This article examines the state of health and medicine during the Second Seminole War (1835–1842), a much overlooked subject that nevertheless proved central to this costly, seven-year campaign. The prevalence of malaria in subtropical Florida seriously diminished the army’s fighting abilities, demoralized the troops and presented the first major setback to Jacksonian expansionism. Despite the benefits that accrued from the groundbreaking use of quinine sulphate in field hospitals, army surgeons had yet to realize the drug’s usefulness as a prophylactic. The endemic nature of malaria contributed to Florida’s reputation as a haven for “miasmatic” illnesses and thus impeded subsequent white settlement of the territory—the primary object of the war. Paradoxically, despite the Army Medical Department’s limitations vis-à-vis malaria and indeed most battlefield casualties, the status of the department, as well as army physicians, actually grew in stature after the termination of the war, a consequence of the use of quinine, the department’s improved organization and the high opinion given to the surgeon general’s new focus on statistical data.
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