Fully aware of the sufferings of Northern prisoners in the South due to the blockade, President Jefferson Davis in the summer of 1864 sent commissioners to Washington to bring US surgeons to the Southern camps to dispense medicine. No reply was ever received and Lincoln refused to meet the commissioners, leading Davis to wonder if Federal were prisoners left to suffer, and afterward photographed “to aid in firing the popular heart of the North?”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
An Inhuman and Barbarous Act
“The South had been dependent upon the outside world for medicine of all kinds, except “home remedies” used by many of its people. Of all imported, none was so necessary in the South as quinine, since malaria was prevalent over most of the region.
As if striking at the most vulnerable spot in the Confederacy, the United States, immediately upon the outbreak of war, placed medicine on the contraband list. Few war measures caused feeling to run so high in both the North and the South, for many felt this to be an inhuman, barbarous act.
When the American Medical Association met in New York in 1864, some doctors decided that they would try to get the restrictions regarding medicine going into the Confederacy lifted in the name of humanity, but their motion to that effect was tabled “indefinitely.” And the restrictions were not removed for the duration of the war. A poem urging the continuance of the contraband principle was widely circulated in the Northern newspapers as follows:
“No more quinine – let ‘em shake; No more Spaldings pills – let their heads aches; No morphine – let ‘em lie awake: No mercury for the rebels take though fever all their vitals bake;
No nitre drops, their heat to slake; No splinters though their necks they break, And, above all, no Southern rake, Shall have his ‘wine for stomacks sake,’ Till full apology make.”
From the adoption of Federal restrictions, there was never sufficient medicine to relieve the sickness and suffering in the Confederacy.
Medicines and surgical equipment were captured from time to time, but this became increasingly rare as the course of the war turned against the Confederates. And when such supplies were captured, they were diverted to military channels and had no effect on the supply of medicines for civilians.
The second source of supply, through running the blockade, proved far more successful. Small in bulk and high in price, medicine became part of the cargo of nearly every blockade runner. Land blockade-running was more interesting than running of the water blockade. Drugs were sent down the [Mississippi] river originally from Paducah, Kentucky, or Cairo, Illinois, by Northern speculators or traders and were sent ashore into the Confederacy at night.
During the late winter and early spring of 1862, a story was widely circulated that some of the quinine sent into Tennessee and Arkansas in this manner was poisoned; heated editorials and warnings followed. The quinine was believed to contain strychnine, and the people were cautioned against its use.”
(Ersatz in the Confederacy, Shortages and Substitutes on the Southern Homefront, Mary Elizabeth Massey, University of South Carolina Press, 1952, excerpts, pp. 115-117)