Thursday, May 29, 2014

Factoid of the day

Abraham Lincoln came down with smallpox after coming home from giving the Gettysburg address.

On the train back to Washington that evening, Lincoln became feverish, weak, and troubled by a headache. His personal servant, William B. Johnson, applied a wet towel to the president’s face to help allay the fever and pain. Back in Washington, Lincoln’s sickness progressed. He had a high fever, severe headaches with back pain, and profound weakness. On the fourth day of illness, a scarlet rash appeared on his body. Lincoln’s physician, Dr. Robert K. Stone, first thought the president had scarlatina (scarlet fever), but when small, widely scattered blisters appeared the next day, he became more concerned. 
the milder version, but the White house doctor placed him in quarrantine and vaccinated all those who lived there, however Lincoln's personal servant died from the disease.

Lincoln may have been correct. Washington, D.C. was in the midst of a widespread smallpox outbreak at the time and no one can be sure when and where Lincoln and Johnson became exposed. In fact, in the week before Lincoln left for Gettysburg, his 10-year-old son, Tad, had been bed-ridden with an illness consisting of a fever and a “scarlet” rash.  History is full of what-ifs. Had the Gettysburg ceremony been held one or two days later than November 19, 1863, Lincoln would likely have been too ill to attend and deliver the Gettysburg Address. Or, if he had succumbed to smallpox as his servant did, how would the remainder of the Civil War have played out? One can only speculate. 

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