Surgeon in the Confederate Army


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  • Reply
    George Pettie
    April 29, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    What a story!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    April 29, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    I truly have enjoyed this posting, Tipper, and the good comments from your readers. Thank you for publishing it and thanks to Ed Ammons for sharing it.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 29, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    I too have the scar or rather a nickel sized cluster of smaller ones. My upper arm is pretty hairy but none grows where I got the vaccination.
    I remember being told by other children that if you knocked the scab off, you would get smallpox and die. Well I did and I didn’t. Not yet anyway.

  • Reply
    April 29, 2015 at 11:46 am

    After listening to the Pressley
    Girls having fun with “Give the Dog a Bath”, I went on Youtube and watched my favorite…”You Ought To Be Here With Me.” Chitter shows how she can sing so well, Chatter is supporting her sister, and nobody can play like Paul. I can imagine you’re in the background keeping time also. Very nice…Ken

  • Reply
    Debbie Nobles
    April 29, 2015 at 11:37 am

    You find the most interesting things. I love to learn about that time in history. I have a number of gg grandpa’s from NC that lived and fought, poor as dirt but proud. I joined the UDC here to honor them. I still can’t find where one is buried. Know from the 1900 census that he was in Emma living with a niece Sally Franklin but my trail goes cold. His name was Miller E. Galyan.

  • Reply
    April 29, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Thank you and Ed for that needed
    information. I had never heard of
    this before, interesting stuff.
    I love to hear about the hard times
    during the Civil War.
    And yes, I have my scar on my left
    arm from many years ago…Ken

  • Reply
    April 29, 2015 at 9:57 am

    Fascinating information!

  • Reply
    April 29, 2015 at 9:38 am

    This was very fascinating! I did not know that the original vaccines were administered this way.

  • Reply
    Sandy Rees
    April 29, 2015 at 9:34 am

    I just found your blog yesterday and am so glad I did. Thank you for all you share.

  • Reply
    Sandy Rees
    April 29, 2015 at 9:33 am

    I would love to know how the scabs were used to vaccinate. Any way to find out? We have so much to learn from our elders.

  • Reply
    April 29, 2015 at 9:13 am

    I learned something new today. Thanks Tipper.
    I have a scar also.

  • Reply
    Cheryl Soehl
    April 29, 2015 at 8:41 am

    I have the scar. I still remember the polio vaccinations we received in school as well. I also remember having measles and how difficult that was. People do have the right to make medical decisions for themselves and their children, but I hope that enough evidence has been provided of the safety of vaccination that all parents will understand how horrible the human toll was before this was available and how wonderful it is that we don’t have these plagues today as we did in the past.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    April 29, 2015 at 8:39 am

    My scar is about the size of a half dime. My parents Smallpox scars were the size of quarters…Dad’s not quite as big as Mom’s. This was the topic of a lot of conversation when we were children. Especially when we were forced to take the Polio vaccine. Our thoughts went to the large scars on our parents arms, even though we were told the Salk vaccine would not cause a scar! And of course, it did not, much to our relief!
    We stood in line with hundreds of other children at the local high school for our shot. Very few children even cried and I promised myself I would be brave in front of friends…LOL
    I was really glad at the time that it would protect us from Polio. My parents already had a friend whose child was barely surviving by living in a iron lung.
    I remember reading about the Smallpox vaccinations during the Civil War…Sounded pretty gross to me at the time…thinking if any of those vaccinated children got infections from scratching the area. I remember being told absolutely not to put my hand anywhere near that scab on my upper arm…ewwwww!
    Thanks Tipper,
    and Ed
    PS…”My birdbrain thoughts and ponders!”
    We have more White throated sparrows this year than ever. They usually leave by the middle of May to go North to breed…
    I wonder if any reader has ever seen a nest of White throats in their area of Appalachia!…Their song is a very sweet call…”Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody”! OR “Oh Sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada”! (They breed in Canada!)
    They arrive in October here and stay until the middle of May. I have been hoping to find someone who had a nesting pair here in the South…Yes, the habitat is just right for them to live on my hill year round, I think!

  • Reply
    barbara Gantt
    April 29, 2015 at 8:33 am

    I remember the shot and still have the scar. It made your arm so sore. Barbara

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    April 29, 2015 at 8:22 am

    Tipper: This is so interesting, and is something I had never heard before. Yes, I have a smallpox vaccination scar. I do hope smallpox is completely eradicated. That’s what we thought about measles, but now it is coming back.

  • Reply
    Brenda S 'Okie in Colorado'
    April 29, 2015 at 8:14 am

    I received my smallpox shot in the early 1960’s. My scar domes rather than sinks into the skin.

  • Reply
    April 29, 2015 at 7:48 am

    Fascinating! Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    April 29, 2015 at 7:29 am

    Mine is practically invisible, the barest trace remains after more than fifty years. I remember the vacination and the firm injunction to ” leave it alone”. My, how it itched while it was healing. The booster I got when I went to college in the sixties didn’t leave a mark.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 29, 2015 at 7:28 am

    That is interesting. I bet they couldn’t accomplish vaccinating that many folks in that period of today. Way too much red tape for that.
    Yep, I have one of those scars on my arm.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    April 29, 2015 at 7:23 am

    Never knew this detail. BRAVE DOCTORS!
    But I do have that ‘sign’ of receiving the vaccination. Eva Nell

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