Bell: "MOSQUITO SOLDIERS: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and the Course of the American Civil War"

Most of the people interested in Civil War in the United States and read books on them assume that maximum number of deaths occurred during the battles and skirmishes, with soldiers dying from bullets. However, a sad fact that many of these readers and general public are not aware of is that a much higher number of soldiers died to various diseases produced by the battle environment and different terrain in which these wars were fought. In his book, "MOSQUITO SOLDIERS: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and the Course of the American Civil War", Andrew M. Bell brings out effectively how the major mosquito-borne diseases of malaria and yellow fever killed thousands of soldiers.

Bell begins the early chapters of the book with accurate details and background information on both the above diseases. Malaria is caused by a single-cell parasite, while a virus is behind the incidence of yellow fever. Bell provides ample information on the causes, diagnosis, treatments, and prevention methods of both mosquito-borne diseases. During the Civil War, quinine was available to redress the problem of malaria but only palliative cures were offered for soldiers and civilians suffering from yellow fever. The swarms of mosquitoes that pestered the soldiers and the actual results of this menace had not been brought forth with such clarity before the publication of this book by Bell. The author studies the dangers that the mosquito-brigade imposed on the soldiers in all the three major battle theaters during the Civil War and highlights the alterations in the military operations and the changes in the battle outcome in many fronts due to these diseases.

The army generals and politicians from both sides were significantly influenced by the fear of malaria and yellow fever. Even though it is difficult to prove that the diseases were the prime factors in deciding the strategies adopted in each major operation, several evidences are available to suggest that the commanders were forced to change their operational strategies based on the severity of the diseases in their ranks. For example, General Halleck cited swamp fever as the reason for requesting the evacuation of his army from the Harrison Landing position on the Potomac in 1862 on the Virginia Peninsula. Nobody can definitely say whether it was the health concern of his soldiers or other reasons motivated General Halleck to opt for evacuation but it cannot be denied that the effect of the swamp fever was also a major contributing factor.

Still, Bell has been able to present several specific instances where the seasonal attacks by both the diseases had a significant effect on the activities of the Confederate Army, particularly along the South Atlantic Civil War front. The author even manages to surprise the readers with certain hitherto obscure situations. The most interesting among them is the disclosure by Bell that Arkansas was the most malarial among all the areas that the Union army occupied for long periods. The author singles out Helena as one of the most pestilential posts, though the average readers would have expected the lower Mississippi area to have that dubious honor.

Even though ‘Mosquito Soldiers’ is a solidly researched book and brings out the contribution of the diseases of malaria and yellow fever in the Civil War strategies, it should not be forgotten that several other major factors, such as military, political, individual, and environmental concerns also influenced the course of the Civil War significantly. However, the points raised by Bell could not be ignored as over emphasis and their real value should be appreciated by all lovers of books and literate on Civil War.