The Deadliest Flu in History 5

Commanders Ignoring Orders


The Deadliest Flu in History 5

On Rock River, Rockford, Illinois, stood Camp Grant, consisting of fifteen hundred acres of corn, wheat, potatoes, and oats.  The Military men and boys were known as the “Farm Boys” since many tended to the crops as part of their military duty.

The Military Camp consisted of rows of wooden barracks facing dirt roads.  The hospital, located at the far end of Camp Grant, would hold up to one thousand patients; no one could foresee the hospital filling to capacity.

The Deadliest Flu in History 5Washington D.C. sent the National Research Council to Camp Grant to inspect the Camp for its’ service regarding the duties of those regarding health and welfare of the troops.  They arrived in June of 1918, four research doctors, and were pleased with the Chief Medical Officer, Lieutenant Colonel H.C. Michie, and Joe Capps, for their excellent service granted to the troops regarding medical care.

During their visit, the four research doctors spoke about pneumonia and a clinical experiment with a serum developed by Preston Kyes.  At the time, Capps mentioned to the doctors a new type of pneumonia; he noted, “More toxic and fatal.”  Capps also mentioned areas of hemorrhagic alveoli.

This would be the first time research doctors from Washington D.C. would see a gauze mask, when Capps placed one on his face.  Capps told the doctors, the mask is worn by any patient with a repertory disease.”

Capps impressed the doctors from Washington, and they asked Capps to write an article for the Journal of American Medical Association and requested studies be conducted using the mask.  They understood the benefit of the mask; to stop the spread of the disease.

The researchers from Washington also announced to the Chief Medical Officer, Michie, and Capps, to quarantine any new arrivals at camp, away from anyone who had an infection, and everyone should wear a mask for prevention when suspected of infectious disease.  They noted, “Capps mask would be worn at all Military Camps.”

Capps made changes inside the hospital by switching beds; every other bed was turned, feet and head, so no one would be breathing directly toward another person who was sick with the disease.    Capps also ordered beds to be pulled further apart, and tents made of flags be placed between each bed.  In the mess hall where thousands gathered, he ordered a curtain to divide the tables, so men were not facing one another while eating meals. Capp’s article appeared on August 10, 1918, within the pages of the JAMA.

Camp Grant would have a new Commanding Officer, Colonel C. Hagadorn, on August 8th, 1918.  Colonel C. Hagadorn was now in charge of a Military Camp, once a camp of troops totaling thirty thousand, and now, forty-five thousand.

The major development at Camp Grant when Hagadorn took command; he ignored health regulations and moved troops, which were spread apart for a purpose, into barracks near the front of the camp to keep them warm due to Illinois and the cold weather.  Simultaneously, warnings were sent to Camp Grant about the flu epidemic, as doctors at the camp were waiting for the first case to arise.

Ignoring medical regulations, Hagadorn never quarantined new arrivals at the camp, even those from Camp Devon.  Barracks were now bursting at their seams, and troops were fearful knowing about the virus which hit Devon.  Capps, aware of Washington’s orders, to quarantine any new arrivals, could not convince the Commanding Officer to keep things as they were when he arrived.  Hagadorn kept shoving more troops into barracks: The City of Rockford reported the first case of the flu.

The first message was sent to Washington, D.C. from one of the doctors; it read, “The epidemic disease at this camp was at no time alarming.  Cases of measles, pneumonia, scarlet fever, diphtheria, meningitis, and smallpox occurred sporadically. None ever assumed epidemic form.”

A handful of men who arrived from Camp Devon arrived at the hospital on September 21st, and they were isolated.  By midnight, on the 22nd of September, one hundred and eight men from the infancy school were admitted to the hospital.  Each patient admitted wore a gauze mask.

The Commanding Officer changed his tune and canceled all public functions; beds were now enclosed with sheets to form a tent around each patient.  Five days later, five doctors, thirty-five nurses, and fifty orderlies were sick.  The medical staff kept entering the hospital as patients and became a number regarding the death toll. These medical personal were not wearing masks as ordered; only the patients carrying a virus were given a mask to wear.

Four hundred and eighty-three death telegrams were sent by the seventh day, and thousands were sent a few days later.  Once again, no one could keep up with the sick and dying.  Like Devon’s, hundreds of men wrapped in white sheets and stained with their own blood crowded the halls.  The medical staff was dwindling.

Another factor, seen before during this epidemic, made it worse when thousands of troops (3,108) were loaded onto a train for Camp Hancock in Augusta, Georgia.  The number itself would tell you the men and women were jammed onto the train.  The order from Washington D.C. arrived after the train left Illinois, “Keep troops at Camp Grant.”

By the time the train arrived in Georgia, over seven hundred men were coughing blood at Camp Hancock, bleeding from their ears, nose, and ran high fevers causing delirium.

On October 4th, at Camp Grant, five thousand men were sick, and the numbers continued to rise.  Messages were sent to Washington, “Over one thousand eight hundred (1,800) troops entered the hospital on one day.”

At this time, Capps was working on a serum using chickens; chickens were not susceptible to pneumococcal, so he believed using chickens would possibly give rise to a powerful serum.  Capps then administered his serum to two hundred and thirty-four (234) men, using all he had.   Capps believed the men he gave the serum to had pneumonia. He later learned one hundred and sixty-seven (167) died, and the rest recovered.

Camp Grant released these words to the Chicago Tribune, “Good news at Camp Grant, Epidemic broken,” sent by the Commanding Officer who ignored the health regulations.  A short time later, he ordered the camp to be empty, then, a few minutes later, a pistol shot was heard. The Commanding Officer was not a casualty of this epidemic, but he could have prevented many deaths by following what Capps and others from Washington D.C. ordered, and not overcrowding the barracks.

Other parts in this series:
The Deadliest Flu in History (1)
The Deadliest Flu in History (2)
The Deadliest Flu in History (3)
The Deadliest Flu in History (4)
The Deadliest Flu in History (5)
The Deadliest Flu in History (6)
The Deadliest Flu in History (7)
The Deadliest Flu in History (8)

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