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Bill Thayer

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The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Fifth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 11th, 1874.

 p14  Eugene A. Woodruff
No. 2121 — Class of 1866.
Died, September 30th, 1873, at Shreveport, La., aged 31.

Lieutenant Eugene A. Woodruff's death was announced in the following letter from Capt. Howell, and in General Orders from Head-Quarters Corps of Engineers:

U. S. Engineer Office,

New Orleans, October 13, 1873.

Brigadier-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.A. A. Humphreys,

Chief of Engineers, Washington, D. C., U. S. Army.


It has become my duty to report to you the death of Lieutenant Eugene A. Woodruff, of our Corps.

In superintendence of the work assigned him on the Red River Raft, it became necessary for him to visit Shreveport, La., to procure needed supplies for his working parties. On his arrival at Shreveport he found the city stricken by a sudden and terrible epidemic, before which all but the bravest fled, leaving the sick and suffering to be cared for by the few gallant souls who dared face the plague.

 p15  It was a position to call forth all the generous self-sacrificing impulses of a christian gentleman and a soldier, and nobly did Woodruff answer to the call. Joining the Howard Association,​a he took his part in bringing order out of chaos, inspiring others with his own fearless spirit, working good both at the bed‑side of the sick, and among those who could only be held in the path of duty and charity by a present bright example.

His monthly reports for August were written in a sick-room, the room of a poor and lowly man, whose only hope for aid came from the presence of the good Samaritan.

After one week of devotion to the care of the plague-stricken, Woodruff was himself seized with the disease. He was surrounded by devoted friends, whose care brought him safely past the turning point, and there was every hope of his recovery. Some indiscretion brought on the fatal relapse that has deprived the Corps of one of its most promising young officers; a great public work of its skillful, energetic organizer and director, a host of warm personal friends of one very dear to them, and a widowed mother of an almost idolized son, her main-stay in life.

The people among whom he has labored for the past two years, pay tribute to his memory in grateful earnest words.

"He came among us about two years ago, a perfect stranger, sent by his government to remove the raft in Red River. By his courtesy to our people, stern integrity, and unflinching industry and perseverance, he won the esteem of this community, and his death is looked upon as a public calamity.

"He died a martyr to the blessed cause of Charity, and may his reward be great in the world to come."

He died Tuesday night, September 30, 1873, at Shreveport, La., of yellow fever.​b

Very respectfully, your obd't serv't,

C. W. Howell,

Capt. of Eng'rs, U. S. Army.

Thayer's Notes:

a A charitable association founded in Virginia to alleviate the sufferings of yellow fever victims. A very detailed and interesting account of it and its work can be read at USGenWeb Archives.

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b The yellow fever epidemic at Shreveport was one of the worst in American history. The following contemporaneous account is from p2 of the Alexandria (La.) Rapides Gazette, Oct. 25, 1873:

Report of Drs. Davidson, Choppin and Barnes.

Most of our readers we suppose are aware that our old and popular friend, Dr. J. P. Davidson, so long known and highly esteemed in Rapides, and now a resident of New Orleans, was one of the delegation selected from the most eminent physicians of the Crescent City, to visit Shreveport, not only to assist her stricken citizens with their valuable professional services, but also to report upon the type, origin and other particulars of the horrible scourge, which decimated the fair city of northwestern Louisiana. From the New Orleans Times, we make the following extracts relative to the subject:

The Fever No longer Epidemic.

These gentlemen left Shreveport on Thursday last, and reached home on Sunday, all in remarkable good health, considering the arduous and unremitting toil through which they have so recently passed. At the time of their departure the fever had ceased to be epidemic, although cases were still occurring, and would probably continue to occur occasionally, until severe frosts set in. Still the city remains

Almost Depopulated

by reason chiefly of the continued absence of the citizens who fled from the pestilence. It is understood the city contained a population of twelve thousand prior to the sickness. It is thought there are now not exceeding four thousand people, white and black all counted, in the place. All, or nearly all, with whom flight was possible, sought refuge in that way. It was estimated that not less than thirteen or fourteen hundred persons, out of the limited population that remained, had been attacked by the fever, and that more than six hundred had died and been buried up to the time these gentlemen left.


