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Unit 3: Set 6: Section 1: Scurvy in the Frontier Army - General Trobriand

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Introduction | Diary

General Philippe Regis de Trobriand came to Fort Stevenson in 1867. His troops built the post, barely completing the necessary buildings before the extremely harsh and early winter began. Trobriand’s diary offers us a look at a wintertime diet and helps us understand why scurvy and other dietary diseases (such as dysentery) were the problems of enlisted men and not officers. Officers had better food, made enough money to purchase extra or better quality food at the nearby trading post, and usually had a cook to prepare the meals as well.

By March 1868, Trobriand was beginning to worry about scurvy among the troops. His figures (April 8, 1868 entry) indicate that the command might have some difficulty in putting a fighting force into the field if necessary due to the number of sick soldiers. He looked for the arrival of the first steamboat, but before that soldiers gathered wild onions to improve the quality of their diets.

Because of the work of construction at Fort Stevenson during the summer of 1867, soldiers did not plant a garden. However, the next summer a they planted a garden, though Trobriand feared that grasshoppers would destroy the post garden and leave the soldiers once again subject to the vitamin deficiency disease.

Trobriand and his officers learned a great deal about the course of the disease during that hard winter of 1868 when a total of 79 soldiers suffered from scurvy. Trobriand prepared the post to prevent scurvy the next winter by laying in supplies of pickles, sauerkraut, and vinegar. Pickled vegetables were probably sent upriver in barrels, saving space and weight over canned foods. The pickling brine would also help prevent freezing in the inadequately heated storehouses. The plan succeeded: during the winter of 1869, only 5 soldiers came down with scurvy.

Trobriand’s diary was published as Military Life in Dakota: the journal of Philippe Regis de Trobriand, translated and edited by Lucille Kane (St. Paul: Alvord Memorial Commission, 1951).

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