Historic Camp Thomas
As the summer of 1898 wore on complaints of sickness in Camp Thomas grew. Sanitary conditions were extremely unfavorable. The soldiers lacked bathing facilities, and those sent to Crawfish Springs to get drinking water drove their teams into the creek, got out and bathed themselves, then filled their barrels. Animal corrals were left unclean. A shallow open pit was dug a few feet back of each of the crude company kitchens. All the refuse and waste from the man was dumped in these enclosed pits, which became literally open cesspools. The presence of so much litter attracted millions of flies, causing "great annoyance to men and beast," and evidently contributed to the spread of typhoid fever. "The whole place reeks of foulness," said one reporter in recommending its abandonment.
Typhoid fever, dysentery, and malaria were the prevalent diseases. Typhoid was severe and caused the majority of deaths at Camp Thomas. One examining Board stated that flooring in the tents would have prevented much sickness, and that the soil, as well as the water, was polluted. An Iowa private commented that the water his command had to drink was terrible. "We drank water as yellow as the thickest water in the Missouri,V he complained.
There was an inadequate supply of hospitals, doctors, and nurses. Consequently, care and treatment was woefully scarce and little could be done for most of the sick. There was what was called an "incurable ward," in which it was said that it was nearly impossible to distinguish the living from the dead." It almost made me sick to see the boys," one man wrote. "Some were so weak that they could not brush their faces and their mouth, eyes and noses would be just filled with flies, and no one to brush them off."
The former Park Hotel, a Chickamauga, which bought at $10,000 by Mrs. Mary T. Leiter of Chicago, and given to the government Vfor the comfort of the boys at Camp Thomas." It became the Leiter Hospital. Although "well-managed," the new Leiter General Hospital, too, was "sadly overcrowded" by August, with 255 beds in a space that should hold no more than 130. Tents were soon added to increase Leiter's capacity, and the number of medical officers doubled. A second General Hospital, the Sternberg was opened near Wilder Tower at Camp Thomas in August with a 750 bed capacity and a staff more than double that of Leiter's.
In August, Secretary of War Russell A. Alger ordered the camps to begin closing. Ill soldiers in the two camp hospitals, Sternberg Hospital and Leiter Hospital, were sent home on furlough to recover. Other troops were sent to other camps or discharged and sent home. During this time 425 soldiers died in Camp Thomas, more than were killed in combat during the four months' war with Spain. Following the war investigation determined that over 750 soldiers died in Camp Thomas. Many others lived the rest of their lives with other complications caused by the typhoid fever.
For more information on historic Chickamauga, please visit the Depot Museum, inquire at Town Hall or look up the homepages for the city of Chickamauga and the Chickamauga campaign trail on the Internet: