Last week, New Zealand media reported the biggest wave ever recorded - by a newly deployed buoy in the Southern Ocean, near Auckland and Campbell islands, sites of many shipwrecks in the days of storm-battered tall ships.
The wave, measured at 19.4 metres -- just under 64 feet -- was higher than a five-storey building, yet scientists say that those that get away without being measured are even bigger. And waves are due to get even bigger as climate change takes hold.
Huge waves are nothing new, though. For centuries sailors have been relating yarns of gigantic waves, while countless ships have silently foundered, lost without apparent reason, leaving no trace.
The BBC has created a wonderful picture album, under the heading "Terrifying 20-metre rogue-waves are actually real." As Nic Fleming writes, "TEN-storey high, near-vertical walls of frothing water. Smashed portholes and flooded cabins on the upper decks. Thirty-metre behemoths that rise up from nowhere to throw ships about like corks, only to slip back beneath the depths moments later. "Evocative descriptions of abnormally large "rogue waves" that appear out of the blue have been shared among sailors for centuries. With little or no hard evidence, and the size of the waves often growing with each telling, there is little surprise that scientists long dismissed them as tall tales. "Until around half a century ago, this scepticism chimed with the scientific evidence. According to scientists' best understanding of how waves are generated, a 30m wave might be expected once every 30,000 years. Rogue waves could safely be classified alongside mermaids and sea monsters. "However, we now know that they are no maritime myths."
"The Great Wave off Kanagawa" by Katsushika Hokusai (Credit: Universal Art Archive/Alamy
An amateur historian has unearthed compelling evidence that the first Australian maritime foray into Japanese waters was by convict pirates on an audacious escape from Tasmania almost two centuries ago.
Fresh translations of samurai accounts of a “barbarian” ship in 1830 give startling corroboration to a story modern scholars had long dismissed as convict fantasy: that a ragtag crew of criminals encountered a forbidden Japan at the height of its feudal isolation.
The brig Cyprus was hijacked by convicts bound from Hobart to Macquarie Harbour in 1829, in a mutiny that took them all the way to China.
Its maverick skipper was William Swallow, a onetime British cargo ship apprentice and naval conscript in the Napoleonic wars, who in a piracy trial in London the following year told of a samurai cannonball in Japan knocking a telescope from his hand.
Swallow’s fellow mutineers, two of whom were the last men hanged for piracy in Britain, backed his account of having been to Japan.
Western researchers, citing the lack of any Japanese record of the Cyprus, had since ruled the convicts’ story a fabrication.
But that conclusion has been shattered by Nick Russell, a Japan-based English teacher and history buff, in a remarkable piece of sleuthing that has won the endorsement of Australian diplomatic officials and Japanese and Australian archival experts.
Russell, after almost three years of puzzling over an obscure but meticulous record of an early samurai encounter with western interlopers, finally joined the dots with the Cyprus through a speculative Google search last month.
The British expatriate all but solved what was for the Japanese a 187-year mystery, while likely uncovering vivid new detail of an epic chapter of colonial Australian history.
“If you’d said I was going to go hunt and find a new pirate ship, I’d have gone, ‘you’re crazy’,” Russell told Guardian Australia. “I just stumbled on it. Boom. There it was on the screen in front of me.
“I immediately knew and as soon as I started checking, everything just fitted so perfectly.”
The ship anchored on 16 January 1830 off the town of Mugi, on Shikoku island, where Makita Hamaguchi, a samurai sent disguised as a fisherman to check the ship for weapons, noted an “unbearable stench in the vicinity of the ship”.
With the help of a local volunteer manuscript reading group, Russell has since worked at translating written accounts of the ship’s arrival by Hamaguchi and another samurai, Hirota, now held by the Tokushima prefectural archive. Hamaguchi’s is called Illustrated Account of the Arrival of a Foreign Ship, while Hirota’s is A Foreign Ship Arrives Off Mugi Cove.It was Hamaguchi’s watercolour sketch of an unnamed ship with a British flag that first intrigued Russell when he saw it on the website of the Tokushima prefectural archive in 2014.
Russell first thought it may be a whaling ship, but the manuscript readers were skeptical. Having learned mutinies were common among whalers, Russell last month Googled the words “mutiny 1829”.
This stumbling upon a link between a samurai record and the story of the Cyprus was the research equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack, according to Warwick Hirst, the former curator of manuscripts at the State Library of New South Wales.
