According to Dr. Margaret Humphreys, both the North and South attempted to use an early form of germ warfare during the Civil War. The internationally recognized scholar will explore this topic during the lecture The South’s Secret Weapons: Disease, Environment and the Civil War on Tuesday, April 13, at 7 p.m. at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh. Admission and parking are free, and a reception follows the program. To register, call 919-807-7847.
Humphreys will highlight how the Civil War-era understanding of epidemiology became part of the strategy on both sides, including plots to spread yellow fever in the North. Confederate leaders hoped that fevers in the South would become potent weapons should Union forces invade, thus decimating their ranks. One particular plot, Humphreys says, involved a former governor of Kentucky, also a doctor. The plot included sending a trunk of yellow fever-laden clothes and bedding to the White House to sicken Abraham Lincoln.
The lecture will also include discussion of how Union blockades prevented essential medicines, such as quinine, from reaching Confederate troops to fight illness. Southern forces were reduced to smuggling quinine in dolls and the lining of petticoats.
Humphreys, a Ph.D. and M.D., is Josiah Charles Trent Professor in the History of Medicine at Duke University, where she teaches the history of medicine, public health, and biology. She is the author of Yellow Fever and the South (1992) and Malaria: Poverty, Race and Public Health in the United States (2001), books that explore the tropical disease environment of the American South and its role in the national public health effort. In 2008 Humphreys published Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the American Civil War.
Come early at 6 p.m. to see Civil War artifacts in the exhibit A Call to Arms: North Carolina Military History Gallery. Mark your calendar for this April 13 program at the N.C. Museum of History.
Humphreys’ program is part of the lecture series Perspectives on History, presented by scholars from the National Humanities Center. Each year the National Humanities Center, located in Research Triangle Park, admits a select group of fellows, who pursue their work while contributing to the center’s environment of intellectual discourse. The series is sponsored by the N.C. Museum of History Associates.
For more information about the Museum of History, call 919-807-7900 or access ncmuseumofhistory.org or Facebook®. The museum is located at 5 E. Edenton St., across from the State Capitol.
The N.C. Museum of History’s hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is part of the Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History, an agency of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. The department’s Web site is www.ncculture.com.