American Civil War Disease Facts

Photo of soldiers at a hospital during the Civil War
A hospital during the Civil War

Introduction - Disease during Civil War

American Civil War soldiers faced great dangers in battle; enemy artillery and gunfire, and often hand-to-hand combat wiped them out by the thousands. However, the greatest danger waited for them back at their camps; various diseases that spread like wild fire in their crowded camps took many more soldier's lives during the Civil War than did enemy fire. In fact it is estimated that nearly 400,000 Civil War soldiers died from disease compared to 200,000 from other causes. Unfortunate soldiers and civilians who caught one of the many deadly diseases prevalent during the war had little hope of survival due to the fact that nobody had any idea how to treat most of these diseases at that time.

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On this page we list interesting facts about disease during the American Civil War. Information on this page includes what disease killed the most soldiers, how disease were able to spread so easily during the war, and what measures were taken to control the spread of disease.

Causes of Disease during the American Civil War

Main Diseases of the American Civil War


Dysentery was the worst disease of the Civil War, and the overall main killer of soldiers in the war. Dysentery killed approximately 45,000 Union soldiers and 50,000 Confederate soldiers. This disease, called "quickstep" by the soldiers, involves inflammation of the intestine causing abdominal pain and diarrhea containing blood, and may also involve a fever.


Typhoid killed over 30,000 soldiers in both the Union and Confederate Armies. The disease is caused by eating or drinking food or water that has been contaminated with the feces of a person with the disease. People infected with this disease get fevers, headaches, constipation, chills, and some people develop a skin rash. If you contracted this disease during the Civil War you had a one out of three chance of dying.


The third most deadly disease during the American Civil War was pneumonia. Pneumonia, which is a lung inflammation caused by a bacterial or viral infection, killed over 35,000 soldiers during the war. This disease causes coughing, chills, fever, and makes breathing difficult.


Measles, also known as rubeola, killed a lot of soldiers during the Civil War. Measles is a very contagious disease that is spread through the air from the coughing and sneezing of infected people. The virus can survive for several hours on objects it lands on.


Malaria is an infectious disease spread by mosquitos. The symptoms of this disease can include fever, vomiting, fatigue, and headaches. In severe cases it can cause death. It is estimated around 30,000 soldiers died from this disease during the War Between the States. This number would have been a lot worse had it not been for quinine, a medicine used to prevent and treat Malaria.


Tuberculosis (TB) is a dangerous infectious disease that affects a person’s lungs. Tuberculosis is spread from one person to another through the air via coughs and sneezes. It is estimated approximately 14,000 soldiers died from TB during the American Civil War.