|A Brief History of Chemical and Biological Weapons.|
Century to World War I | World War
I | The Inter-War Years |
World War II | Post
World War II
Disarmament and proliferation | The Terrorists
Ancient Times to the 19th Century
The ancients practiced a variant of biological warfare not common today,
an example of which is Hannibal's use of pots filled with snakes in a battle
in 184 B.C. with the Navy of King Eumenes of Pergamon. The pots were hurled
onto the decks of the ships, where they broke, forcing the Pergamene to
fight against both the snakes and Hannibal's forces.
The Romans used bees and hornets by catapaulting them at their enemies - to the extent that some historians blame this use for a shortage of hives during the latter years of the Roman Empire.
|Evidence can be found for the existence of forms of chemical and biological warfare in ancient and classical times. The evidence for chemical and toxin warfare is the clearest. Solon of Athens is said to have used hellebore roots (a purgative) to poison the water in an aqueduct leading from the Pleistrus River around 590 B.C. during the siege of Cirrha. Writings of the Mohist sect in China dating from the Fourth Century B.C. tell of the use of ox-hide bellows to pump smoke from furnaces in which balls of mustard and other toxic vegetable matter were being burnt into tunnels being dug by a beseiging army to discourage the diggers. The use of a toxic cacodyl (arsenic trioxide) smoke is also mentioned in early Chinese manuscripts. Sparta used the toxic smoke generated by burning wood dipped in a mixture of tar and sulfur during one of its periodic wars with Athens.|
|Many early accounts portray outbreaks of disease in invading armies or among conquerers as divine intervention, perhaps an indication of the terrible effects of disease coupled with the lack of understanding of its causes. This confusion between divine and secular causes does make it difficult to distinguish when an outbreak was natural and when it was, so to speak, assisted. The misfortunes of the Philistines after they captured the Ark of the Covenant from the Israelites more than three thousand years ago (told of in I Samuel 4:10 to 6:12) provide an example. The Philistines conveyed the Ark to the city of Ashdod (the home of one of the rulers of the Philistines) and placed it beside the statue of their god, Dagon, in the temple there. In short order, the statue of Dagon fell down (twice) and the population was afflicted with "tumors." The people of Ashdod then decided that the best thing to do was send the Ark, the arrival of which had seemed to precipitate their problems, to Gath (the capital city of a different Philistine ruler). No sooner did the Ark arrive in Gath than "the people of the city, both young and old, [were afflicted] with an outbreak of tumors". The people of Gath quickly decided that the best thing to do was to send the Ark to Ekron (the capital of yet another of the rulers of the Philistines), where we are told that, as the Ark was brought into the town, the people cried out that "They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us..." A plague of tumors also broke out in Ekron, and it is perhaps not surprising at this point that the Philistines decided to send the Ark back (or at least out of Philistine territory), accompanied by an unusual guilt offering (five gold tumors and five gold rats, the apparent association of the disease with the rats causing many modern scholars to suggest that the tumors were the buboes of bubonic plague). The story as related suggests that the disease appeared by intention (albeit it not the intention of men), although the coincidence of the plague breaking out along the Ark's travels may, of course, also be explained by a natural outbreak, possibly carried from city to city by the escort of the Ark.||
Diseases that are considered major potential biological weapons in modern
times have been known since antiquity. Smallpox is probably the oldest -
it is thought to have existed at least since 10,000 B.C., when the first
farming settlements were founded in northeastern Africa. It was first described
in the West as the Great Plague of Athens in 430 B.C. The Great Plague would
help lead to the downfall of Periclean Athens and thereby demonstrate the
effectiveness of disease in influencing human events.
Anthrax and the plague have been implicated as the fifth plague of Egypt in the fifteenth century B.C.