“It was a fantastic find,” Hirst, author of The Man Who Stole the Cyprus, told Guardian Australia. “I have no doubt that the Japanese account describes the visit of the Cyprus.”
What emerges is a picture of a desperate band of travellers, low on water and firewood, who provoked curiosity and suspicion among local warlords vexed by their appearance.
Bound to violently repel them by order of Japan’s ruling shogun, the samurai commanders showed some restraint, giving the foreigners advice on wind direction after raining down cannon balls and musket shot on their ship.
Hamaguchi wrote of sailors with “long pointed noses” who were not hostile, but asked in sign language for water and firewood. One had burst into tears and begun praying when an official rejected an earlier plea.
A skipper who looked 25 or 26 placed tobacco in “a suspicious looking object, sucked and then breathed out smoke”.
He had a “scarlet woollen coat” with “cuffs embroidered with gold thread and the buttons were silver-plated”, which was “a thing of great beauty, but as clothing it was gaudy”.
Hamaguchi’s watercolour sketch of the coat has what Russell said may be a telling detail on the sleeve: a bird that could be a swallow, the skipper’s own stamp on a British military officer’s jacket taken as a souvenir in the mutiny.
EARTH is poorly named. The ocean covers almost three-quarters of the planet. It is divided into five basins: the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian, the Arctic and the Southern oceans. Were all the planet’s water placed over the United States, it would form a column of liquid 132km tall. The ocean provides 3bn people with almost a fifth of their protein (making fish a bigger source of the stuff than beef). Fishing and aquaculture assure the livelihoods of one in ten of the world’s people. Climate and weather systems depend on the temperature patterns of the ocean and its interactions with the atmosphere. If anything ought to be too big to fail, it is the ocean.
Humans have long assumed that the ocean’s size allowed them to put anything they wanted into it and to take anything they wanted out. Changing temperatures and chemistry, overfishing and pollution have stressed its ecosystems for decades. The ocean stores more than nine-tenths of the heat trapped on Earth by greenhouse-gas emissions. Coral reefs are suffering as a result; scientists expect almost all corals to be gone by 2050.
By the middle of the century the ocean could contain more plastic than fish by weight. Ground down into tiny pieces, it is eaten by fish and then by people, with uncertain effects on human health. Appetite for fish grows nevertheless: almost 90% of stocks are fished either at or beyond their sustainable limits. The ocean nurtures humanity. Humanity treats it with contempt.
So what went wrong? And can we do anything about it before it's too late?
As hardly anyone knows these days, Sisyphus was a king in Greek mythology who was condemned to push a rock five miles uphill, just to see it roll down again.
There are many versions of his story, one of the most amusing being the one told in the Encyclopaedia of Greek Mythology. It seems he was a really rather nasty bloke - devious, deceitful, and vain, and great at building up business to his own pecuniary benefit. He also killed people who tried to migrate to his realm. All of this irritated the gods immensely, and so they decided to punish him. Hence the rock.
Remind you of anyone?
As well as various versions of the myth, there are various theories of what it really means. Some of them are on Wikipedia. But what I really like is a discussion by oped writer Joe Bennett in today's DominionPost. "The ancients knew a thing or two," he says. "Their gods weren't supernatural beings to be worshiped. They were metaphors for the way things were." And if, like Bennett, you are thinking of Trump, then the punishment is being wrought already.
"Trump yearns to be loved, to be admired," he goes on. "Praise is the fuel he runs on. But his stupidity and vanity have trapped him in a job that is utterly beyond him. And everyone can see it. He is despised throughout the world. And worse, mocked. He cannot open a newspaper, turn on the television, without finding himself ridiculed."
And it is all so public. No one is laughing behind his back -- the world is laughing right in his face. "A recent survey revealed that the three words Americans associated most with Trump were idiot, incompetent and liar. For a narcissist such knowledge is torture."
One almost feels sorry for the poor bloke. As Joe Bennett concludes, "Isolated, out of his depth, exposed and mocked, consumed with hatred, awash with self-pity, and facing a slow but inexorable crushing in the jaws of justice, Trump is in hell more surely than Sisyphus ever was."
It is one of those films that keep on turning through your mind long after the credits are over.
Based on a memoir smuggled out of Russia during the starkly terrible Stalin era, it is the epic true story of Evgenia Ginzburg, a poet and literature professor who was sentenced to ten years in a gulag in Siberia. A grim, grim tale, it is brought vividly to life, first by the superb cinematography and stunning scenery, and secondly by an amazing performance from Emily Watson, who is onscreen throughout.
