09-04-1867: Major Smith’s Letter to Dr. Milhau.
Source: Record Group 94. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s - 1917, Medical Records: 1814-1919. Reports on Diseases and Individual Cases, 1841-93, Papers Relating to Cholera, Smallpox, & Yellow Fever Epidemics, 1849-1893. U.S. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
The day after he wrote the letter below, Dr. J. Sim Smith, Fort Jefferson’s physician, was stricken with yellow fever, and died on September 7th. The Commanding Officer, Major Val Stone, placed Dr. Mudd in charge of the fort’s hospital until Dr. Daniel Whitehurst arrived from Key West to take charge. Sixty year-old Whitehurst had worked as the fort’s doctor before the war. Mudd and Whitehurst worked side by side until the epidemic was over. A new Army doctor then arrived to relieve them.
Sept 4th 1867
Since my last report up to the present about twenty five more cases have occurred - of these, two have died making three deaths in all. Among those taken since my last report is Lt. Paul Roemer, Commanding Co. K and Acting Sr Asst & C.S. He was taken during the night of the 30th but did not notify or send for me until between three and four o’clock in the morning. He was very ill and is still quite so but improving I think.
The day after my last report to you the wind died out and since that time until yesterday we had little or no breeze and the average temperature has been a little more than eighty nine (89°) degrees. The result of this condition was very manifest yesterday in the fact that six cases recurred with an aggravation of all the symptoms. But during the day a strong breeze from the north east sprang up and has been blowing with occasional squalls ever since and today or rather since last evening no additional cases have occurred. I have established a Quarantine Hospital upon Sand Key consisting of two hospital tents, two wall tents and a temporary frame building thirty five by twelve feet. This last is the remains of the Hospital originally on the Key, built there during the war at a cost of fourth thousand dollars and complete I understand in all its appointments. This when I arrived at the Post had been torn down and the lumber used to build a theatre at the fort. Sand Key is a little island about an acre in extent a mile and a half North East of this Post.
There are now fourteen cases of yellow fever in Hospital about half of whom are convalescent. This morning by my advices the Commanding Officer detached Co. L and ordered it into encampment upon Bird Key which is a mile and a half to the South West of the Fort and if the other Keys were approached in rough weather I would advise him to detach another company.
The casemates in which three of the Companies are quartered are quite damp but airy and cool. A curious fact connected with the appearance of the disease at this place is that the only case last year at the Post occurred in the person of a Private of M Company who died but so far this year not a single case has occurred in that Company but has been confined to K, I, and L. My hospital at Sand Key is under the charge of Acting Steward James T. Moses, Prvt. Co. L 5th Arty, who has proved so far a valuable and efficient man but if the number of cases should increase I shall send there Hospital Steward W.W. Wathes U.S.A. on duty at this Post - whose conduct during the epidemic is worthy of the highest commendation.
In the three cases in which death has occurred a very distressing hiccough has appeared about twelve hours preceding death. I would again call attention to the very unsatisfactory manner that this Post is supplied with commissary stores and must protest against it in the most earnest manner. Our supplies are received by a steamer which arrives at this point once a month and the supplies she brings are limited in quantity and indifferent in quality. Our supplies should be derived direct from the Northern markets with which we have direct communication every ten days. In this way our stores would reach us in a direct manner of good quality and in such quantities as are needed. Now as the perishable articles are first shipped from the North to New Orleans and thence back to this place, the loss is I should judge at least one third especially in the articles of flour. In point of economy of transportation I am quite sure that the expenses of transporting commissary stores from New York or Baltimore to Key West would not be as great as sending them by a special steamer from New Orleans.
I am Sir
Your Obdt Svt
J. Sim Smith
Asst Surg & Brvt Maj USA
J.J. Milhau USA
Med. Dir. 3rd Mil. Dist.