Diary of Orrin Brown—March 17, 1865

Hospital Tent, 1862Diary of Orrin Brown, across the Mingo Swamp, east of Dunn, North Carolina

Friday–Mar. 17th

There was misketry firing all night but it was assertained that the main rebbel force left there works near midnight . We started out on the Goldsboro road about 10 AM marched out about 10 miles. The roads were very bad and we did not get into camp till about 9 PM. Our foragers have not had very gook luck for a day or two and we had nothing for supper but a few sweet potatoes and corn coffee. I have had to march today and I had a hard day of it but the Col. get my Knapsack carried on a pack mule and the Dr. says that I have had two Epileptic fitts one on the 16th of Feb. and the other on the 14th of March. I know that I am now very weak and scarcely able to get around. I read 3 Chapts. in the Testament today.

And here we have the diagnosis: Epilepsy, and specifically on 16 February and 14 March.  According to wiki, Epilepsy can have both genetic and acquired causes including brain tumors, stroke or head trauma.  Infection with pork tapeworm can also cause the condition.  I will not play doctor 150 years on;  while Pvt. Brown doesn’t note being banged on the head in battle, the combination of extreme stress and malnutrition certainly would have lowered a normally healthy farm boy’s resistance to tapeworm.

By some reports in the Official Records, while epilepsy would have been cause for rejection of enrollment, the affliction may have been relatively widespread.  However, specialization in neurology was just beginning to develop; “epilepsy” was generally considered a form of insanity and may have described multiple disorders given the limited medical knowledge of the day.  Apparently the preferred treatment was drilling into the skull.  Ouch.



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