The nickname the 33rd Iowa Infantry gave Helena was hardly flattering. It came not from a hard fought battle but from miserable conditions in an overcrowded city made worse by the climate.
Soldiers Battled Malaria, Typhoid and More Many Union regiments camped in a low area between Helena and the Mississippi River. No one knew that mosquitoes carried malaria and yellow fever. Leander Stillwell contracted malaria soon after he arrived in Helena.
"I just lay there, in a hot tent, on the sand, - oh, so sick! But I fought off going to the hospital as long as possible... I had seen so many boys loaded into ambulances, and hauled off to such place, who never returned..."
Medical Science was Primitive
Most Civil War-era doctors believed that vapors-bad air-caused illness. Doctors did not know that drinking contaminated water led to typhoid, diarrhea and other illnesses.
They ordered soldiers to drink water from the river instead of the free-flowing springs.
Extreme heat, periodic flooding and overcrowding added to the men's misery.
Thousands of soldiers died during the Union occupation of Helena. Most of those deaths could be prevented today.
" I remained at the hospital eight days... and retain a distinct recollection of only a few things. But aside from men dying all around me, both day and night, nothing important happened." Leander Stillwell
A Union army camp's graveyard, drawn during the Civil War by Edwin Forbes.
Each soldier's grave is marked with a wooden headboard. After the Civil War, the Federal government removed the remains of Union soldiers buried in and around Helena and reinterred them in the National Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee.
"There are about 30 thousand troops encamped in and around Helena, and I can say without exaggerating that there is buried forty men every day and sometimes more." Charles O. Musser, 29th Iowa."Yes, truly, Helena is a city in a swamp... which the valorous Sixth help hold through trying times, in the face of poisonous dangers a hundred fold more damaging and terrifying than the fiercest battlefield."W.P. Belden, Surgeon, 6th Minnesota
Background: The Camp of the 3rd Iowa Cavalry in Helena. Like many regimental camps, it was located between the levee and the Mississippi River because the flat land could accommodate hundreds of tents. Photo Courtesy Iowa State Historical Society.