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The Civil War: Sex and Soldiers

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by tmh10, May 4, 2013.

  1. tmh10

    tmh10 Major

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    Traditional histories of the Civil War steer clear of sex and birth control in favor of heroes and battles. This ignores reality. Court martial records list over 100,000 incidents of sexual misconduct, and the Surgeon General of the United States Army documented 183,000 cases of venereal disease in the Union Army. The men (and women, too) who produced these alarming statistics came from all ranks of society. Many were farmers and uneducated workers living beyond rigid parental and church rules for the first time. Military service thrust them into the "outside world" of violence, alcohol, and prostitution. One soldier writing home complained about "the Pocks and the Clap. The cases of this complaint is numerous, especially among the officers." Another wrote to his wife, "you would think that there was not a married man in the regiment."
    Government regulated brothels

    Facing an epidemic of venereal disease, the Union army tried a novel solution -- government sanctioned prostitution -- in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, from 1863 to 1865. Nashville at first expelled women "of vile character," sending them up river to Cincinnati, only to see them turned away. Col. George Spalding, Provost Marshall of Nashville, introduced a system of licensed prostitution, with periodic medical exams and hospital treatment for venereal disease. The number of licensed prostitutes rose and fell with the transit of troops through the city, but the incidence of disease declined sharply. A report issued after the war proclaimed the experiment a success, as testified by the influx of prostitutes: "…many of the better class of prostitutes had been drawn to Nashville from northern cities by the comparative protection from venereal diseases which its license system afforded." In Memphis, a program of registration, inspection, treatment, and licensing met with similar success until closed at the war's end. The report of the Surgeon General of the United States Army concluded that "while it does not encourage vice it prevents to a considerable extent its worst consequences."



    Alcohol and Venereal Disease

    Military surgeons documented Civil War era problems of alcohol and sexually transmitted disease. Statistics they compiled showed that drunkenness spiked just as soldiers entered service, coinciding with their first time away from home, and again at the end of the war, as they celebrated victory. Proximity to cities also correlated with increased alcohol consumption. African American soldiers got drunk less often than their white compatriots; just one in 4,500 required medical attention for alcohol problems, compared to one in 220 for Caucasian soldiers. Venereal disease emerged as a serious health issue during the Civil War. Among Union white troops, the surgeons treated over 73,000 for syphilis and over 109,000 for gonorrhea. Incidence of those diseases among African American soldiers was less than half that of the white troops. In the eyes of military leadership, prostitutes and "camp followers" drove venereal disease to alarming levels, and threatened military readiness.

    Selling sex to soldiers

    Soldiers bought contraceptives and sexually explicit material by mail. Thomas Ormsby, for example, sent soldiers a flyer listing such goods in an envelope with patriotic symbols. Ormsby enclosed his card and a list of medical advice books, including Aristotle's Masterpiece and several works on "reform physiology" by Origin of Life author Frederick Hollick. Far more racy offerings could be found in the accompanying "Private Circular for Gentlemen Only". This offered "fancy" literature, erotic, and even ****ographic pictures, contraceptives ("French safes" or condoms), and "sex toys." Ormsby's address appeared nowhere on the Circular, and he promised to send the material anonymously, "in such a manner as to defy detection." The recipient of these flyers, Corporal James Schelly of the Pennsylvania volunteers, died in combat near Richmond, Virginia on June 30, 1862.

    http://www.case.edu/affil/skuyhistcontraception/online-2012/Civil-War.html
     
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  3. reading48

    reading48 1st Lieutenant

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    Military men, when seperated from their wives, sweethearts, girlfriends get horney add beer or whiskey Men break down.......
     