It is difficult to be certain about the exact identifications as these diseases affect the soft tissues that decay rapidly after death.
|Knowledge of the Chinese application of noxious smokes was not hidden from Europe. Formulas for "fire lances" in the Chinese style may be found in Biringucio's 1540 treatise Pirotechnia.||Based on surviving accounts, it is clear that the Chinese were the original masters of chemical warfare. It has been suggested that the pursuit of chemical weapons may have originated in the fumigation of dwellings to eliminate fleas (known to have been practiced by the Chinese as long ago as the Seventh century B.C.) or from the Chinese philosophical view that all matter faded into a more tenuous form, which lead them to take special interest in the study of vapors. Whatever the case, Chinese writings contain literally hundreds of recipes for the production of poisonous or irritating smokes for use in war, and many accounts of their use. Thus we know of the arsenic-containing "soul-hunting fog" and the irritating "five-league fog" (formed from a slow-burning gunpowder to which a variety of ingredients, including the excrement of wolves, was added to produce an irritating smoke). The use of a sort of riot control agent (finely divided lime dispersed into the air) is described in a Chinese account of the suppresion of a peasant revolt in 178 A.D. Nor did they neglect delivery systems - descriptions of weapons with such poetic names as the "poison fog magic smoke eruptor" may be found in the artillery manuals of the Chinese army.|
BELLA NON VENENIS GERI.
"War is fought with weapons, not with poisons."
A declaration of Roman jurists.
|The declaration above was made in reaction to the poisoning of wells by their enemies as the Romans tried to conquer the Germanic tribes. In the west, the use of toxic materials was generally viewed with mixed emotions and some disdain (especially when your enemies were doing it). There was also a strong tendency to keep useful knowledge, especially militarily useful knowledge, from wide dissemination. After all, if the knowledge was held by an individual, he could advance himself economically by retaining the secret and offering his services, while states tended to hold knowledge closely to prevent others from using it against them. Nor was there any philosophical reason to investigate vapors and smokes. This meant that, in contrast to China, where the study of chemicals including their military uses was widespread, in Europe the use of chemicals in battle (with the exception of incendiaries of various sorts and, of course, the use of wet vegetable matter to generate smoke screens) was usually the result of an independent local initiative, rather than the result of a logical building on prior experience. While there are many reports of the isolated use of chemical agents in individual battles or sieges, there was no general tradition of their use (again, with the exception of incendiaries and smoke).||
The secret of Greek fire, the great incendiary weapon of the Byzantines,
was held so closely that its composition has been lost to history. Those
knowing the secret often responded to inquiries by saying that the formulation
had been revealed by an angel to the Constantines, and that any attempt
to discover it would provoke the vengeance of God.
It may even have been lost to the Byzantines - when Constantinople fell into the hands of the Crusaders in 1204 A.D., Greek fire was nowhere to be found.
Wells have been poisoned by various chemicals or by the simple expedient
of dropping human and animal corpses into them for millenia.
The Romans, despite the declaration of their Jurists, were not above poisoning wells when it suited them. For instance, when, after defeating Aristonicus in Asia Minor (Caria), the Romans were faced with guerrilla warfare by the remnants of Aristonicus' army, they poisoned the wells that the guerillas and their supporters used. The result was the end of the war leaving Rome in control of the region.
Poisoning of wells also occurred in the 19th Century during the American Civil War and in South Africa during the Boer War and continues to this day with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) of Turkey reported to have poisoned wells in Turkish Kurdistan in mid-1997.
| As a result,
the use of chemical agents in conflicts in Europe was fairly limited through
the end of the Renaissance. There was, however, considerable attention paid
to poisons. The Roman Emperors, in particular the Julio-Claudian emperors,
would gain a attention for poisoning members of their families and others
that displeased them. Nor was the practice limited to the Emperors - Juvenal
would write of it in his Satires in a way that suggested that it had become
a sort of status symbol among the upper classes.
A woman named Locusta would become particularly infamous as a poisoner in Rome; she would also be one of the first to systematically investigate the use of poisons with state (or, at least, Imperial) sponsorship. Convicted for a multiplicity of crimes under Claudius, she was sentenced to death, but the sentence had not been carried out when Claudius died (the delay in the execution of her sentence is said to have been arranged by Agippina, the wife of Claudius and mother of Nero, so that Locusta might prepare a poison for Agrippina to use on Claudius). Subsequently, the new Emperor Nero is supposed to have asked Locusta to prepare a potion for use on Nero's half-brother, Britannicus. Once Brittanicus died, Nero suspended the death penalty and made Locusta his advisor on poisons. In due course, he organized a school of poisoning where she could tutor others and conduct experiments aimed at determining how to poison and how to defend the person of the Emperor against poison. Surviving accounts indicate that many tests were performed on animals and that at least some tests were performed on convicted criminals. (Nero's preferred poison is said to have been cherry laurel water, which contains cyanide.)
