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Deadly Barracks

Benton Barracks, established 1861 in St. Louis, Missouri as training facility, very quickly earned a reputation for unsanitary conditions, disease, and death. The barracks became a make shift hospital  due to the sheer amount of wounded and ill during the war. However, it was never designed to serve in that  capacity and many atrocities arose as a result. In 1861, the Western Sanitary Commission described the barracks and the disease present, complaining of lack of ventilation, warmth, and adequate buildings. They summarized that those convalescing from diseases such as measles, contracted pneumonia and summarily died.

By the end of 1863, the organization of United States Colored Troops was taking place at Benton Barracks. As a result, a great many of Union African American troops died at there. For example, the 65th USCT, though having never seen battle, had one of the highest mortality rates of Colored Troops in the entire Civil War. Dysentery, Small Pox, and pneumonia ranked the top three of non-combat deaths for African Americans, especially for those at Benton Barracks.



“Benton Barracks,” The Civil War Muse, August 1, 2017,

Image sources:



2nd-Wisc-Cav-Benton Barracks cropped

About the Author
Whitney E. Tucker is the Member Services Coordinator for Missouri's Civil War Heritage Foundation. She completed her masters in Historic Preservation at Southeast Missouri State University. Contact her at

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