Epidemic! Wilmington Cut Off – Help Finally Arrives

By Rebecca Taylor  — Part 2 – Epidemic! 

“Wilmington, N.C., September 15, 1862: Mr. Editor: — There has been quite a panic in town for several days past, arising from two or three unmistakable cases of yellow fever. The symptoms are said to be the same as those that carried so many to their graves in 1821 – vis: a pain in the back and head, together with scorching fever, ending with black vomit. The greatest fear now is of its spreading. Families are rapidly leaving town, and if it converts itself into an epidemic, Wilmington will in a short time be deserted of most of its inhabitants. There is much alarm in its spreading, principally from one thing, the steam-mills and distilleries having stopped operations. The health of the City heretofore has been chiefly attributed to them. Today the whole place and entire heavens around are black with smoke. Everyone must, of course, feel a perfect horror of the fever, but the idea of one’s “imagining” himself as having it, is rather ludicrous.  There is great excitement existing; all the troops have been moved out of town. Your correspondent has an idea of leaving, if it continues to develop itself.  — Hon. W. S. Ashe, President of the W & W Railroad” Semi-Weekly Standard (Raleigh, September 20, 1862)

Not only was the market closed and the trains stopped, but by late September the town had no telegraph operator left alive and a plea for someone to operate that essential communication utility.

 By mid-September of 1962, Wilmington was effectively cut off from the rest of North Carolina.

Reports were coming in of cases in such wide spread places as Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Fayetteville, all contracted by people coming from Wilmington. On September 27, the Mayor of Fayetteville issued the following statement:

“In compliance with the pledge given on Thursday, I have to report that a person who reached this place, sick, from Wilmington, on Wednesday last, died this morning. The attending Physician reports that the disease of which he died showed symptoms of yellow fever. All intercourse with Wilmington has been suspended, and sanitary regulations adopted, by which it is hoped no further cases will be introduced. All our Physicians concur in the opinion that the disease cannot spread in this place, and that persons from the country having business here may come and go, as usual, with impunity. – Arch’d McLean, Mayor” Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer, September 29, 1962

However, help was on the way.  On September 25, 1862, Confederate General Beauregard, who was stationed in Charleston, SC, notified Wilmington that:

Dr. Choppin of this staff having offered his services to repair to Wilmington, he accordingly sent him, hoping that his experience and ability acquired at the Charity hospital and in his private practice in New Orleans, might enable him to be of material aid to our suffering community. Dr. Choppin arrived on the next train, as did also Mr. Schouboe with seven nurses from Charleston. Mr. Schouboe volunteered his services and is one of the officers of the Mayor of Charleston. He with the nurses in charge was sent on by Mayor Macbeth.

A report on the conditions of the hospital from the Wilmington Daily Journal of October 21, 1862 reads:

“We paid a visit to the Hospital, corner of Front and Dock streets, under the medical charge of Confederate Surgeon Wragg; the nurses under the direction of Capt. Westerlund, from Charleston.

We found eighteen patients there, about equal numbers male and female. Nearly all were progressing favorably; some decidedly convalescent, some few with high fever on, and one, in the female department, apparently hopeless. The black vomit had appeared in its most decided form. This as we were told was the only hopeless case.”

It didn’t take long for the military doctors to set up a hospital, as many of the poorer patients were being housed in tents. It was announced that: “…the majority of the sick in town would be better off at the Hospital than at home – even those having means, for most homes are half-way deserted, and of those left nearly all are sick, and attendance, even to the extent of cooking food, cannot be obtained for money.”

By early October, Wilmington’s neighboring towns and cities were collecting money and supplies to send to the beleaguered town.

Fayetteville, October 3, At a meeting of the Mayor and Commissioners, held at their office, this day, the following Resolutions were passed. –

Resolved, That this Board deeply sympathizing with the citizens of our sister town of Wilmington, in their afflicted condition, will take all means in its power for their relief.

Resolved, That a Committee be appointed to raise the means necessary to procure supplies for the sufferers in Wilmington, and to purchase, collect and forward everything likely to be necessary and acceptable to the inhabitants of that town, in their present troubles.

Resolved, that the citizens of this town and county be solicited to co-operate and assist in carrying out the purposes of this proceeding.”   Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer, October 6, 1862

From The Charlotte Democrat of October 21, 1862 came the announcement, “ The citizens of Charlotte held a meeting on Monday to make arrangements to afford relief to the people of Wilmington. A resolution was passed requesting the Pastors of the several congregations in the Town and County to take up a collection on Sunday next in provisions or money and forward the same to J. L. Brown at Charlotte.”

A letter from W. H. Jones of Raleigh dated October 16, 1862, reprinted in the Raleigh Register, October 22, 1862, reads: “On behalf of the Committee of our city to collect contributions for your city, I send you my check for $989.13, as a portion of our collections, $1,000 having been sent West to buy provisions for your relief. Hoping you may soon be in the enjoyment of your accustomed health and comforts.”

[The newspaper clippings displayed all come from a search of “yellow fever + Wilmington + 1862” on Newspapers.com]


Next Month:
Part 3: Yellow Fever — The Victims and the Memorials