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  4. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter First Sergeant

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    Good article I didn't know that black soldiers had less social diseases then there white counterparts. All wars produce prostitution on some scale because the social fabric gets torn down has women and although not mentioned some men have to support themselves due to wars economic disruption. None more so then in the CW. Many women lost their husbands and fathers due of course to death , capture or they are discharged from military service but can not obtain work or self employment due to physical or mental impairments that occurred during their military service. This would be true for women on both sides. There was little in the way of welfare in the CW although the CSA did have some. A women has to feed her children and if her parents or in-laws or community can not help or indeed be able to do so since they have their own mouths to feed then a women has to do what she has to do.
    Leftyhunter
     
  5. Dave Wilma

    Dave Wilma Sergeant Major Forum Host

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    During that era and after the line between working girls and laundresses was not always clear. Women routinely attached themselves to armies to survive, to follow a man, or serve as some sort of auxiliary. Someone had to wash the clothes. Relationships between soldiers and camp followers ran the spectrum from simple payment for services prostitution to somewhat monogamous arrangements. When the soldier died or moved on, the woman might find another partner. The U.S. acquisition of the Philippines resulted in new words for the American lexicon to include "shacking up" and "shack job." Wartime, of course, brought societal and economic dislocation and women did what they could to survive.

    The U.S. military shied away from organizing or approving of prostitution, mostly. During World War II, black U.S. soldiers were stationed in west Africa to protect oil supplies. The commanders established several brothels to keep the bored soldiers happy. In Honolulu, under martial law throughout the war, the provost marshal published regulations for brothels, operators, and working girls.
     
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  6. tmh10

    tmh10 Major

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    I think the program used in Memphis was the most logical way of dealing with the situation. With that many people involved you could not prevent it. Second best was to try to control it.

    " In Memphis, a program of registration, inspection, treatment, and licensing met with similar success until closed at the war's end. The report of the Surgeon General of the United States Army concluded that "while it does not encourage vice it prevents to a considerable extent its worst consequences."
     
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  7. damYankee

    damYankee Sergeant Major Forum Host

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    Condoms were made from sheep intestines, they were rinsed and reused, again and again. The topic of alcohol comsumption should be put into context, drinking distilled spirits and beer was a common as dirt. Water was suspect, for armies operating in the field it was a tradition in the armies and navies of Europe and here as well. Tainting the wells when retreating was a common tactic, as was salting the farm land to leave it barren.
    Another point in context, these were mostly kids, away in the greatest adventure in their life, death was ever present, visiting ladies of ill repute is nothing new for young bucks in war. I can not believe that the southern fighting man was exempt from the same conditions.
    The question that arises in my mind is how many men were done in by the treatment for VD?
    The most common medical treatment at the time was mercury, in liquid form injected through the urethea into the bladder using a huge glass syringe, the side effects were boils, loss of hair and teeth, liver & kidney damage and blindness, and death. How many died from the treatment is hard to tell, from reading the notes of the doctors it is obvious they has no idea they were administrating poison. Doctors did not wash their hands or their instruments, and we wonder why so many men died from disease?
     
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  8. James B White

    James B White 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    I'm not really seeing that as context. I mean, yes, drunkenness and alcoholism were a problem in civilian life, too, but soldiers were not issued alcohol at the time of the Civil War (generally speaking, at least not as part of their regular ration), and the navy issue was discontinued in 1862. A big temperance push had come just before the war.

    I suppose one could say that due to fewer alternative recreational drugs, alcohol abuse would be expected to be higher. Opium was really the only other choice, not counting tobacco and caffeine of course. In other words, with no LSD, heroin or cocaine and virtually no recreational use of marijuana, soldiers who would have chosen those drugs in the 20th century would choose alcohol instead, making alcohol seem more common then.

    The original article didn't list sources, but it seemed to indicate that the drunkenness being discussed was more than just a general background level: "Statistics they compiled showed that drunkenness spiked just as soldiers entered service, coinciding with their first time away from home, and again at the end of the war, as they celebrated victory. Proximity to cities also correlated with increased alcohol consumption."
     
  9. James N.

    James N. Sergeant Major Forum Host

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    Another one of those elusive facts I remember reading at one time or another ( but now have NO idea where or how reliable ) is that during Jackson's Valley Campaign his small army was followed by another, even smaller one, consisting of the numerous "camp followers".
     