The first half hour or so depicts a warm impression of Ginzburg's life before events seized her -- we see her in an affectionate relationship with her husband (who was, in fact, the mayor of the town where they lived, though this is not shown in the film), a loving mother who tells lively bedtime tales of "Mr. Whiskers," an evil mouse, to her two little boys, and a strict but inspiring teacher in class. Interestingly, while the film is in English, the lessons she writes on the board are in flowing Cyrillic, and yet the message is perfectly clear, such as the importance of the placement of a comma in a sentence recommending someone's execution.
Arrested for disloyalty to the Party, she is thrown into solitary confinement in a ghastly Moscow prison, where she keeps sane by reciting poetry while waiting for a sentence of death. Finally, she is hauled up before a bench of officials -- who take exactly six minutes to decide on her guilt and set her on her path to Siberia.
Filmed in a detention camp that has been kept as a memorial in Poland, the rest is chillingly convincing. This, as New York critic Nora Lee Mandel points out, " is one of the few films about women political prisoners in totalitarian states and the special bonds they share and brutalities they face, particularly rapes." Though increasingly gaunt and haunted (this is amazing acting from Emily Watson), Ginzburg keeps up her spirits and those around her by arguing with stolidly stupid guards by day, and telling stories at night.
Then, however, her spirit is broken. A stolid camp officer reads out a letter from her mother. Her husband, arrested, has committed suicide. Worse still, one of her sons has starved to death in the Nazi siege of Leningrad. Abject with grief, she wants to die, but, miraculously, is saved by a budding romance with the camp doctor, a man who was arrested and sentenced because he was German. This might seem syrupy and Hollywoodish, but not only is it very well portrayed, but it is nothing more or less than the truth.
Incredibly, this marvelous film has never been picked up for general release. The only times it has been publicly screened is at film festivals. Blame very, very bad timing. As Emily Watson remarked, "It was delivered pretty much the same day as the market crashed so nobody was buying anything."
Come explore surrounding New York City landmarks with instructor Robert Schaefer!
In this 2 day workshop, students will explore striking elements of city architecture and produce digital negatives from their raw captures.
On this excursion, participants visit the Flatiron Building, Empire State Building, Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building among others.
Students take their raw captures shot in camera that day and print them on transparency film.
On the second day, these negatives are used to print Cyanotypes. An overview of the cyanotype process will be demonstrated and practiced.
Students should come prepared with their own digital cameras, all other materials will be provided.
ROBERT A. SCHAEFER, JR. has been working in fine art photography for over 40 years. His imagery has been greatly influenced by architecture with an MA Degree from the Technical University in Munich, Germany. Schaefer's gelatin silver and cyanotype prints have been exhibited and are part of major collections in the US and Europe. His expertise in photography is passed on to students at New York University, and in his workshops and lectures for Penumbra/CAP. schaeferphoto.com
I have known the charming and talented Robert Schaefer for many years now, and cherish the collection of images he has shared with me. They have come from all over the world...
The “accidental hero” who halted the global spread of an unprecedented ransomware attack by registering a garbled domain name hidden in the malware has warned the attack could be rebooted.
The ransomware used in Friday’s attack wreaked havoc on organisations including FedEx and Telefónica, as well as the UK’s National Health Service(NHS), where operations were cancelled, X-rays, test results and patient records became unavailable and phones did not work.
But the spread of the attack was brought to a sudden halt when one UK cybersecurity researcher tweeting as @malwaretechblog, with the help of Darien Huss from security firm Proofpoint, found and inadvertently activated a “kill switch” in the malicious software.
The researcher, who identified himself only as MalwareTech, is a 22-year-old from south-west England who works for Kryptos logic, an LA-based threat intelligence company.
“I was out having lunch with a friend and got back about 3pm and saw an influx of news articles about the NHS and various UK organisations being hit,” he told the Guardian. “I had a bit of a look into that and then I found a sample of the malware behind it, and saw that it was connecting out to a specific domain, which was not registered. So I picked it up not knowing what it did at the time.”
The kill switch was hardcoded into the malware in case the creator wanted to stop it spreading. This involved a very long nonsensical domain name that the malware makes a request to – just as if it was looking up any website – and if the request comes back and shows that the domain is live, the kill switch takes effect and the malware stops spreading. The domain cost $10.69 and was immediately registering thousands of connections every second.
