A Tale of Two Cities: The Hidden Battle against Venereal Disease in Civil War Nashville and Memphis
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

A TALE OF TWO CITIES: THE HIDDEN BATTLE AGAINST VENEREAL DISEASE IN CIVIL WAR NASHVILLE AND MEMPHIS James Boyd Jones, Jr. MAJOR EVENTS and names in Tennessee's Civil War history are well known and well chronicled. Dramatic stories of Shiloh and Stone River and exciting war-time biographies of Rosencrans, Forrest, and Bragg have monopolized scholars' and readers' attentions. Until recently, however, very little attention has been paid to the medical and social aspects of Tennessee's Civil War experience. As Patricia La Pointe has recognized: "One contigency poorly prepared for . . . was medical care."1 Both Nashville and Memphis became important centers for logistical, supply, and medical activities during the conflict, and both cities were occupied by the United States Army. Where soldiers collected it was nearly axiomatic that prostitutes would collect as well. Certainly, the problem presented by prostitution and venereal disease was not planned for by the army, and it became a problem of major significance in Nashville and Memphis. According to official medical records, "venereal diseases were associated with intemperence in the conditions which favored their causation ." Incidence was higher "among troops stationed in the vicinity of cities than among those on active service." Increases in the disease rate during the war corresponded with the additions of fresh levies of troops and the returns of furloughed veterans. In total there were 73,382 cases of syphilis, and 109,397 cases of gonorrhea reported among white soldiers in the Union Army resulting in 82 cases per 1,000 men. Among black troops, 34 cases per 1,000 for syphilis, and 44 per 1,000 for gonorrhea 1 Patricia M. La Pointe, "Military Hospitals in Memphis, 1861-1865," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 42, no. 4 (1983): 325-42; Harris D. Riley, Jr., and Amos Christie, "Deaths and Disabilities in the Provisional Army of Tennesee," THQ 43, no. 2(1984): 142-54. Civil War History, Vol. XXXI, No. 3, ©1985 by The Kent State University Press VENEREAL DISEASE IN NASHVILLE AND MEMPHIS 271 were reported. Thus, while not epidemic, venereal diseases were not unknown. The U.S. Army made efforts to limit the spread of these diseases among the troops, and the surgeon general reported: "The results were highly satisfactory."2 While specific complaints concerning venereal diseases were not known to be extant, advertisements in Nashville newspapers for the period indicate the problem was real. Dr. Coleman's Dispensary for Private Diseases on North Cherry Street (now Fourth Avenue), catered to victims of venereal diseases. Dr. A. Richard Jones on Deaderick Street likewise offered treatments for "private diseases."3 In I860, Nashville's red-light district was located "in a quarter . . . two blocks wide and four blocks long, being the first block south of Spring (now Church) Street, on Front, Market, College, and Cherry (now First, Second, Third, and Fourth Avenues) Streets." The district was conveniently located near the river trade "of which there was a great deal." During the occupation by the U.S. Army, the district, called Smokey Row, does not appear to have relocated elsewhere. In 1864, for example , "a house of ill fame" was located on College Street (now Third Avenue). Business was brisk and the incidence of venereal disease skyrocketed . One private from Mahoning County, Ohio, Benton E. Dubbs, recalled that while he was in Nashville "there was an old saying that no man could be a soldier unless he had gone through Smokey Row. . . . The street was about three fourths of a mile long and every house or shanty on both sides was a house of ill fame. Women had no thought of dress or decency. They said Smokey Row killed more soldiers than the war."4 By June 1863, Brigadier General R. S. Granger, in command at Nashville, was "daily and almost hourly beset" by regimental commanders and surgeons seeking a means of ridding the city of "the diseased prostitutes infesting it." Action was essential "to save the army from a fate worse . . . than to perish on the battlefield." Prostitution itself, though physically harmless, led to venereal disease, and was equally "annoying and destructive to the morals of the army."5 Just after the Fourth of July, Provost Marshal Lt. Colonel George Spalding...