Great Mortality

is accounted for in perhaps the only rational way, and in the opinion expressed in sustained by all persons from Shreveport with whom we have conversed. Without stopping to inquire how the disease got to Shreveport, it is certain it found there a sanitary condition highly favorable to its virulence and rapid spread. It appears from the statements made to us that the sanitary and police regulations had been far from effective or adequate, but left the city in such a condition that the introduction of any virus was likely to be attended with great mortality. The sickness was clear and well-defined yellow fever, and its virulence was even greater than that which characterized the epidemic of 1853.

As yet it has not been ascertained

From What Source

the fever was introduced into the place, but they were satisfied it was carried there, and did not arise from the removal of the Red River raft, or from the dead cattle in the sunken steamboat, and further it was their opinion the introduction of the disease was not by the circus company.

The Black People.

All labor, both in town and country was stopped, and very large accessions to the black population had been made from the plantations who came in, it would seem, for the purpose of being where they could obtain supplies of food, until now the blacks exceed the whites in number. The Doctors do not speak in very complimentary terms of their conduct; they seemed to be paralyzed, and although drawing their rations from the general supplies sent from abroad, they could not, except in a few instances, be induced to render any assistance, refusing to either wash or cook for the sick. It appears they have not been wholly exempt from the disease, but generally have slight attacks and easily recover.

The Supplies.

The city appears to be well and regularly supplied with food. Two or three times a week supply trains arrive from Texas with beef, mutton, poultry and other food products, and these are forwarded by the Texans with their characteristic liberality. The supply of medicines has been sufficient all the time.

Examples of Self-Sacrifice.

Dr. Choppin narrated to us many examples of self-sacrifice deserving public acknowledgment. The Howard Association of Shreveport, had been under wise direction and proven exceedingly efficient. The President, L. R. Simmons, our former fellow-citizen, abandoning all thoughts of self, had devoted his whole time and strength to the care of the sick and destitute. Colonel Martin, the Vice President, and a well-known merchant, worked unceasingly until he was himself stricken down by the malady. We rejoice to know that Colonel Martin is now out of danger and rapidly recovering. Great and valuable services have also been rendered by Mr. E. M. Schmidt, President of the New Orleans Howard Association. He is still at Shreveport. Our informant also speaks in terms of highest praise of the gentle and Christian charity of the Rev. Mr. Adams, of this city, who was also of the number that went to the relief of the afflicted city. Another notable example of charitable devotion is that of Major Hearsay, editor of the Shreveport Times. Throughout the entire epidemic he devoted himself with untiring sympathy to the care of the sick, nursing them at night, and editing his paper in the hours of the day which should have been given to rest.

We come now to speak of those who gave their lives in their efforts to serve their afflicted fellow-citizens. Of these there were five priests of the Catholic church and several Sisters of Charity. Three resident physicians, Drs. Wise, Hotchkiss and Hibbitt, also died, having each devoted all their talents and skill for the relief of the people until stricken down themselves. Dr. Richardson, of Jefferson, Texas, impelled by a noble instinct, hurried to these scenes of sickness and death, and himself became a victim, and literally died with his harness on. And yet another remains to be mentioned, of whom Dr. Choppin says: "He was a noble man, and would do honor to any country." We refer to Lieut. Woodruff, of the United States Army, who, after a protracted struggle of eleven days with the fever, at last became its victim. Lieut. Woodruff went to Shreveport as a nurse. Having placed everything he had, belonging to himself or to the Government, at the disposition of the Howard Association, he then gave himself up unreservedly to the service of the sick. Thus he died, and his name and virtues will long be cherished by the people of Shreveport.

Such are some of the details, obtained from Dr. Choppin, of the fatal epidemic at Shreveport. Of course the reader will understand that business of all kinds is still suspended there, and that the poorer classes who are dependent on their daily labor, being without employment, must necessarily appeal to the sentiment of humanity abroad for relief for some time to come. Many families have been decimated, and many entirely broken up. In some houses the sad reckoning shows parents without children, and children without parents, and in others naught remains but silence.

Obscured in the newspaper report is that Lt. Woodruff and the five French Catholic priests — Jean Pierre, Isidore Queremais, Jean-Marie Biler, Louis Gergaud, and François LeVezouet — were working together as a medical team, replacing the doctors that had died. Further details on the epidemic and those fighting it can be found in The History of Caddo Parish and in The History of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Shreveport.

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