MalwareTech explained that he bought the domain because his company tracks botnets, and by registering these domains they can get an insight into how the botnet is spreading. “The intent was to just monitor the spread and see if we could do anything about it later on. But we actually stopped the spread just by registering the domain,” he said. But the following hours were an “emotional rollercoaster”. The young hero did not supply his name to the reporter. "It just doesn’t make sense to give out my personal information," he said. "Obviously we’re working against bad guys and they’re not going to be happy about this.”
I'm author Antoine Vanner and thought it might be of interest to keep you appraised of my current work on the Dawlish Chronicles series and on my website. I'm also providing a link to a very brief, but fascinating, discovery I recently made on YouTube and which is relevant to one of my books.
Guess the title of the next Dawlish Chronicles novel and win a copy
The latest book - the sixth in the series - is now in final proofing and I'll be publishing in mid-year. The title is a closely-guarded secret between me, my wife, my proof-reader, and my cover-designer, but for future readers it's still "Britannia's X". The story plays out in 1884/85 and once more sees Captain Nicholas Dawlish and crew of his beloved cruiser, HMS Leonidas, facing dangers and dilemmas on the fringes of empire.
If you can guess what the "X" in the title stands for then I'll send you a hard-copy of the novel as soon as it is published. I look forward to hearing from you - the e-mail address is email@example.com.
Another novel and a new short story in the offing
I'm currently hard at work on the seventh in the Dawlish Chronices series, and have completed about 30% of the first draft. I'll keep you updated on progress.
In addition I've plotted out the next Dawlish Chronicles short story and I'll be forwarding it free to all on my mailing list, as well as to new subscribers. I hope to issue it in the next four to six weeks.
The previous free short story, Britannia's Eventide, got a very positive response and I hope that you'll like the next one just as much,
James Comey is no saint. But thanks to Donald Trump, he is now a martyr. On May 9, in a twist that would have seemed far-fetched even on House of Cards, President Trump fired Comey as director of the FBI on the recommendation of Jeff Sessions, his attorney general. According to the administration, Trump did so not because Comey was investigating the possible collusion of Trump campaign officials with the Russian government but because of how Comey mishandled the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server.
This nakedly concocted justification has caused deep alarm among leading members of both parties in Congress. If the president and his attorney general are firing the FBI director because of the FBI’s investigation into the campaign that got the president elected—a campaign in which the attorney general had a direct part—it amounts to an obstruction of justice and an attempt to place the president above the law.
This is a constitutional crisis. The only way forward is to ensure an independent and credible investigation—whether by a special prosecutor or a select congressional committee or both—into the Russian meddling and the administration’s efforts to obstruct the inquiry into the Trump campaign’s ties to it.
The indications of unlawful behavior by the administration are strong. During his confirmation hearings, Sessions expressly committed to recusing himself from the FBI’s Russia investigation because of his own contacts with Russian officials while advising Trump’s campaign; so he should have had zero involvement in any decision affecting the investigation. Yet he did not recuse himself from the task of firing the man in charge of that very investigation. In fact, administration officials said Attorney General Sessions “had been charged with coming up with reasons to fire him,” and Sessions directed his newly appointed deputy, Rod Rosenstein, to write a memo justifying Comey’s dismissal.
Rosenstein appears to have conducted no original inquiry into Comey, but instead opportunistically cobbled together criticisms of his actions in connection with the Clinton e-mail investigation before Trump took office. Many commentators, myself included, argued last fall that Comey’s actions were doubly improper. When he closed the investigation into Clinton’s e-mails, after finding no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, he should not have held a press conference to excoriate her as “extremely careless.” And when, just eleven days before the election, he briefly reopened the investigation upon learning that some Clinton e-mails had been discovered on the laptop of Huma Abedin’s husband, Anthony Weiner, he should not have made that fact public, as it had a real risk of affecting the impending election.
However, Trump and his advisers notably did not previously share these criticisms of Comey. To the contrary, Trump’s pronouncements—and those of his close adviser and now attorney general—show that his campaign went out of its way to endorse Comey’s actions in the Clinton case. At the time, Trump, who had criticized Comey for letting Hillary Clinton off and promised to jail her if he were elected, said that Comey “brought back his reputation” by disclosing the reopening of the Clinton investigation. “It took a lot of guts.” Sessions, one of Trump’s most stalwart defenders throughout the campaign, said, “He had an absolute duty, in my opinion, eleven days or not, to come forward with the new information that he has and let the American people know that, too.”
