By James M. Schmidt
The Civil War News – “Medical Department” – August 2009
Two Union army veterans – Z. C. Patten and T. H. Payne - wasted little time getting in on the patent medicine action. After they were mustered out of the army in Chattanooga, they remained in the city and opened a stationery business and soon after purchased the Chattanooga Times, which was burdened with debt. The ambitious Patten then bought the recipe for “Thedford’s Black Draught,” a laxative tea first formulated in the 1840s by Dr. A. O. Simmons and then passed to Simmons’ son-in-law, J. H. Thedford in the mid-1850s.
Aging veterans attached their names to Black Draught testimonials, including this one from a 1916 issue of Confederate Veteran:
- Were you WOUNDED during the War?
- If so, HOW and WHERE?
- Do you attribute your present ill-health to your war experiences?
- How has it affected you, and what is the nature of your disease?
“It is not alone those who were wounded who deserve our sympathy: it is the great majority WHO WERE NOT, but who contracted the seeds of disease in Southern swamps and prisons, and who have as a consequence lost their health before their time – THESE are as deserving of sympathy as their wounded comrades and should have equal reward.”
“I served three years in the 124th Illinois…The strain of army life did its work in undermining my health…For some time I suffered from general debility and nervousness…My brother is a doctor, but all his efforts to help me failed…Finally, having read articles regarding cures…by Dr. Williams’' Pink Pills for Pale People, I decided to try them. That was in 1896. I bought a box and took the pills according to instructions. Just four days later, I had the happiest hours I had known for years…”
The Comstock Medicine Company engaged in a more innocent practice: in the late 1880s, the company took advantage of the growing popularity of Confederate currency by printing advertisements for its “Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills” on the back of facsimile rebel $20 bills!
In another case, reported in an 1897 issue of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, a Massachusetts veteran had given “a testimonial to a patent-medicine manufacturer, stating that he had been entirely cured by his nostrum. It seems that he was receiving a pension for the ills of which the medicine cured him, and that when the authorities learned of his recovery, his pension was cut off.” The Journal wondered “Is he likely to suffer relapse? And if he does will he get back his pension?"