|Poisoning would decline in popularity after the Second Century, but it would never disappear, and would occasionaly enjoy a renewed popularity. For instance, the poisoning of individuals, usually with extracts of plants such as aconite or Belladonna, would be an accepted part of statecraft in the Renaissance, especially in Italy. The meticulous records of the Council of Ten of Venice, for instance, contain considerable information on how victims were selected, poisoners contracted, prices set, and payment made for the completion of the task (indicated by the notation factum in the records). And in France, the use of "inheritance powders" would be widespread until the Poison Affair brought scandal to the court of King Louis XIV and the formation of the burning court (chambre ardente) forced, if not an elimination of poisoning, at least a greater degree of circumspection in its practice. But, for the most part, chemical poisons were employed against individuals, usually for assasination, but sometimes in battle as when poisoned arrows were used, and not in a manner calculated to produce mass casualties in groups. However, accusations of attempts at mass poisonings, especially when seen as useful to make for political ends or during times of stress (as when Jewish communities bore the brunt of attacks for "poisoning" during the plague years) were commonly heard.||
The Roman commanders should have studied their classics more closely - Xenophon, in his Anabasis, tells of what happened when his troops consumed some of the local honeycomb in the same area in 401 B.C. - although he was luckier than Pompey, as the Persians who were pursuing him did not attack during the four days his army took to recover.
| The use of toxic materials
in war was not, however, completely absent.
In 187 B.C., the inhabitants of the town of Ambracia in Epirus dealt a setback to Roman soldiers seeking to tunnel under their walls:
Plutarch, in his Life of Sertorius, tells us of how that worthy soldier dealt with the Characitanes, who had a redoubt formed from a series of caves that seemed impregnable. Noticing that the prevailing winds blew from the North, and that the openings of most of the caves faced the North, Sertonius had his soldiers pile up a mound of earth in front of the redoubt. As the breeze began to blow, he had his soldiers turn the earth over, and his calvary ride over it, raising a cloud of somewhat caustic dust - what might be called a particulate aerosol today - that blew into the caves, blinding and choking the Characitanes. After two days of this treatment, they surrendered, "adding, by their defeat, not so much to the power of Sertorius, as to his renown, in proving that he was able to conquer places by art, which were impregnable by the force of arms".
The Romans also practiced anticrop chemical warfare, most famously after the defeat of Carthage, when the fields were sown with salt to help prevent resettlement.
| The biggest use
of chemicals in war in ancient times was in the area of flame weapons. The
first use of fire in war probably followed shortly after the discovery of
how to make it appear on command. By the Fourth Century B.C., a number of
recipes existed for producing incendiary compositions, such as that provided
by Aineias in his On the Defense of Fortified Positions, which comprised
pitch, sulfur, tow, granulated frankincense, and pine sawdust in sacks which
were set alight. Aineias cites as the virtue of this mixture the difficulty
of extinguishing it; while the sulfur, at least, would also have produced
toxic fumes, this does not seem to have be given any particular import.
Indeed, although a variety of mixtures were used containing an astonishing
number of additives, the major interest in additives seems to have been
related to their perceived value in producing a hotter flame (for instance,
salt appears to have been added commonly because it produced a visible orange
flame), rather than for the production of choking or irritating smoke.
The most famous incendiary mixture is certainly the Greek fire of the Byzantine Empire (Greek fire is a modern name - the Byzantines called it "sea fire"; their Moslem enemies "Roman fire"). The secret of this weapon is supposed to have been brought to the Byzantines by a refugee from Moslem-occupied Syria named Kallinikos (or Callinicus; the name is almost certainly a pseudonym - it means handsome winner, possibly a reference to the reward received for his invention). There was nothing particularly new about liquid fire - oil-based incendiaries had been used for some time. But this material had the astonishing property of burning on (or at least, when in) contact with water. Using it in combination with a spray device that allowed them to direct it against enemy ships, the Byzantines were able to utterly defeat the Arab fleet at the battle of Kyzikos in 678 A.D. - a remarkable achievemnt given that the Arabs had previously defeated the Byzantine fleet on an almost regular basis. The Byzantines had developed a decisive weapon, and they held it closely to keep their enemies from learning how to use or counter it. Their success with developing tactics to use the weapon, and in keeping others from using it, would serve them in good stead - Greek fire would be credited with many more victories - against the Moslems again in 717-718 A.D. and later against Russian attacks in 941 A.D. and 1043 A.D. The Moslems did not leave many commentaries about the use of this weapon against them, but the Rus, after their attack in 941 A.D., recorded the observation that "The Greeks possess something like the lightning in the heavens, and they released it and burned us. For this reason we did not conquer them."
