In short, we consider him diseased from head to foot

Posted on: August 10, 2017

While the summer is generally less hectic on campus due to fewer students, less traffic, etc., here in Special Collections we have been busy, busy, busy growing our collections in materials related to local history. A new acquisition we are really excited about relates to the Richard Stephens (1831-1890) family of Melrose, just north of Harrisonburg on Rt. 11. The collection itself is comprised of hundreds of miscellaneous documents, correspondence, receipts, deeds, and indentures and spans several generations of the Stephens/Dovel/Yount families of Rockingham County. Of particular interest, are several documents pertaining to Richard Stephens’ medical exemption from serving in the Civil War. We are spotlighting one such document today. But be warned – detailed descriptions of disease and oozy discharge await the reader.

Richard Stephens (also spelled Stevens) was medically discharged from the military due to “disease of stomach and bowels of long standing.” What this meant for poor Richard is that he suffered from chronic diarrhea, ulceration of the bowels, and – wait for it – daily discharge of purulent matter. For those of you not fluent in nineteenth-century medical terminology, purulent means “consisting of, containing, or discharging pus.” So there’s that.

The full transcript of this document reads:

We certify that we have been intimately acquainted with Richard Stevens & practiced in his family for the last 5 years or longer. That he has been in very delicate health ever since we knew him, suffering from Rheumatism & Dyspepsia in a very aggravated form & since 1859 he has suffered from chronic Diarrhea with ulceration of the bowels. Discharging every day a quantity of purulent matter, in short we consider him diseased from head to foot & totally unfit for military duty of any kind. His general health is very bad & his nervous system completely broken down & is confined a greater part of the time to his home not being able to labour & scarcely able at any time to overlook his farming operations.

April 23d 1864

J. N. Gordon
Wm. Williams

And these lingering tummy issues provided doctors reason enough to recommend his medical exemption from military duty. Which he was granted. We have the documents to prove it.

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