Confronted with a rampant prostitution disaster in Nashville, the U.S. Military tried a daring social experiment
Even earlier than the conflict, Nashville had a flourishing pores and skin commerce. The 1860 census counted 207 Nashville ladies admitting to prostitution as their livelihood—198 white and 9 mulatto. Town fathers acknowledged that they had an issue however have been unable to agree on an answer. Fortunately, a lot of the commerce was confined to bawdy homes; most of them have been little higher than two-room shanties often known as cribs. Some abodes, nevertheless, have been luxurious, in all probability catering to the next class of shoppers. Finest-of-the greatest was a home run by sisters Rebecca and Eliza Higgins. It was valued at $24,000 with 28 folks, together with 17 prostitutes, dwelling there. Not far behind was Martha Reeder’s home. She had private property valued at $15,000, making her one of many metropolis’s wealthier residents. Magazine Seats’ home specialised in adolescent intercourse, however the typical Nashville prostitute was about 30, widowed, and had young children.
Because the Union garrison swelled to greater than 30,000, so did the variety of prostitutes. By the summer time of 1862, some estimated the variety of “public ladies” in Nashville to quantity practically 1,500, they usually have been at all times busy. Whereas many have been keen to alleviate the troopers of their cash, most got here out of desperation. Nashville provided them an atmosphere secure from armed marauders, ample meals at secure costs, and an opportunity to deal with themselves—and sometimes their kids—with out good thing about a male supplier. Practically all of Nashville’s prostitutes have been related to a bordello; few plied their commerce as particular person road walkers. This gave many ladies from remoted rural farms their first expertise of a supportive neighborhood of their friends.
Nashville was a principal base for the U.S. Military’s Western Theater campaigns, and the town was overwhelmed by Union troops. (Library of Congress)
The place prostitutes noticed alternative, civic leaders and army officers noticed a rising drawback. Benton E. Dubbs, an Ohio non-public, recalled a saying among the many troops that no man could possibly be a soldier until he had handed by way of Smokey Row. Even with a burgeoning clientele, competitors for purchasers was removed from pleasant. Nashville’s three newspapers usually carried tales of internecine strife akin to “Mattie Smith, Mary Morgan, Jane Morgan, and Alice Hoffman have been fined $5 every for sending a crowd of troopers to filter Martha Carson’s home.” Or “Sally Mosely, Ada Wyatt, and Ellen Pinson despatched a physique of troopers into Mary Morgan’s to ‘lower up and run round’ for which they have been fined $5 every.” The Nashville Dispatch opined, “If the Provost Marshall would ship a squad of his males down there some fantastic night time and place in jail each man they discover there, it might be a healthful lesson to others to maintain out of such firm.”
Brigadier Basic Robert S. Granger, the garrison commander, knew the provost guard couldn’t jail all of the offending troopers. However neither fines, threats of jail, nor appeals to ethical conscience stemmed the flourishing commerce. So Granger tried the Military approach. He would spherical up the ladies and ship them out of city. The duty fell to provost marshal Lt. Col. George Spalding of the 18th Michigan Infantry. In December 1862, Spalding’s males scooped up all of the prostitutes they may—the precise quantity varies—and put them on a practice for Louisville. However the ladies discovered far fewer potential shoppers within the smaller garrison there and rapidly made their approach again to Nashville. By summertime, Nashville’s drawback was getting worse and extra apparent. Because the temperature rose, the ladies of enjoyment marketed by sporting fewer and fewer garments.
From left: Brig. Gen. Robert Granger; Lt. Col. George Spalding. (USAHEC)
So, on July 6, 1863, Granger issued Particular Orders No. 29 authorizing Spalding “with out lack of time to grab and transport to Louisville all prostitutes discovered on this metropolis or identified to be right here….” The Nashville Dispatch reported “Basic Granger has given discover to a lot of ladies of the city that they need to put together to depart Nashville. It’s mentioned they’re demoralizing the military and that their elimination is a army necessity.” Spalding once more led troopers and cops on raids of the town’s brothels, “heaping furnishings out of the varied dens, after which tumbling their disconsolate homeowners after.” The roundup lasted all month. However, having failed by rail, Spalding now included the river as a further avenue of expulsion.
That call was unhealthy information for John Newcomb. As captain of the Idahoe, a brand new side-wheeled steamer chartered to the military, he hoped to make the most of profitable contracts hauling army cargo. However Newcomb couldn’t have anticipated that his first consignment order would learn, “You’re hereby directed to proceed to Louisville, Kentucky, with the 100 passengers placed on board your steamer at this time, permitting none to depart the Boat earlier than reaching Louisville.” The Dispatch reported “a ship was chartered by the federal government for the especial service of deporting the ‘sinful honest’ to a degree the place they’ll exert much less mischief….” Newcomb protested however to no avail and the Idahoe would henceforth be often known as “The Floating Whorehouse.”
