Advise to Civil War Soldiers - 1862

Civil War Soldiers

A correspondent writes to The Middlebury Register, to give to inexperienced American Civil War soldiers some hints for the preservation of health, from what he has learned in the field.  After warning the new recruit that the enthusiasm of the first week will soon tone down to stanch realities, which he must meet and face as a man — that he cannot live as carelessly about his health as he can at home, where warm rooms and comfortable beds and well-cooked meals are at his service from day today, and that he must act the physician for himself, to a great degree, and be watchful against any predisposition to disease, he proceeds to give some special directions as follows:



They consist of a program of articles to be taken by the recruit when he goes into camp, or to be sent to him by his friends, when he shall have reached a point where he can be addressed.

Let him have with him two pairs of well-knit socks, two firm woolen shirts, a large crash towel, a piece of Castile soap, to be used as often as possible in bathing the entire body; a woolen cap, sometimes called a smoking cap; two large old-fashioned silk pocket-handkerchiefs, which may be used to hang from the neck, as a protection against a blazing sun, or as a veil to cover the face when sleeping out nights, amid miasmas and creeping vermin, or as a bandage for wounds. He should also have constantly with him a supply of Cayenne pepper, such as is obtained from the drug-stores under the name of “capsicum.”

The benefits arising from the use of this latter article [Cayenne pepper] are incalculable. A single pinch in a glass of flat warmish water will nullify the effects and the uncomfortable sensation from having drunk too much water during the day; will help the sentinel keep awake at his post at night, by warming and invigorating the whole system. A good pinch eaten at each meal, or when a cup of tea or coffee is drunk, will aid digestion, assist in prevent­ing acidity of stomach, and is besides a great antagonist of the diarrhea, dysentery, flux, and "looseness," which are the great scourges of the army. A level teaspoonful of capsicum, taken daily in eating or drinking, or both, or two fingers full taken two or three times a day, will do more toward warding off the fever and ague than ten times the cost in rum and quinine. There should always be carried in the knapsack also a largo piece of gutta percha cloth, to spread upon the ground at night for the soldier to spread his blanket on when he goes to bed. To these suggestions may be added the injunctions to eat, as far as possible, regularly, to shun sutlers' tents, with their detestable pies and cakes, and their poisonous preserved meats, as one would shun a contact with the leprosy; to maintain, in short, a perfect system of living, just as far as duty in camp will allow.

If my friend who may read this, and who is going soon to buckle on his armor for the cause of his country, will treasure the hints I have thrown out, and act upon them, he will add a hundred per cent to the probabilities of his returning to his father's house, that knew such keen anguish and bitter mourning when he was called to leave it. Once more, my soldier friend, before you leave your home, supply yourself with envelops and writing paper, and with a good substantial lead pencil; upon the envelops have postage stamps placed, and have them directed in a strong, plain hand to the address of those you will want to write to when far away — your father, your loving and ever watchful mother, or your sister.

And then, when you stop anywhere, for a day or such a matter, write something home, if it is not more than six lines, and tell your anxious friends how you are. And to your parents too and relations of the soldiers, I must say, write often to him. Write long letters. Give all the news you can think of. Let every line be full of love, of kind, affectionate interest and encouragement, and you cannot tell how much sunshine you will put into his heart, and how much better soldier and man he will be­come for your thoughtfulness of him. I speak of all these things “whereof I have seen.”