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  Body Lice, Ticks, and Harvest Mites 133 most scary of all birds, devour putrid carcasses of mules, horses and camp offal with as little concern for man as if he were an inoffensive mouse.”60 B o dy L i c e , T i c ks , a n d H a rv e st M i t e s Misery! The ordeals of Civil War soldiers were often aggravated by “vermin ” as much as by the enemy. Body lice (Pediculus humanus corporis) vied with mosquitoes as the most dreaded of insect pests. One writer penned, “Like death, it was no respecter of persons. It preyed alike on the just and the unjust. It inserted its bill as confidingly into the body of the major-general as of the lowest private.”1 Body lice are tiny parasitic insects that feed on human blood and live in the seams and creases of clothing. Their bite causes intense itching of the skin. Lice have three life stages. The eggs, called nits, may be attached to body hair and take about thirty days to hatch. Eggs hatch into nymphs, which resemble small adults and must have a blood meal to develop. Because of their color, adult lice were called graybacks. About the size of a sesame seed, adults also need to feed on humans to live. Body lice are transmitted by direct contact with an infested person and through exposure to infected clothing or bedding. Soldiers frequently lived in an environment ideal for body lice transmission: poor hygiene and overcrowded living conditions. Infections persisted until clothes were boiled and bathing became routine, remedies not always available in wartime . Body lice can carry typhus and relapsing fever, although their part in these diseases during the Civil War is unclear. Even if repugnant to their victims, lice sometimes provided recreation for bored soldiers, including prisoners. A number of lice each with its ardent supporters were placed in the center of a dish and the first to reach the edge was declared winner of the “louse race.”2 Private John King, 40th Georgia Infantry, at Camp Chase Prison in Columbus, Ohio: “One can scarcely imagine that there could be any fun, any real amusement in watching the antics of a miserable louse, and certainly less to inspire a poetic thought. Robert Burns might write a poem on the creeping thing he saw on the ribbon of a pretty girl in a Kirk in Scotland , but is it possible that a poor forlorn prisoner in the destitution of the meanest poverty, could get a moment’s real fun in playing with the miser- 134 Fauna able tormentor that had crawled over his back and rendered his life a constant affliction? What think you, gentle reader, of a louse race, of a regular pugilistic encounter between two champions of the genus pediculidae? I have witnessed both and have seen many a potato won and lost by the owners of these tormentors.”3 Union nurse Hannah Ropes at a hospital in Washington, D.C., in a letter to her daughter, probably in December 1862: “You have no idea of a hospital, nor has anyone who simply calls in to see me. We get lousy! . . . My needle woman found nine body lice inside of her flannel waistcoat after mending the clothes that had been washed! And I caught two inside the binding of my drawers!”4 Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 20th Massachusetts Volunteers, in a letter to his father on June 13, 1862, from Camp Lincoln, Virginia: “Shall I confess a frightful fact? Many of the officers including your beloved son have discovered themselves to have been attacked by body lice.”5 John M. Follett, 33rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry, at Vicksburg, Mississippi , in a letter to his wife on June 7, 1863: “Yesterday we drawed new clothes and then the whole regt went out and boiled all their old ones and killed all the lice, jiggers, fleas, ticks, ants, spiders, and every other thing with which infests our clothes. I drawed a new pair of pants, and as my old ones are tolerable good I will have two pairs, so I will boil them every week.”6 Private Gottfried Rentschler, 6th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry [Union], in a letter to the Louisville Anzeiger from near Atlanta, Georgia , on July 25, 1864: “While crossing the creek General Hazen’s Provost Marshal was severely wounded by a musket ball. . . . Four men had to carry him on the stretcher to the hospital. He did...


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