Thursday, October 13, 2016

Meningitis Epidemic Kills Soldier

Charlie H. Chandler was born on 4 November 1883 in Owsley County, Kentucky, to William F. Chandler and Lavina "Vinnie" Baker. He first appeared in documents when the 1900 census was enumerated living with his parents and six siblings on the family farm which his father owned in the Cow Creek precinct of the county. His mother had eleven children by that time and eight were still living. In 1910 Charlie was 26 years old and continued to live with his parents and siblings on the family farm. He worked on other farms as a laborer.

In late 1911 he marred Nellie Banks, the daughter of Lansford "Lance" Banks and Harriet Delither Hunter, and my cousin's husband's first cousin twice removed. On 4 January 1912 Charlie enlisted in the U.S. He was described in the enlistment register as being 5 foot 9-1/2 inches tall with brown hair and eyes. He was assigned to Company L, 4th Infantry. Eight months after he enlisted his wife, Nellie, had their only child, Oma Mae Chandler born on 17 August 1912.

Trouble with Mexico caused the regiment to be stationed at the border. On 1 January 1914 they were transferred to Galveston and assigned to 5th Brigade, 2nd Division which had been in Galveston for nearly a year. On 24 April 1914 Charlie's regiment boarded USAT Sumter bound for Veracruz, Mexico. They arrived on 28 April and relieved Navy occupation forces. The soldiers camped at Los Cocos Station.

Charlie, and perhaps his entire regiment was back in Galveston by late 1914. He died on 4 December at the Port of Embarkation Hospital of cerebrospinal meningitis. According to his death certificate it was an epidemic among the Army soldiers. A history of the Public Health Service in Texas confirmed there had been a meningitis epidemic in the city during the war.

Charlie H. Chandler Death Certificate; courtesy of

Meningitis may be caused by bacteria or a virus, but I have to wonder if Galveston was a healthy place. "The city built its first sewer in 1899 with a central pumping station that pushed the sewage across the bayous. There it was forced through filter beds nearly five miles outside of town. The heavy matter stayed in the beds until workmen with rakes removed it. The remaining sewage was filtered through various layers and the final effluent entered Buffalo Bayou via an open canal." Six years later, in 1915, the year after Charlie died, the sewer "filters were only processing half the city's waste and the system was not working properly."[1] That sounded like a breeding ground for bacteria!

Charlie's widow applied for a military pension on 24 December 1914. She continued to receive it until she married again. Beginning on 18 August 1917 Charlie's mother received his pension and on 11 July 1921 his daughter Oma Mae got the pension. I wonder if Charlie ever had the opportunity to meet her.

[1] Margaret Swet Henson (preparer). History of Galveston Resource Utilization, publication GBNEP-39, January 1993.

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