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174 Fauna Confederate sympathizer Myra Inman at Cleveland, Tennessee, on July 5, 1864: “I spent a miserable night last night. A rat got in Sister’s and my bed in the night.”10 Charles T. Quintard, chaplain, 1st Tennessee Infantry, at Okolona, Mississippi , on Nov. 15, 1864: “Ye Rats! Ye Rats! For size and multitude the Okolona rats cannot be excelled. All the night long they played the most fantastic tricks in the room we occupied. Once I got up and lighted the fire to drive them off.”11 John B. Jones, clerk to the Confederate secretary of war, in Richmond, Virginia, on Feb. 11, 1863: “Some idea may be formed of the scarcity of food in this city from the fact that, while my youngest daughter was in the kitchen to-day, a young rat came out of its hole and seemed to beg for something to eat; she held out some bread, which it ate from her hand, and seemed grateful. Several others soon appeared, and were as tame as kittens . Perhaps we shall have to eat them!”12 Eliza W. Howland, Union nurse, in a letter to her husband from Washington , D.C., on Jan. 28, 1862: “Mr. Hopkins told us of one poor fellow of a Vermont regiment who was brought to the hospital in Alexandria with typhoid fever, having both feet frozen and one of them eaten by rats!”13 S n a k e s Despite stories that the first fatality of the Civil War was caused from a coral snake bite, no reliable documentary evidence of the claim has surfaced . One popular magazine writer made the following relevant comments in 1910: “Nowhere in the Civil War records does a death from this cause [snakebite] appear, though hundreds of thousands of men were living ‘on the country,’ and at a time when the serpent clan was much more numerous than now.”1 In that era the outlandish myths that surrounded snakes were more prevalent than today, and the irrational fear of these reptiles was just as common. Hoop snakes, stinging snakes, snakes that whip people to death, and snakes that steal milk from cows were thought to exist and threaten all humanity since the days of the Garden of Eden. Other than king snakes (Lampropeltis spp.), which were barely tolerated   Snakes 175 because they sometimes feed on other snakes, snakes were considered dangerous vermin and eradicated opportunistically. Then as now, it is likely that more people injured themselves trying to kill harmless snakes than were harmed by poisonous ones. However, in a time before the development of antivenin, bites from poisonous snakes likely had higher mortality rates than those treated with modern therapies. As a result, a host of home remedies surfaced, most of which were ineffectual. One involved the immediate decapitation of a black hen into whose warm innards the bitten hand or foot was abruptly plunged.2 Following the pattern of most Civil War medicines, those used to treat snakebite contained a high percentage of ­alcohol. About forty-seven species of snakes occur in the eastern United States, seven of which are poisonous. As a group they are highly adaptive and found in most habitat types. Snakes are important, unappreciated components in many ecosystems and as predators often aid in the control of other animal populations such as rodents. The loss of habitat is the greatest threat to snakes today. Civil War participants had countless encounters with snakes. Their writings reflect a general misunderstanding of the reptiles , not unlike the situation today. Rattlesnake (Crotalus spp.) encounters seemed to be especially noteworthy . Sergeant Edwin H. Fay, Minden [Louisiana] Rangers, near Priceville, Mississippi, in a letter to his wife on June 10, 1862: “We came out some ten miles from Houston [Miss.] that night and I slept with a rattlesnake all night. Discovered him next morning and killed him, so this time I was preserved from danger.”3 Private Theodore F. Upson, 100th Indiana Infantry Volunteers, near Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 27, 1863: “I heard a racket yesterday and went to see what it was all about. I found that some of the boys had captured one of the big yellow rattle snakes that are found here and had built a pen of sticks at the foot of a white oak tree that had a limb sticking out over the pen and snake. When they had got it all fixed a man from the 8th Wisconsin came bringing the eagle they carry instead of...


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