Yet in Sessions’s letter to Trump on Tuesday, he reversed course, writing: “I have concluded that a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI…. I must recommend that you remove Director James B. Comey, Jr.” ...
Erika Delbecque, a special collections librarian at the University of Reading, was cataloging a box of items in the university’s archives when she noticed something unusual: a visibly old, double-sided leaf of paper stamped with blackletter typeface and red paragraph marks. Delbecque immediately realized that these were hallmark signs of the earliest western European printing, and experts have confirmed that the text is indeed an incredibly rare find. As Rachael Revesz reports for The Independent, the pages once belonged to one of the first books printed in England.
Written in Medieval Latin, the pages date to late 1476 or early 1477. They come from a religious handbook called the Sarum Ordinal or Pye, which instructed priests on how to prioritize feast days for English saints. According to a University of Reading press release, the handbook once contained around 160 leaves and was based on an 11th-century manuscript by St. Osmund, the Bishop of Salisbury.
Experts say that the text was among the first books printed by William Caxton, a pioneering English publisher. TheEncyclopaedia Britannicawrites that Caxton was a wealthy trader who established his own printing press and translated an epic romance calledRecuyell of the Historyes of Troye, which was printed likely in late 1473 or early in 1474. Caxton would go on to print a large number of service books and devotional texts—theSarum Ordinal among them.
The newly discovered leaf is one of just two surviving fragments from this medieval handbook; the other, which consists of eight double-sided leaves, is housed in the British Library in London. Delbecque says that the leaf “had previously been pasted into another book for the undignified purpose of reinforcing its spine,” according to the press release. A librarian at the University of Cambridge rescued the leaf from its ignoble fate in 1820, but did not seem to have realized that the text was a Caxton original.
The University of Reading unwittingly purchased the leaf in 1997, when the institution acquired a vast collection that belonged to the late typographer John Lewis. For 20 years, the Sarum Ordinal leaf sat, unnoticed, in a box filled with thousands of items—until Delbecque’s keen eye recognized the text as a bona fide historical treasure.
“It is incredibly rare to find an unknown Caxton leaf,” Delbecque says, “and astonishing that it has been under our noses for so long.”
After decades spent in obscurity, the pages are getting some time in the spotlight. They will be displayed in the University of Reading’s special collections department until May 30.
From the Authors Guild
This is alarming for indie authors as well as traditional publishers, and probably a good reason to never put your book into print.
The Authors Guild is deeply disturbed by Amazon’s new policy of allowing third-party book resellers to claim featured status in the “buy boxes” on Amazon. In a move that’s very likely to cut into publishing industry profits even more, Amazon will no longer automatically assign the main buy box for each hard copy, paper, audio and Kindle edition to the copies that Amazon distributes on behalf of the book’s publisher. Rather, a secret algorithm—which reportedly weighs factors such as price, availability, and delivery time, will now decide which seller (i.e., Amazon or a third party re-seller) gets the buy box. Amazon’s new policy states that “eligible sellers will be able to compete for the buy box for Books in new condition.” What this means is that second-hand book distributors—who often sell at extremely steep discounts—will be able to claim that premium real estate if they can beat out the publishers’ copies under the algorithm.
Until now, the second-hand book sellers, who offer books for as little as a penny, have been listed below the featured option, in much smaller font, as second-tier “Used” and “New” copies on a book’s product page, never as the default seller. While Amazon alone has the statistics, common sense tells us that the vast majority of purchases are made via the main buy buttons and not through the links to the other “new” and “used” copies. So, when the buy button is assigned to a third-party seller because its prices are lower and it can deliver quickly, most of the sales will be redirected to that third-party seller. In other words, those $.01 “new” or “new condition” copies that seem to be available for almost every book may well end up featured. (As a practical matter, most second-hand sellers today are slower than Amazon at fulfilling hard-copy purchases, but that could change and we do not know how Amazon weighs the factors.) The problem with this outcome from an author’s perspective is that neither the publisher nor the author gets a cent back from those third-party sales. Only Amazon and the reseller share in the profits. This has the potential to decimate authors’ and publishers’ earnings from many books, especially backlist books. (If you’ve noticed this happening on your own books’ product pages, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
One might wonder how there can be “new” copies offered by someone other than the publisher and how they can be sold for $.01 plus shipping (the high shipping costs are apparently where these sellers make their profit). The Authors Guild has spoken to several major publishers in the past year about where all these second-hand “new” copies come from, and no one seems to really know. Some surmise that they are review copies, but there are far too many cut-rate “new” copies for them all to be review copies. Could they be returns from bookstores that never made it back to the publisher? Did they fall off the back of a truck? We don’t know. What we do know is that the resellers must be acquiring them at cut-rate price and that there appear to be enough of these copies available that they could replace sales for the truly new copies—those that bring money to the publisher and royalties to the author.
