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Wisconsin in the Civil War

Company Surgeon Mistakenly Overdoses Soldiers

On March 12, 1862, a group of sick soldiers of the 5th Wisconsin Infantry lined up outside the surgeon's quarters in Alexandria, Virginia, to receive medicine. Dr. Charles Crane of Green Bay administered what he thought was a large dose of quinine to each patient. But when they began to collapse he learned the vial contained morphine instead. Solon R. Knowles of Company B, 5th Wisconsin Infantry, describes how he and other soldiers saved one of the sick men from the overdose with an unusual remedy.

They were all in a dying condition. Sergeant Cutts, of Co. E. (and a finer fellow never lived,) survived only three hours. A little brandy was given, followed by a little strong coffee, and directions to keep them awake were given, as the only remedies.

One of Co. F';s men were said to be dying and I called in to see him. The boys were trying various methods to keep him awake, but no use; he was dead to all appearances save his breathing. He was black in the face, his eyes turned up so to show their white. Something must be done at once and your humble correspondent has the consolation of having saved the life of a fellow soldier.

I mentioned to a stalwart fellow that stood near me, to take hold of the dying man by one arm while I took him by the other. The boys wanted to know what we intended to do with him. "Why not let him die in peace?" But I just told them if they would stand back and let us alone, the fellow shouldn't die.

They stared at us some, at first, and then more, as we began jerking him around first one way and then the other, tripping him up, cuffing him, pinching him...

In short, if he had been a well man it would have been a severe case of assault and battery. Well, we persevered with him for two hours, with no effect only to get him to open his eyes, and immediately close them again. Finally, we made another vigorous effort to arouse him by the same rough treatment, and the young man began to cry! This was a good sign. Vomiting soon followed, also a passage of wind; a little brandy was then administered, and he went to sleep quietly, and in the morning was all right.

Source: E.B. Quiner Scrapbooks: "Correspondence of the Wisconsin Volunteers, 1861-1865," Volume 3, pages 168-169.

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Map of Alexandria, Virginia, 1862-1865.
Map of Alexandria, Virginia, 1862-1865.

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