Syphilis and gonorrhea, infections spread through sexual contact, were almost as dangerous to Civil War soldiers as combat. At least 8.2 percent of Union troops would be infected with one or the other before war’s end—nearly half the battle-injury rate of 17.5 percent, even without accounting for those who contracted a disease and didn’t know it or didn’t mention it—and the treatments (most involved mercury), when they worked, could sideline a man for weeks.
Union officials in Nashville, certain the city’s ladies of the night were responsible for the sexual plague, hit upon what seemed like the simplest solution: If they couldn’t stop soldiers from visiting local prostitutes, local prostitutes could simply be made non-local.
In the first days of July 1863, Rosecrans issued an order to George Spalding, provost marshal of Nashville, to “without loss of time seize and transport to Louisville all prostitutes found in the city or known to be here.
When I wrote my post about the Master Key to the Rich Ladies Treasury, a number of readers mentioned Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies. To my delight Google eBooks offers a link to the 1789 publication. The pocket-sized book, first published in 1757, remained popular for over 30 years with Lotharios looking for a light-o’-love. This annual sold for half a crown, the equivalent of about £15 today or the weekly room rent back in those days. Its author, identified for years as John Harris, was actually the drunken poet, Samuel Derrick, once described by James Boswell as ”a little blackguard pimping dog”.*