Scourge & Dread
Continued from Broken Unions, Part One.
The year 1860 was a turning point for the nation. The presidential election had gone in favor of Abraham Lincoln, a Republican that Southerners feared would end their way of life, a life built around slavery. Rumors of secession and war spread like fire. The Union was breaking.
For William Thomas Scott and his wife Elmina, their union was stronger than ever. On 3 October 1860, the Scotts celebrated the birth of their second daughter, Mary Elizabeth. She joined a family consisting of her parents, half-brother Francis Little (then using the surname Scott) and sister Martha Jane.
On 11 January 1861, Alabama delegates voted to secede from the United States, following after South Carolina, Mississippi and Florida. “The question of Slavery is the rock upon which the Old Government split: it is the cause of secession,” declared Judge G. T. Yelverton, speaking as a member to the Alabama Secession Convention. In February, at the invite of the Convention, seven slave-holding states that had declared secession met in Montgomery to birth their new nation, the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy immediately began raising a volunteer militia. The war came in April.
William Scott owned no slaves and did not volunteer for the militia. For him and his family, life appeared to go on much as it had, farming their land in Calhoun County. In the spring of 1862, Elmina learned she was again pregnant.
Roughly half of the Confederacy’s volunteer militiamen were enlisted for only twelve months and by the spring of 1862 they could be discharged. The militia would be destroyed, not by the Union enemy, but by expired enlistments. To fend off this disaster, the Confederate government passed a conscription act on 26 April 1862 requiring three years of military service from all white males between the ages of 18 and 35.
Company I of the 48th Alabama Infantry Regiment was formed at Abernathy in Calhoun County. It was nicknamed “Newman Pounds Guard,” after a prominent citizen of the county. William Scott was conscripted into service alongside two of his brothers, Willis Lee Scott and John Henry Scott. William’s rank was private, Willis’ was first lieutenant and John’s was third sergeant. Elmina’s brother John P. Little was also drafted. The commander of Company I was Captain John W. Wigginton.
Shortly after being drafted, both William and Willis fell ill. Typhoid fever was rampant in the service as a result of poor hygiene and unsanitary field conditions. Those infected could experience high fever, headaches, abdominal pain, and vomiting. Some developed a rash of rose-colored spots on their skin. In severe cases, some experienced confusion and death. Some people could carry the infection without showing any symptoms but still be able to infect others. William’s illness was so severe that he was sent to the Confederate hospital at Charlottesville, Virginia.
Charlottesville General Hospital opened in July 1861. It was cobbled together and spread across town in several buildings that had previously been hotels, churches and buildings of the University of Virginia. Typhoid, dysentery, and pneumonia were far more common ailments than battle wounds, but due to severe shortages of medical supplies the staff resorted to treatments using plants with known or suspected medicinal properties. Conditions at Charlottesville were so bad that in September 1861, thirty-four men sent a petition to Confederate president Jefferson Davis stating that disease “is wasting away the glorious Army of the Potomac. We have lost 10 times as many men by sickness as by warfare.” The petitioners claimed that unfit surgeons, “appointed for political reasons and not with a view to their qualifications,” were endangering the “lives of hundreds of brave men … These surgeons have not ordered nor enforced the most ordinary sanitary conditions.” The petition ended, “Typhoid fever is fast becoming the scourge and dread of the army.” During 1862, the hospital had 6,692 total patients, with 381 deaths. Typhoid fever accounted for 299 patients and 91 deaths.
William Thomas Scott died at Charlottesville General Hospital on 25 July 1862. He was buried in a field next to the University of Virginia Cemetery. The field is now called the Confederate Cemetery, and contains the graves of 1,097 soldiers that died at the hospital during the war. Most of the graves are unmarked, but in 1873 a statue was erected with plaques listing the names and regiments of the known dead.
William was posthumously promoted to Corporal by Captain Wigginton.
Newman Pounds Guards saw their first combat action at the Battle of Cedar Run in August 1862, a month after William’s death.
Private John Little was marked on the company roll as absent sick for Cedar Run. He died from typhoid fever at a Confederate hospital in Lovingston, Virginia on 25 August.
In Calhoun County, the widow Elmina Scott gave birth to a son on 6 October 1862. He was named John William Thomas Scott in honor of both the father and uncle he would never know. Elmina died brokenhearted two years later, on 18 April 1864, and was likely buried on family property. Her children would be raised by her late husband’s parents, Jesse and Senia Scott.
There was no vaccine for typhoid fever until 1896, some thirty years after the end of the Civil War.
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 25 April 2020), memorial page for Elmina P. Little Scott (1831–18 Apr 1864), Find a Grave Memorial no. 185353271, ; Maintained by William Gorman (contributor 47658044).
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 25 April 2020), memorial page for William Thomas “W.T.” Scott (1834–15 Jul 1862), Find a Grave Memorial no. 185353484, ; Maintained by William Gorman (contributor 47658044).
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 25 April 2020), memorial page for Pvt W. F. Scott (unknown–unknown), Find a Grave Memorial no. 11395656, citing University of Virginia Confederate Cemetery, Charlottesville, Charlottesville City, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Scott Hutchison (contributor 46635174).
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