Everyone who has ever been to Wellington knows what the slogan "you can't beat Wellington on a good day" really means.
It is because the capital is as famous for its hairdo-destroying gales as it is for its cafe scene – but its die-hard residents love it anyway.
Now it seems the world agrees.
MAARTEN HOLL/ FAIRFAX NZ
The rankings were released on Thursday - which just happened to be one of those famous Wellington-on-a-good-days.
Wellington has topped the rankings in a new report about where you can find the best quality of life in the world.
Scottish capital Edinburgh – often compared to Wellington for its culture, walkability and, ahem, weather – rated second-best.
Wellington might not have the sweltering hot summers, luxury fashion shopping meccas, or centuries-old architecture of some of the world's desirable cities. But its residents' purchasing power, its low crime rate and pollution, healthcare options, cost of living, house prices, commuting time, and climate puts ahead of the rest, according to Deutsche Bank.
Given the recent debate about housing affordability in Wellington, some may be surprised we ranked favourably, but the survey points out it works on "averages".
MAARTEN HOLL/ FAIRFAX NZ
Wellingtonian Courtney Durr in Oriental Parade on Thursday. Resident Courtney Durr said: "I've been to quite a few cities around the world and I always have such a good feeling coming home and flying into Wellington," she says.
Now I know why I thank Providence every day that I live in this wonderful city -- in a wonderful country, where I know that if I have an accident or fail very sick, I can go to hospital, get world-class care, and no one asks me to pay for it.
Fearing a Smallpox Epidemic, Civil War Troops Tried to Self-Vaccinate “Although they fought on opposite sides of the trenches, the Union and Confederate forces shared a common enemy: smallpox,” writesCarole Emberton forThe New York Times.
Smallpox may not have been as virulent as measles, Emberton writes, but over the course of the war it killed almost forty per cent of the Union soldiers who contracted it, while measles—which many more soldiers caught—killed far fewer of its sufferers.
There was one defense against the illness: inoculation. Doctors from both sides, relying on existing medical knowledge, tried to find healthy children to inoculate, which at the time meant taking a small amount of pus from a sick person and injecting it into the well person.
The inoculated children would suffer a mild case of smallpox—as had the children of the Princess of Wales in the 1722 case that popularized inoculation—and thereafter be immune to smallpox. Then, their scabs would be used to produce what doctors called a “pure vaccine,” uninfected by blood-borne ailments like syphilis and gangrene that commonly affected soldiers.
But there was never enough for everyone. Fearing the “speckled monster,” Emberton writes, soldiers would try to use the pus and scabs of their sick comrades to self-inoculate. The method of delivery was grisly, writes Mariana Zapata for Slate. "With the doctor too busy or completely absent, soldiers resulted to performing vaccination with whatever they had at hand. Using pocket knives, clothespins and even rusty nails... they would cut themselves to make a deep wound, usually in the arm. They would then puncture their fellow soldier's pustule and coat their wound with the overflowing lymph."
The risk of getting smallpox was bigger to the soldiers than the risk of bad infections from this treatment. But besides the lack of sanitation, the big problem was that their comrades might well have other had other ailments or even not had smallpox at all. “The resulting infections incapacitated thousands of soldiers for weeks and sometimes months,” Emberton writes.
Smallpox was just one note in a symphony of terrifying diseases that killed more Civil War soldiers than bullets, cannon balls and bayonets ever did. Although estimates vary on the number of soldiers who died during the war, even the most recent holds that about two of every three men who died were slain by disease.
That’s not hard to understand, given the conditions of the camps and the fact that the idea of doctors washing their hands hadn’t reached North America yet. There’s a reason that the Civil War period is often referred to as a medical Middle Ages.
“Medicine in the United States was woefully behind Europe,” writes the Ohio State University department of history. “Harvard Medical School did not even own a single stethoscope or microscope until after the war. Most Civil War surgeons had never treated a gunshot wound and many had never performed surgery.” That changed during the course of the war, revolutionizing American medicine, writes Emberton: but it didn’t change anything for those who died along the way.