Documenting the Deceased: Typhoid Fever During the Spanish-American War

Today’s post was written by Grace Schultz, archivist at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

While the Spanish-American War lasted four months (April 21 – August 13, 1898), it resulted in almost 2,500 deaths of American soldiers.[1] The short-lived conflict officially came to a close with the Treaty of Paris, which was signed on December 10, 1898. During the war, U.S. forces suffered fewer than 400 combat fatalities. But at home and abroad, military and civilian personnel in training camps were ravaged by typhoid fever (also called yellow fever), with over 2000 individuals succumbing to the disease. The War Department was responsible for facilitating the burial of military and civilian personnel who died while on duty.

The newly indexed series of Correspondence Relating to Burial Expenses for Deceased Soldiers, 1898 – 1901, illuminates just how detrimental typhoid fever was to personnel stationed at training camps in the United States during this time period. All but a handful of the 181 individuals documented in this series died of typhoid fever, and none of them died in combat. Most files contain correspondence between the depot and embalmers, funeral homes, casket companies, cemeteries, shipping companies, family members, and more to coordinate the payment, as well as the transportation and/or burial, of the deceased.

In the case of the late Private Paul Bartsch, Company “I” 3rd. New York Volunteers, the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot coordinated the embalming and shipping of his body back to Olean, New York. Bartsch died on September 5, 1898 of typhoid fever at St. Agnes Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His death certificate, issued by the City of Philadelphia, includes valuable genealogical information, and the correspondence relating to his burial illuminates the realities of moving the dead during and after wartime.

Civilian personnel stationed at camps also fell victim to typhoid fever, as can be seen by correspondence relating to the late Private Lloyd Lucas, who served as a Citizen Teamster of the U.S. Army from Camp Meade, Pennsylvania. Lucas died at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 13, 1898. His father, Thomas Lucas, requested that his son be buried in the Philadelphia National Cemetery, as he was the son of a veteran and died in service. Major C. A. H. McCauley, Quartermaster at the Philadelphia Depot, wrote back to Thomas Lucas that:

“The Government allows us to bury in one of our National Cemeteries any Government employe [sic] who died in the service, but there is no appropriation or allowances for funeral expenses. I have no doubt the Quartermaster General will send me authority for paying these expenses, of which I will advise you. Please accept my sympathy on the death of yous [sic] son. He will be buried in the Philadelphia National Cemetery here, which is a very fine cemetery in a desirable part of this city, taken care of by the Government.”

Lloyd Lucas’s application notes that he was a man of color, and that he was interred in the Philadelphia National Cemetery in a segregated lot (“Colored Lot” No. 2, Grave No. 482).

Not all of the individuals documented in this series died of disease. Captain Sidney E. Stuart, who served as U.S. Army Captain and Inspector of Ordnance, was in charge of the manufacture of smokeless powder and other experiments of the Government. Stuart was fatally injured in an explosion at DuPont’s Powder Mills (also called DuPont’s Powder Works), Carney’s Point, New Jersey on Saturday April 29, 1899. He died on Sunday, April 30, 1899 due to his sustained injuries. It can be seen from the various correspondence in this file that Captain Sidney was a close personal friend of Major C. A. H. McCauley, who went to great lengths to not confer any cost to Captain Sidney’s widow. In a May 12th telegram to Eugene DuPont (owner of DuPont’s Powder Mills), McCauley wrote

“I have known Mrs. Stuart [wife of Captain Sidney E. Stuart] for twenty-nine years, being the daughter of Colonel Livingston who commanded the first battery of artillery I joined in 1870, so that this case has a peculiar interest for me and I am desirous of helping her all I can. I beg you will therefore accept my most sincere thanks for your kindness to the widow of this brave officer who lost his life at his post of duty, and is as much a hero as if he died on the field of battle.”

Normally, the government only authorized $35.00 for burial expenses. An itemized receipt for the funeral expenses of Captain Sidney E. Stuart shows that his services cost $260.15 (which appear to have been paid in full by DuPont).

This series has been indexed and is now name searchable in the National Archives Catalog. The records in this collection are a valuable resource for genealogists, historians, and more, as they provide an interesting window into the ways in which the U.S. government documented and cared for the dead at the turn of the century. The records are not yet digitized, but patrons can email philadelphia.archives@nara.gov to review them in the research room at the National Archives at Philadelphia, or to have them reproduced (reproduction fees here). Series like this one can be found at several National Archives locations, including the National Archives at College Park, National Archives at Washington D.C., National Archives at St. Louis. Series like this are separate from military personnel files (which you can learn more about here).


Other Reading / Resources:


[1] “America’s Wars,” Department of Veterans Affairs, https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf

2 thoughts on “Documenting the Deceased: Typhoid Fever During the Spanish-American War

  1. very interesting stories of these forgotten veterans who gave their all. Thank you publishing his article–Jim Ullman

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