  10. Smoothbore62

    Smoothbore62 Private

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    The Southern troops were just as likely to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh as their Northern counterparts. There aren't any medical records that record the numbers because they were either destroyed or never compiled in the first place.
     
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  11. Mason and Dixon

    Mason and Dixon Retired User

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    It may have been a situation where Black soldiers had less access to prostitutes.. If the brothels were filled with White prostitutes (who refused services to Black soldiers), that would explain less transmission of STDs to those soldiers (?)

    Did the brothels enfore racial restrictions.., or was it come one, come all (?)
     
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  12. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    Good observation, M&D.

    I will guess that a white gal servicing a black man was venturing into dangerous territory, so your supposition sounds good to me.
     
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  13. damYankee

    damYankee Sergeant Major Forum Host

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    We are talking about a time when most drugs sold over the counter were alcohol or some form of opium. In fact until 1910 most over the counter cures were opium:
    http://www.michaelshouse.com/opiate-rehab/history-of-opiates/
    It would seem that any effort to slow down consumption of alcohol during the Civil War was short lived or exaggerated.
    http://www.beerhistory.com/library/holdings/chronology.shtml

    http://www.discus.org/heritage/spirits/
     
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  14. reading48

    reading48 1st Lieutenant

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    I had read an article...prostitution was legal in Washington during the civil war. If you had the money you were serviced...Ann Hall had the best brovlel ....Prices ranged what you wanted serviced..Exotic meals Champagne and women of different specialties....She was worth millions in todays standards ...Her tombstone has engraved on it Welcome
     
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  15. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter First Sergeant

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    I would suspect that Union soldiers had a huge advantage in securing the services of soiled doves in that CSA soldiers for the most part had to pay in'funny money" vs Union soldiers had the much more acceptable currency.
    Leftyhunter
     
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  16. Gen Cleburne

    Gen Cleburne Private

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    Nashville had to be the biggest whore town of all(dont get me started abot todays reputation!)...see 'Sex in the Civil War' ..an interesting read...aka What the Soldier didnt tell you
     
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  17. tmh10

    tmh10 Major

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    I would be one BIG liar if I said I didn't find the topic of sex interesting, particularly its history. As I got comfortable for a cozy evening at home last night, I found something remarkable as I was channel surfing. The History Channel has a myriad of viewers, I included. Perhaps some of you tuned in to the piece called "Sex & the Civil War." Needless to say, once I saw just a peek of what the show alluded to, I put down the remote control and gave my full undivided attention.

    I wish I'd have seen the entire program, but I was fortunate enough to have seen part of it. It was quite detailed about prostitution, naming key locations in the South, and mentioned some of the treatments of venereal disease, and of course, some of the famous ladies whose claim to fame was that of a genuine red-light Vixen. Here is just a little of what I heard about, and if you were one of the lucky viewers to catch the whole show, let me know what I missed:
    One of the most notorious of the "wayward sisters" was a young girl named Annie Jones. She was known as the original "good-time girl for Union Officers." Just seventeen, she found out early how to profit from using her feminine wiles. Apparently, she had a "thing" for generals. It was no secret that she had numerous "illicit peccadilloes" with generals. I believe the program mentioned she dated at least six, including Union Generals Franz Segal and Julius Stahl. She carried on with Stahl and Segal at the same time, which ended up getting her into plenty of trouble.

    I found it incredibly interesting that the Civil War had no shortage of women soldiers in it. Many women who were concerned about, or missed their husbands terribly took to cutting their hair short, binding their breasts, and dressing in Mens' Uniforms to pass themselves off as soldiers. It is believed that at least six of these women carried on their charade and went undiscovered until they actually delivered babies! Of course, there were some women who posed as soldiers simply for the opportunity to prostitute themselves. Many of them had lost their husbands to the war, others had been abandoned and found they had no alternative but to sell their bodies in order to support their families. These women were known as "soiled doves," among other things. Still there were other women known as "Camp Followers" who had no part of prostituting, but merely cooking and doing laundry for the soldiers.

