In Smallpox in Washington's Army: Disease, War and Society during the Revolutionary War, the author argues that smallpox played an integral role in military affairs for both the British and Continental armies, and impacted soldiers and civilians throughout the War for American Independence. Due to the Royal army’s policy of troop inoculation and because many British soldiers were already immune to the variola virus, the American army was initially at a disadvantage. Most American colonists were highly susceptible to this dreaded disease, and its presence was greatly feared. General George Washington was keenly aware of this disadvantage and, despite his own doubts, embarked on a policy of inoculation to protect his troops. Use of this controversial, innovative, and effective medical procedure leveled the playing field within the armies. However, by 1777, smallpox spread throughout America as soldiers interacted with civilian populations. Once military action moved south, American and British auxiliary troops and the enslaved Southern population all succumbed to the disease, creating a disorderly, dangerous situation as the war ends. Washington’s implementation of isolation policies as well as mass troop inoculation removed the threat of epidemic smallpox and ultimately protected American soldiers and civilians from the dangers of this much feared disease.
Ann M. Becker is professor of history at SUNY Empire State College.
Chapter 1“The Most Terrible of All Ministers of Death”: Smallpox in the Atlantic World
Chapter 2“Send ye Small pox Into ye Army”: The British and the Double-Edged Sword of Smallpox
Chapter 3“Able and Willing to Bear Arms”: Dunmore in the South
Chapter 4“Vigilance against this most dangerous Enemy”: Smallpox at the Siege of Boston
Chapter 5“Ruined with Smallpox”: The Canadian Campaign
Chapter 6“Disobedience … will be most severely punished”: New York and the Health of the Troops
Chapter 7“Nothing but death … before me”: Smallpox in Revolutionary War Prisons
Chapter 8 “To Stop the Progress of the Small Pox”: Washington Inoculates His Army
Chapter 9“The Seeds of Small Pox”: Smallpox on the Road to Yorktown and Beyond