A replica of the order distributed by Granger and Spalding requiring prostitutes in Nashville to be licensed. (Nationwide Archives)
Newcomb and the Idahoe started their fateful voyage north on July 8. Once more, the precise variety of passengers varies. When the Idahoe reached Louisville, it was met on the wharves by armed guards. Ordered to sail on, Newcomb continued up the Ohio River, lastly docking at Cincinnati on July 17. Town fathers there had heard the Idahoe was coming and what it was carrying. They, too, pulled up the welcome mat. Reported the Cincinnati Every day Gazette, “The Idahoe got here up, bringing a cargo of 150 of the frail sisterhood of Nashville, who had been despatched north by army orders. There doesn’t appear to be a lot need on the a part of our authorities to welcome such a big addition to the already over-flowing numbers engaged of their peculiar career….”
Newcomb grew to become determined; he was out of provisions and his ship was being destroyed by his sad and more and more unruly passengers. For 2 weeks, the Idahoe bobbed in limbo whereas Newcomb frantically telegraphed Washington, D.C., for directions. The matter got here earlier than Secretary of Struggle Edwin M. Stanton who ordered the ill-fated ship again to Nashville. The Dispatch reported that crowds of individuals gathered on the wharf, jostling one another “for the aim of wanting on the steamer which carried out and introduced again the dear freight.” By August 5, the voyage of the damned was again the place it began, the ladies went again to work, and the military had a fair greater drawback on its fingers.
Plainly whereas their white sisters have been launched into their riverine odyssey, black ladies surged into Nashville to fulfill the persevering with demand for paid pleasure. The Nashville Every day Press thundered, “Except the aggravated curse of lechery because it exists among the many negresses of this city is destroyed by inflexible army or civil mandates, or the indiscriminate expulsion of the responsible intercourse, the ejectment of the white class will end up to have been productive of the sin it was meant to eradicate….No metropolis…has been extra shamefully abused by the conduct of its unchaste feminine inhabitants, white or black, than has Nashville…for the previous eighteen months….We belief that, whereas within the humor of ridding our city of libidinous white ladies, Basic Granger will get rid of the lots of of black ones who’re making our honest metropolis a Gomorrah.”
Now underneath intense strain from his superiors, the ever resourceful Lt. Col. Spalding seemingly had an epiphany. Drawing on the strict Presbyterian self-discipline he discovered as a toddler, Spalding determined if he couldn’t defeat the ladies, he would legalize them. And so started the military’s unprecedented program to show a civic vice right into a public advantage benefiting the residents of Nashville, the troopers garrisoning the town, and the ladies
who plied a commerce that defied eradication.
Determined for something that may alleviate the rising clamor for motion, Granger rapidly accredited Spalding’s plan. It had 4 elements. First, every prostitute can be issued a license costing $5 and have her tackle recorded by the provost authorities. Second, a military surgeon would give every lady a medical examination; solely wholesome ladies can be licensed to apply their commerce legally. Certificates would value 50 cents per go to; it might quickly be raised to $1. Third, diseased ladies can be despatched to a particular hospital reserved for his or her remedy and pay a 50-cent weekly tax for its repairs. Lastly, any lady discovered training her commerce with out a well being certificates was topic to incarceration within the workhouse for 30 days. All “public ladies” have been advised to report for examination by August 17 or face 30 days within the metropolis jail.
A John Named Tom?
On Could 4, 1864, Captain Thomas Taylor of the forty seventh Ohio Infantry wrote in his diary, “Homosexual time—dinner at Carr Metropolis—A lot whiskey—loads of spirit, little wit, and fewer sense. Reached Nashville little earlier than sunset and stopped at Metropolis Resort—visited Faculty Avenue.” The reference to “Faculty Avenue” is attention-grabbing, as that thoroughfare was within the midst of “Smokey Row,” Nashville’s purple mild district, and it’s potential Taylor was making an allusion to frequenting a prostitute. In fact, he might need gone down there to have a meal and a drink…however that actually wasn’t the first motive most troopers “visited” that part of city. –D.B.S.
At first, prostitutes have been required to report back to the surgeon’s workplace each fortnight, however Dr. William M. Chambers, head of the Board of Examination, quickly required check-ups each 10 days with the intention to deal with infectious intercourse staff extra promptly. In his January 31, 1865, report, Chambers described how the process labored. The prostitutes “enter a reception room which is comfortably furnished and in chilly or unpleasant climate properly heated. They move in time from this condominium into an adjoining examination room by which there are a mattress, a desk, and all the required home equipment for inspecting them.” Girls who handed the examination obtained certificates and a figurative public seal of approval. These not licensed have been promptly hospitalized.
