Conditions in Civil War Helena were horrible. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, contaminated drinking water, and mosquitoes led to typhoid, dysentery, malaria and other diseases. Tents, churches, barns, abandoned houses and business buildings housed thousands of sick soldiers.
Sick Men, Grim Hospitals
Annie Wittenmeyer visited Helena in August 1863. She came with the Western Sanitary commission, an organization much like today's Red Cross. Her report on the military hospitals were grim.
"We found the hospitals at Helena, if they may be called hospitals, in a dreadful condition. The Methodist and Baptist Churches were crowded with very sick and severely wounded men. There were very few cots in these two churches. Most of the men were lying in the narrow pews, with the scant uneven cushions for their beds. The weather was extremely hot, and flies swarmed over everybody and everything. "
Feeling of Hopelessness
Sanitary Commission aids visited a convalescent camp located on the sandy banks of the Mississippi River. The August sun beat down, turning the tents into furnaces. Behind the tents was a wide cypress swamp, "stagnant and green and deadly."
Aid workers brought healthy food, clean clothing and blankets to the camp but the discouraged men told them their efforts were useless. "it is only question of time," one said, "your efforts will only prolong our suffering; we are all the same as dead men."
"The faces of some of the men, who were too helpless to keep up a continual fight with them,were black with swarms of hungry buzzing flies." Annie Wittenmeyer, August 1863