While they didn't have Greek fire, the Moslems were adept with other oil-based
incendiaries. In a siege of Mecca in 683 A.D. the Umayyads used catapaults
to hurl naphtha-based incendiary projectiles against the defenders, accidentally
setting the cloth covering of the Ka'bah on fire. In 813 A.D., Baghdad would
be essentially destroyed by naphtha barrels thrown into the city, and in
1167 A.D. Cairo was destroyed by naphtha pots and bombs to deny it to the
Distillation of petroleum, to produce fractions ("white water naphtha") suited for incendiaries, was also known. A workshop for producing incendiary grenades, complete with a distilling furnace and a gasoline storage container, dating from the first half of the thirteenth century has been found in Hama, in Syria. The Book of Horsemanship and the Art of War, written by Najm al-Din Ahda in 1285, even tells how to build rockets with fire bomb warheads.
The Moslems seem to have avoided the intentional use of toxic additives in their flame weapons, perhaps because of injunctions in the Koran against poisoning the air and water.
Even without intention, disease traveled with war, both because of the poor
sanitation that results and because war meant travel. The Crusades and the
Arab expansion are both considered to have contributed greatly to the spread
Even nominally peaceful travel was a boon to the spread of disease. As Europe began to explore and colonize Africa and the New World, new diseases ravaged explorers, settlers, and natives. Venereal disease, apparently reimported from the New World and Yellow fever from Africa killed many. It was the mosquito-ridden swamps of the coastal regions of West Africa that gave rise to the term "The White Man's Grave." On the other hand, smallpox introduced by a single victim in the Cortez expedition killed 90% of the Aztecs of Mexico and in the far north the Eskimos were ravaged by epidemics of measles.
| Forms of biological
warfare were also practiced in the Middle Ages when the catapulting of diseased
or putrefying corpses into castles became a feature of siege warfare. The
earliest incidence of this which is well reported comes from the siege of
Thun l'Eveque in 1340 during the Hundred Years War, where siege engines
were used to (in the words of Jean Froissart, a contempory chronicler) "...cast
in deed horses, and beestes stynking..." with the result that, as "...the
ayre was hote as in the myddes of somer: the stynke and ayre was so abomynable,"
that the defenders felt they had to consider surrender. While no disease
appears to have actually broken out, the defenders did subsequently withdraw.
While it may be argued that the intent of casting decomposing carcasses was simply to harass (which it certainly did) or perhaps to have something to throw during a brief shortage of the more usual stones, it seems almost certain that the aims included at least a hope on the part of the attackers that the defenders would be stricken with disease. After all, one of the prevailing theories of disease transmission of the period was that disease were caused by "bad air".
Legend has it, probably not completely correctly, that the Black Death that killed a quarter of Europe's population in the 14th Century was spread by refugees from the siege of the Genoese settlement of Kaffa in the Crimea when the Tartars used the bodies of plague victims as ammunition during the siege. Whatever the truth of this allegation, there is no question that the plague had a dramatic effect on both sides. Plague was already raging through the ranks of the Tartars when they started casting the bodies over the walls. Plague then also broke out among the defenders, leaving them too weakened and demoralized to take advantage of the situation (according to one chronicle, only one in several thousand retained health enough to flee).
| Although there
was no widespread interest in chemical warfare in the Renaissance, as with
so many other things, the indefatigable Leonardo da Vinci seems to have
done some thinking on it. He offered a proposal to
throw poison in the form of powder upon galleys. Chalk, fine sulfide of arsenic, and powdered verdegris may be thrown among enemy ships by means of small mangonels, and all those who, as they breathe, inhale the powder into their lungs will become asphyxiated.He also considered the issue of protection. In his notes we find a description of a protective mask which would serve to shield the eyes, nose, and mouth (and lungs) of the user from dust and smoke - a more effective protection against the use of his toxic powders than the damp cloth originally proposed to protect their users from retaliation in kind.
| As the Middle
Ages gave way to the Rennaissance, gunpowder and firearms and artillery
began to play a role in warfare and they came to dominate the battlefield.
