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cartoon of a Washington citizen with the shakes

[Source: Atlas Editions; Civil War Cards]

Surgeons from both sides of the Civil War called malaria "ague","shakes", or "intermittent fever", the illness accounted for 20 percent of all sickness during the war. A typical case of malaria started with shivers down the spine, then fluctuating fevers for days. According to the clinical records, doctors used a variety of treatments for malaria, but whiskey and quinine were the standard treatment. Some Yankee patients were given so much quinine that their teeth became loose and they were not able to eat. When drugs became scarce in the South, doctors substituted tonics made from whiskey mixed with barks of dogwood, tulip and willow trees.

During the Civil War people believed malaria was caused by poisonous vapors emanating from ponds and swamps. While many of the men noted in their diaries the swarms of mosquitoes that attacked during warmer months, and the ensuing sickness that enveloped the camp, they never put the two together.