    One very lucrative spot for prostitution was a place called "Smokey Row" in Nashville, TN. Venereal disease ran rampant in this Red Light District, close to the river. Smokey Row was two blocks wide, and four blocks long, providing plenty of trouble for the soldiers to find themselves. It was said that the Civil War was part Hell, part boredom, which is not a good combination. The men would seek out ways to block the hell from their minds and appease the boredom. The ones in the Nashville area would seek out Smokey Row often. It was mentioned in the program that at one time two out of five soldiers were suffering from some form of venereal disease.
    Treatments for venereal disease during this time were primitive and crude, as you might expect. Salts of Mercury were used in the treatment of Syphilis, and the Mercury was almost as toxic as the disease. In many cases, in order to cure the Syphilis, the dosage of Mercury led to uncontrollable salivating and loss of teeth. For gonorrhea, Chloride of lead was injected with a huge syringe, and it was so painful that most men were unable to suppress screaming. This was a horrible price to pay for simply trying to pass the time in a terrible and violent war.

    As I said, I wish I could have seen the entire program. It was most interesting. Much of the information used in the program is from letters, diaries, and other personal possessions of soldiers, it gives a look into something so private as sex and its role in something so un-private and harrowing as war. It is uncertain of what is 100% true of some of the documentation, but the subject matter presented in the program was entertaining. Honestly, after all the time that has passed, and the fact that many of the artifacts to support the claims of some of the stories have been destroyed, it would be hard to separate fact from fiction. But, the beliefs and stories are riveting and telling nevertheless.

    http://voices.yahoo.com/women-ill-fame-sex-prostitution-during-the-115481.html
     
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  18. James B White

    James B White 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    Guess I don't understand how context affects it, then. I already mentioned the point about expecting alcohol abuse to be higher due to a lack of other recreational drugs, but people at the time emphasized drunkenness as a problem the way we do other drug addiction today. It's not like slavery, where many people considered it perfectly acceptable in the context of the times. Or like smoking, where society's attitude in the 1940s or even 1980s is different from society's attitude today.

    If we were talking about, say, the Rev War army, I'd agree that society's attitude toward alcohol was different then, as shown by the example you gave earlier, of official army issues of alcohol rations that had been discontinued by the Civil War. But the reform movements of the 1830s-40s had changed things, making it more like today, so there were heavy drinkers who were for it, while others saw it as destructive of health, morals and productivity. People had tried since the 1840s in various ways to discourage it, from grass-roots organizations (Washingtonian societies, Sons of Temperance) to anti-drug type laws in the 1850s (Maine Laws) that prohibited sale. But it was like all the failed campaigns to stop drug use over the last decades: there was no easy answer.
     
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  19. damYankee

    damYankee Sergeant Major Forum Host

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    I am speaking in general terms of society not just military acceptance of alcohol, there were as you point out a few attempts by small groups of reformers to prohibit or slow down drinking, those were isolated attempts and were not successful in the long run. There were more brewers and distillers in 1860 then there were in 1850. The was a booming business.
    In New England there were a few Blue Laws, the influence of the Puritans had more political sway there, but even then, look at the over the counter remedies they bought, most were 15% alcohol by content, even during the height of prohibition a Dr. could prescribe booze.
    Do you remember the old Geritol commercials? This was a old company that had been selling their product for many generations, it was suppose to help with all ailments of age, poor iron? Take Geritol! Can't sleep? Take Geritol! Arthritis? Bleeding gums? Sore Feet? Geritol to rescue! Turns out it was 17% booze by content, in the 1970s it was forced off the market by the FDA...
     
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  20. damYankee

    damYankee Sergeant Major Forum Host

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  21. K Hale

    K Hale Colonel Civil War Photo Contest
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    In so doing, I wonder if they ever stopped to think about what their wives, sweethearts, girlfriends might be doing when separated from their military men.

    Just a thought. Women break down.

    :wink:
     
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