Articles

A future Kentucky governor attempted biological warfare in the Civil War

Dr. Luke Blackburn was a respected medical doctor and philanthropist until he allegedly attempted to create a yellow fever outbreak targeting Northern civilians and soldiers during the Civil War. Despite widespread outrage at the time, he later won a landslide victory to become the governor of Kentucky.


Governor of Kentucky Luke Blackburn is best remembered for having fought many outbreaks of yellow fever and other diseases. (Photo: Kentucky Historical Society)

Blackburn was a native Kentuckian who began working as a physician after receiving his medical degree from Transylvania University. Early in his career, he implemented a quarantine to shut down a cholera epidemic and he later led another that successfully stopped an outbreak of yellow fever in the Mississippi River Valley. He gave an encore performance against another outbreak in 1854.

But when the tide of the Civil War started going against the South, he found that his loyalty to the Southern cause was greater than his dedication to the Hippocratic Oath.

The vaunted doctor allegedly traveled to Bermuda in 1864 when an epidemic of yellow fever broke out. During this time in the Civil War, the disease was known for striking down cities, killing thousands.

Blackburn helped treat the sick in Bermuda, but he also stole the clothing and bedding of those who died of either yellow fever or smallpox. He then sent trunks of these items to auction places in the North where they were sold and distributed among civilians.

Godfrey Hyams, an Englishman who met Blackburn in Canada, was one of the men paid to smuggle the tainted clothing and bedding into the North. He was promised $100,000 for his services, almost $1.5 million in current dollars.

Hyams was able to sell five trunks of clothing through auctioneers, but only one Union soldier death was attributed to the men and that one was circumstantial. The soldier had died from smallpox after buying clothes at a consignment store that held Blackburn clothing.

The reason that no one died of yellow fever due to Blackburn's actions is that the disease can not be transmitted via the clothing or bedding of its victims, though no one knew it at the time. Oddly enough, the Transylvania-trained doctor would have been more successful if he had recruited more bloodsuckers into his organization. Specifically, he needed female mosquitoes.

Yellow fever is a blood-borne virus spread by certain female mosquitoes. If Blackburn had succeeded in bringing a few victims North for mosquitoes to bite, he may have succeeded in his dark quest. But it wasn't until 1901 that a team led by Maj. Walter Reed proved the connection between mosquitoes and yellow fever, so Blackburn didn't know in 1864 and 1865 that his plan could never work.

The female yellow fever mosquito spreads the disease by biting into humans. The left and center illustrations show the female. The one on the right is male. (Illustration: Public Domain by E. A. Goeldi in 1905)

But Blackburn was dedicated to his plan. He returned to Bermuda to fill three more trunks with infected clothing and bedding. He contracted a man there, Edward Swan, to send these trunks to the North the following Spring, but Swan was found out and tried.

Meanwhile, Hyams had still not been paid. Hyams finally got tired of waiting and went to the U.S. counsel's office in Toronto to sell out his employer in early April 1865. A public trial filled the newspapers in Canada and throughout the U.S., but Blackburn was eventually acquitted on a technicality.

The trunks had been shipped to Nova Scotia before entering the U.S., and the court that was trying Blackburn did not have jurisdiction over crimes committed there. Meanwhile, the three other trunks from Bermuda were never on Canadian soil.

Blackburn, for his part, did not testify at his trial but said years later that the entire plot was too preposterous for gentlemen to even believe it existed. After his Canadian acquittal, he avoided the U.S. for a time to avoid prosecution, but he went south in 1868 to fight a yellow fever outbreak in Texas and Louisiana.

Prosecutors allowed him to work unmolested and Blackburn went on to fight yellow fever in Tennessee, Florida, and then back in his hometown of Kentucky over the following 10 years. His success fighting the outbreak in Kentucky caused his public image to drastically improve there.

In 1879, he won the gubernatorial election in Kentucky and became the governor. Much of his efforts in that position were aimed at easing prison crowding and bad conditions through pardons and the construction of a new prison. These measures proved unpopular and Blackburn failed to secure the Democratic nomination in 1883. He returned to private life and died in 1887.

Military Life

Female veterans pose on same ship that carried WW2 troops

Award-winning nonprofit Pin-Ups for Vets is releasing its 13th annual fundraising calendar to raise money for VA hospitals; ill, injured, and homeless veterans; deployed troops; and military families. The 2019 calendar, photographed on the iconic Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, features 19 female veterans decked out in World War II inspired fashion.

"Fans of Art Deco will appreciate the look of the upcoming calendar that reflects the vintage glamour of this 1936 cruise liner, now permanently docked in Long Beach, CA as a floating hotel," said Pin-Ups For Vets Founder, Gina Elise, who established Pin-Ups For Vets in 2006, as a way to honor the WWII service of her grandfather.

Gina Elise, Founder

Gina has devoted her life to giving back to the military community. To date, Pin-Ups For Vets has donated over $58,000 to help hospitals purchase new therapy equipment and to provide financial assistance for Veterans' healthcare program expansion across the United States.

The 2019 calendar is officially ready for pre-order at www.PinUpsForVets.com. All 2019 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar pictures were taken by Shane Karns Photography — and let me just tell you...he really nailed it.


Kirstie Ennis, U.S. Marine Corps veteran

From a linguist, to a Human Intelligence Collector, to a combat photographer, to a combat medic, to a motor transportation operator, to a heavy equipment transporter driver leading convoys in Iraq, to a helicopter door gunner in Afghanistan, these ladies also include an above-the-knee amputee veteran (Marine Corps veteran Kirstie Ennis — who, by the way, at the time of this publishing was climbing Mount Denali in support of Service to Summit to raise money for Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that builds or modifies homes and gives them to veterans in need).

Julie Noyes, Army veteran

Army veteran Julie Noyes says, "It can be so difficult as a female service member to feel empowered in her beauty without feeling like she may betray the professionalism of her uniform when we only seek to be treated like our male counterparts. I feel that Pin-Ups for Vets does a superb job at raising money and awareness for our elderly, wounded vets and our currently deployed troops while also showcasing the class and beauty of female veterans without objectifying them. What Pin-Ups Vets Founder Gina Elise has done with this publication and non-profit is nothing short of empowering and inspiring."

Naumika Kumar, Navy Veteran

"I will always be thankful to the Navy. I met my husband in the Navy who is also a veteran now and I graduated from National University with Master's Degree in 2012 as well. I am happy to see there are organization such as Pin-Ups For Vets who are doing so much to support the military and Veterans. I am happy that I got an opportunity to be part of the organization."

Patti Gomez, Army veteran

Patti is a veteran of the United States Army, where she proudly served in the New York Army National Guard as a 35M (Human Intelligence Collector) of the 42nd Infantry Division, located in Glenville, New York. She volunteered to attend JRTC in Fort Polk, Louisiana, alongside the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in July 2016. She also trained at Warfighter at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, with her unit in October 2017. Patti attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and attended Advanced Individual Training at the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

"Pin-Ups for Vets is an incredible organization with an important mission. Being a part of a nonprofit that helps veterans and empowers women at the same time is truly an honor and one that I couldn't pass up when I was asked to be a part of the 2019 calendar. As the reigning Mrs. New York America, my platform is veteran organizations — and Pin-Ups for Vets is truly among the best of them!"

Check out that cover image!

The 2019 calendar can be purchased at: www.PinUpsForVets.com or by check to: Pin-Ups For Vets, PO Box 33, Claremont, CA 91711.

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