The Union Military operated 23 hospitals in Nashville. Hospital No. 11, a sturdy brick constructing on North Market Avenue that sarcastically had as soon as been the residence of the Catholic bishop of Nashville, grew to become the “Feminine Venereal Hospital” often known as “The Pest Home.” It had a comfortably furnished lounge paid for by examination charges, a remedy room, and two wards of 10 beds every. Black feminine matrons recruited from the close by contraband camp did the cooking and a black man was employed to do any vital handbook labor.
Armed guards prevented anybody from coming into the premises until accompanied by the resident doctor, Dr. Robert Fletcher of the U.S. Volunteers. Appraising the rapidly devised program a 12 months after its inception, Dr. Fletcher concluded “after the try to scale back illness by forcible expulsion of prostitutes had, because it at all times had, totally failed, the extra philosophic plan of recognizing and controlling an ineradicable evil has met with undoubted success.”
The numbers help Dr. Fletcher’s conclusion. By the top of the primary week, the provost marshal’s report confirmed 123 ladies examined and licensed. Twelve ladies have been admitted to the hospital through the first month of operation; 28 extra throughout the next two months. By January 1864, licensed prostitutes numbered 352, 60 of whom have been diseased and admitted to the hospital. By August 1864, the quantity had risen to 456 and officers expanded the registration program to incorporate 50 black prostitutes. By the top of January 1865, the Feminine Venereal Hospital had handled 207 ladies. Sufferers weren’t allowed to depart till “completely cured;” then they have been allowed to “return to responsibility.” Dr. Chambers additionally made home requires a further charge of 1 greenback.
Hospital 11, nicknamed “The Pest Home,” was devoted to sufferers with venereal illness. Admissions spiked in February 1864 when furloughed troops returned. (Courtesy of the Tennessee State Library and Archives)
The Nashville experiment additionally appeared to refine the looks and conduct of the ladies. “When the inspections have been first enforced many [prostitutes] have been exceedingly filthy of their individuals and attire and obscene and coarse of their language,” Dr. Fletcher reported, “however this quickly gave place to cleanliness and propriety.” Dr. Chambers noticed that many prostitutes “gladly exhibit to their guests the ‘certificates’ when it’s requested for….” Navy officers attributed among the growing variety of registered prostitutes and people searching for remedy to the recognition of Spalding’s order. In reality, they ascribed a part of the growing variety of registered prostitutes to an inflow of ladies from different areas who discovered that circumstances in Nashville have been safer and more healthy. Civilian authorities raised little opposition to this system. As proof, the town council voted to defer all regulation and enforcement of what was now a authorized a part of Nashville’s civic life to the army authorities.
However what concerning the troopers? Spalding’s rules have been enacted primarily to enhance the well being and unit preparedness of the garrison. In February 1864, Hospital No. 15, a three-story brick constructing on Line Avenue, was transformed right into a facility for troopers’ venereal instances solely. Surgeons on the 140 mattress facility admitted greater than 2,300 instances by the top of the 12 months, however solely 30 had been contaminated whereas in Nashville. Plainly a lot of veterans getting back from residence depart or reenlistment got here by way of city throughout that very same interval and introduced their afflictions with them. Dr. Fletcher acknowledged that the cooperation of the garrison’s officers was important to this system’s success, writing “When a soldier of the put up forces is contaminated, it’s not unusual for his captain to report the case, with the title of the suspected lady, who is straight away arrested and examined.” In fact, officers themselves weren’t proof against the attract of illicit flesh. Earlier than Spalding’s edict went into impact, 20-30 officers per 30 days have been handled for venereal ailments; after, the quantity dropped to at least one or two.
The tip of the conflict introduced an finish to Nashville’s daring social experiment. The regiments garrisoned there dispersed and mustered out. Colonel Spalding returned to Michigan the place he served as postmaster and mayor of Monroe, studied legislation, and served two phrases in Congress from 1895-1899. He died in 1907. Dr. Fletcher went to Washington, D.C., the place he wrote and edited quite a few medical publications for the Workplace of the Surgeon Basic. He additionally made vital contributions to the examine of anthropology and the historical past of medication. He died in 1912. William Chambers returned to Charleston, Unwell., and practiced medication there till he died in 1892.
It took two years for John Newcomb, captain of the star-crossed Idahoe, to obtain about $5,000 from the Treasury Division for damages to his ship and bills he incurred whereas transporting his human cargo. And what of the ladies of Nashville, with out whom this most uncommon medical experiment wouldn’t have been potential? They disappeared into historical past’s shadows, unknown and unrecognized.
Frequent Civil Struggle Instances contributor Gordon Berg writes from Gaithersburg, Md.