Milton Historical Society

June 5-8, 1863

It seems that just a short time ago Henry was noting the toll the winter had taken on "some of the most healthy looking Men in the Regiment." It is summer in Louisiana now, though, and the perils of the environment are even greater. Near Clinton Lake, Louisiana, marching from Clinton to Port Hudson, Henry "was sun-struck or overcome by the excessive heat, the weather being very hot and the march very fatiguing," as his friend Elbridge Blackman (introduced in Henry's October 1st letter) recounted.

Chapter 8 of The Story of the Thirty Eighth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, published 1866, begins with a quote from an unidentified soldier's letter:

Saturday, June 6th, 5 pm.  We are now out of the din of battle which surrounds Port Hudson, and went to sleep last night, for the first time in twelve days, without the accompaniment of cannon and musketry...We (had) started early Friday morning; but several of the regiments took the wrong road, and we had to wait until they retraced their steps, and caught up with us.  At noon, we halted for an hour or so, and then resumed our march; but, while we had been laying in front of Port Hudson, the sun had been climbing up in the heavens, and it was found that we could not march as we had done.  Men began to fall, all through the line; and the hospital stretchers were soon filled with them, panting for breath.

For Henry, the sunstroke was "of sufficient severity to disable him for the time being," recorded the regimental surgeon, Dr. Edwin F. Ward, who was probably not at all surprised to see him. While describing Henry's condition, Dr. Ward also noted that the January malady Henry downplayed in his letter on the 18th had been:

unusually persistent and intractable, producing and being accompanied by unusual disturbance of the liver, and kidneys; that he was, in consequence of this, under his [Dr. Ward's] care and treatment on many occasions until about the middle of May, 1863.

The "intermittent fever," as Dr. Ward described it, would have left Henry even more susceptible to sunstroke than the other "sandy"-complexioned New England teenagers marching in the Louisiana heat, despite being "a sound man" at enlistment (again, Dr. Ward's words).

These gems of detail about an ordinary soldier's struggles with infantry life in a foreign climate come again from the staff of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Besides the Consolidated Military Service Records, the NARA's pension files — claims, affidavits, and War Department responses — for individual soldiers are filled with the personal stories behind casualty statistics and regimental histories. As we wait for Henry's July 2nd letter, we're left with a more worrisome assessment of his January illness from Captain Wade, who described it simply as "Malarial fever" (below). You'll recall that Wade resigned in March; you can see his photo and learn a bit more about him in our newly expanded footnote on Henry's February 24th letter. We do not know on what experience Captain Wade based his identification of the illness.

Officer's Certificate of Disability, Sept 27, 1881

Click on the excerpt to view the whole document.


Mike Doyle, Historian
Milton Historical Society

with Steve Kluskens