Craven County Digital History Exhibit

Benjamin, Epidemic in New Bern,
pages 3 through 7

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IN the history of this rebellion no city which has been captured and occupied by our forces, situated as far North as New Berne, North Carolina, has been visited by a sweeping pestilence, so completely decimating as the late terrible scourge of yellow fever.

In proportion to the population of our city, and taking into consideration the number of those who, for personal safety, visited the Northern States, the epidemic of September and October, 1864, stands unparalleled in its fearful fatality. So general and excellent had been the public health for a long term of years, that no apprehension of disease was exhibited, and, least of all, of an endemic infection so appalling in its ravages, and respecting neither rank, age, sex, or the native born, as the one with which we have been identified, and through which, with all its attending terrors, a merciful Providence has permitted a few of us to pass. The yellow fever in Norfolk, Va., in 1855, did not approach that of our experience in its malignant type and character. Fifty-two years ago, New Berne was afflicted with a visitation similar to the one of which we write, but

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by no means as vindictive in its fury, or as extensive in its direful mortality. Of the origin of that pestilence, the historians of that time authoritatively declare that it was introduced here by a trading vessel from one of the Spanish West India Islands, the commerce of New Berne with that part of the world, at that period, being an extensive one. Of the immediate cause to which the late epidemic owes its origin and diffusion, we can only allude to briefly in this present narrow limit.

Among the maladies and diseases which the human race stand most in dread of, none are more feared than those which spring from specific infectious poisons.

Eminent medical men have been divided in their opinions concerning the nature of those influences which tend to produce contagions, but the greater number of them are satisfied that yellow fever can only be generated from miasma and paludal malaria, the same which creates intermittent and remittent fevers.

Other physicians maintain that the inhaling of the " spores of fungi" will superinduce similar results; but the subject is one which so entirely depends upon scientific research for any satisfactory elucidation, that we must be content in referring the reader to the most approved authors for a more complete acquaintance with this topic.

Our Medical Director, Dr. D. W. Hand, and associate Surgeons, have decided that malaria was the cause of the late devastating destruction of human life in this city.

When the disease first made its appearance in our midst, no alarm was manifested by our citizens, as it was believed to be a one of simply an ordinary bilious character, and termed in every-day parlance, " malignant bilious fever."

The first attacked by the insidious foe were John A. Taylor, W. Vanderbeek, Sutler 158th N. Y. Volunteers, Lieut. Johnson,

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of the Ambulance Corps, Capt. Wm. Holden, A. Q. M., and Charles Hoskins, late of the Chief Provost Marshal's office, under Capt. J. W. Denny.

Mr. Taylor was the first victim, and deserves particular mention. A young man whose character was without reproach, and universally esteemed by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance; he was one of the proprietors of the principal drug store in the city, and, by energy and unrelaxed industry, had succeeded in amassing a handsome independence, by dealing in naval stores, apart from his regular business. His demise was deeply regretted by the community, but it did not give rise to any degree of conjecture concerning his disease, being, as it were, the pioneer case. Mr. William Vanderbeek, was one of the most popular business men in the community, open-hearted and generous to a fault, and a man of incredible perseverance.

He had the peculiar faculty of making every one his friend, and "none knew him but to praise." His illness was of some duration, but at no time did he manifest the slightest fear of its proving fatal; struggling against the disease, and even leaving his chamber, declaring that he would soon be well; but in vain he tried to rally his drooping spirits, and sank into death's embrace.

Peace be to his ashes! A man than whom none were more thoroughly and better known, upright in all his dealings; punctilious in his honor, and firm in his friendship. We have none too many men of his calibre, and the memory of William Vanderbeek will be fondly cherished when other names have been lost in oblivion.

Lieut. Johnston died previous to Mr. Vanderbeek, and his death was generally supposed to have proceeded from congestive fever. Capt. Wm. Holden, Acting Chief Quartermaster, suffered long and severely, and for some days his

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life was entirely despaired of, but he passed through the dreadful ordeal, to the infinite joy of a legion of friends and the community at large. The Captain has since been entertained with a perusal of obituary notices of himself, published in Northern papers, and, at least, has learned what men did say of him believing him dead, and knows full well the record he would have left behind him, had he "shuffled off this mortal coil," and how a people will remember those who achieve enduring popularity. We are proud to chronicle the return of the Captain to New Berne, completely restored to health. During the illness of Capt. Holden, the disease assumed a bolder and more threatening aspect, breaking out in the Post Commissary's, and carrying off the detailed clerks. George Penniman, of the 23d Massachusetts Regiment; Reuben De Luce, of the 25th Massachusetts Regiment; Thomas G. Grier, of the 51st Pennsylvania Regiment; Lieutenant William O. Brown, and F. Wellington, of the 25th Massachusetts Regiment, survived, but were saved almost miraculously. The Commissary Depot was situated at the foot of Craven Street, contiguous to the wharf. In the summer, the old dock, which had been there for many years, (and in which many a bark from the West Indies had discharged her valuable freights, in times gone by, like "the rich argosies of old,") was filled up, and the present large and commodious one completed in its stead. Subsequently, heavy rains left an accumulation of water under the adjacent storehouses, which, having no outlet to the river, became stagnant, and created the malaria from which the epidemic arose. The appearance of New Berne at this time was sombre in the extreme; with the fading shades of each evening, the kindled fires at every corner emitting heavy columns of the densest and blackest smoke, enveloped the city in a funeral pall, and the "death-

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angel flapped his wings " o'er its dwellings; still the fever had not yet assumed the character of an epidemic. The order came from the Medical Director, Dr. D. W. Hand, to the Chief Provost Marshal, to destroy the wooden buildings on Craven Street Wharf, which concealed in their cellars the standing pools, "green mantled" in their miasmatic robes.

It was no easy task to burn down those storehouses within their circumscribed limits, and not include the neighboring tenements; for, only by the most guarded vigilance, active firemen and excellent management, could the duty be accomplished. An hour's rain in the afternoon of that day deluged the roofs, and afforded a most effectual safeguard and assurance against the encroachments of the fire. At 3 o'clock, P.M., the Chief Provost Marshal, Major H. T. Lawson, and his deputies, came on the ground, and immediately the work of disembowelment commenced, and in a short space of time all the commissary stores were removed to a place of security, and the torch applied.

Major Lawson during the conflagration exerted himself with superhuman effort in his endeavor to prevent the flames from spreading, drenched in water, and exposed, long after dark, to the noxious night air. Twice did an adjoining warehouse become the prey of the devouring element, but the perseverance of the firemen succeeded, and none but the buildings designated by the Medical Director were destroyed. It was almost beyond belief that a fire of such magnitude should have been controlled in so masterly a manner, and the Provost Marshal, in the hour of his triumph and grateful discharge of duty, sealed his fate, and fell before the pestilence. Major Henry T. Lawson, of the 2d Massachusetts Artillery, Chief Provost Marshal of New Berne, was a brave soldier, and a conscientious high-toned gentleman.

Front matter Pages 3 through 7 Pages 8 through 12 Pages 13 through 17
Pages 18 through 22 Pages 23 through 27 Pages 28 through 32 Pages 33 through 39


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Images scanned by John B. Green, III.  Text prepared by John B. Green, III and Victor T. Jones, Jr.
This page last edited on August 21, 2018.

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