“The General Got The Diarrhea”

In the early summer of 1861, former Missouri governor and Mexican War hero Sterling Price, a conditional Unionist and supporter of neutrality, sided with the secessionists and took command of Governor Claiborne Jackson’s Missouri State Guard. Less than a month later and before his men ever fought in combat, Price was stricken with severe diarrhea and was forced to return home at Keytesville, Missouri to recover. Just like today, the pro-Union newspapers took the prime opportunity to make fun of the sick general.

Screenshot_2018-08-31 Battle of Boonville Political Cartoon.png
A political cartoon in the wake of the Battle of Boonville, poking fun at a sickly Sterling Price. Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections

The Rolla Express, on July 8, 1861, talked all about “that attack of diarrhoea [sic]” and launched a series of puns at Price:

“There was an evacuation at Harper’s Ferry the other day, and the information from Gen. Price is, that there has been a more serious one in Missouri. One of Gov. Jackson’s organs in Missouri says that it pities the U.S. troops. It seems that Gen. Price pitied them at the battle near Boonville. His bowels were moved for them . . . At the latest dates from Missouri, Gen. Price had disappeared. The secessionists were without money and without Price. Gen. Lyon could not get his grip on Gen. Price at Boonville, but the diarrhea did. Gen. Price undertook to quiet Missouri’s intestine commotions, but only increased his own. Gen. Price may pass as a respectable man, but we have heard of his stooping to low business . . . Gen. Lyon is an officer of stern discipline, but Gen. Price is remarkable only for his laxity. Among the great fertilizers of the soil are lime, guano, and Gen. Price.”

Diarrhea may have been quite humorous in 1861, but it would soon become the leading cause of death among soldiers throughout the Civil War. Price himself survived his bout, able to lead and train his men by the end of July as they made their way south to Cowskin Priarie and Cassville. By the start of fall, Price had led his men to victory at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington. Price passed away in 1867 from complications of diarrhea or dysentery. Most historians believe he contracted the illness while in Mexico after the war, but could it have been related to his digestive issues all the way back in 1861?

1. The Rolla Express, July 8, 1861, Rolla, Missouri, Missouri State Archives.  

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