Friday, April 20, 2012

Force Preparedness

In late 1861, when most of these men volunteered, there was no physical or mental testing requirement. As their training progressed, those found to be unfit for service were simply discharged. Some were discharged for personal or business reasons, but most were physically unable to keep up with the rest of the regiment.  Marginally impaired  men  might be reassigned to the Home Guard, a division of the state's militia, while soldiers  found to be physically or mentally unfit  were simply sent home with an honorable discharge. 

During extended stays at locations like Pittsburg Landing, yet another factor affecting force preparedness was evident.  By this date in 1862, all of the wounded had been treated and removed to more suitable environments for their recovery.  Enlisted men were usually sent to St. Louis, Nashville or Louisville from Shiloh.  If needed, they were then released for a period of 30-90 days and allowed to recover at home.  Some of the men who had fallen ill at Calhoun or suffered wounds at Fort Donelson were now rejoining the regiment thanks to the regular steamboat traffic up and down the Tennessee River. 

These arrivals were balanced by the steady out-flow of the infirm back to homes and hospitals and the strength of the combined regiments hovered around 300 men. The epidemic levels of pulmonary and digestive diseases were a constant throughout the war.  The sanitary conditions in camps were typically horrible and even counteracted some treatment measures.  Many veterans of the Seventeenth recounted the problems of rat infestation, particularly at Shiloh.  To complicate matters, the rats had an affinity for the taste of mustard plasters which were commonly applied to those suffering from pulmonary distress.*  Imagine yourself sleeping on the cool moist ground, a victim of pneumonia, and waking up to find rats gnawing at your chest!  Such was life in the infantry.

*Blackburn, John, A Hundred Miles, A Hundred Heartbreaks, 1972.  LOC 72-93774.

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