They eventually reduced the utility of castle walls to the point where even
the most advanced fortifications could be reduced and broken by a choreographed
set of maneuvers (provided that the defenders were unable to interrupt the
dance). The rise of gunpowder weapons also produced an interest in chemistry,
or at least in compounding mixtures for use in war.
Gunpowder-like mixtures - mixtures containing charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter - were known in China by 1044 A.D., primarily as incendiaries, since the proportions were not right nor were they confined for a bang to occur. By 1232, the Chinese had developed rockets and a weapon called "Heaven-shaking Thunder", an iron bomb attached to a chain which could be lowered from the walls of a city to explode among attackers. By 1280 A.D., at least the knowledge that adding saltpeter to incendiary compositions made them work better was widespread, as a book on war engines written by a Syrian, one al-Hasan ar-Rammah, appeared which included instructions for its use and purification. At about the same time, a number of compositions which would explode, at least weakly, are described in such tomes as the Liber Ignium (Book of Fire) of Marchus Graecus. Very soon after this time the use of these materials to throw projectiles from what came to be known as guns began.
Initially, the projectiles were simply stones, but as time went by, a variety of new projectiles were developed. Explosive shells, with a powder charge ignited by a fuse lit just before firing it against the enemy appeared. And so did an incendiary shell that was called, in the proper terminolgy of artillery, the carcass, also called, by those that were not artillerymen (and some few who were), the stink pot. The carcass was a hollow metal shell with perforations for the emission of flame and flaming material, and, if one wonders why that would give rise to the sobriquot of stink pot, consider that the usual fill of a carcass included sulphur, tallow, rosin, turpentine, saltpeter, and antimony.
It was quickly observed that firing carcasses at an enemy could provide, at the least, considerable distraction as a result of the action of the fumes even when the primary goal of starting fires was not achieved. While never losing their primary function as starters of fires, a variety of fills were developed for carcasses that were intended to maximize the effects of the smoke. It is said that the gunners of the Imperial Artillery were particularly prone to the use of toxic fills during the Thirty Years War. The experience with noxious smokes would lead to speculation and some experimentation in the years to come.
|The use of toxic projectiles was not viewed with total equanamity. German gunners were reported in 1650 to have pledged to "not construct any poisoned globes" and to "never employ them for the ruin and destruction of men, because the first inventors of our art thought such actions as unjust among themselves as unworthy of a man of heart and a real soldier."|
|The use of chemical weapons did not proceed unchecked. On the 27th of August, 1675, the French and the Germans concluded the Strasbourg Agreement, which included an article banning the use of "perfidious and odious" toxic devices (poisoned bullets).||In 1672, during his siege of the city of Groningen, Christoph Bernhard van Galen, the Bishop of Münster, acquired a nickname, "Bommen Berend" (Bomber Berend), for his profligate use of artillery. Among the explosive and incendiary devices he used were some which had a fill including belladonna, intended to produce toxic fumes. The weapons failed to prove decisive, however, at least in part because they were used without taking wind direction into account. In the end, the Bishop had to withdraw, lifting the siege on the 28th of August, an event still celebrated in the city.|
|While the spread of gunpowder weapons had begun to get people thinking about the use of chemical technology in warfare, there was still little or no systematic thinking about, or use of, biological weapons. The possible impact of biological weapons had always been obvious to commanders who usually found disease to kill more men in the course of a campaign than did enemy fire. But the existing theories of how disease was transmitted, coupled with the lack of knowledge about how to direct a disease only against an enemy, made the use of disease as a weapon seem little more than a fantasy.|
|In 1714 an article in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society would lay the groundwork for a change in how biological warfare was viewed. The article contained a description of a technique used by a physician, one Giacomo Pylarini of Smyrna, to confer some protection against smallpox. The technique, variolation, entailed taking some of the liquid from the pustules of a victim of a mild case of smallpox and rubbing it into a small scratch made on the person to be protected. Usually, the individual variolated would suffer a mild case of the disease and then be, on recovery, immune to further infection. There were two disadvantages - usually the case was mild, but not always and the variolated patient could spread the infection during the course of the (hopefully) mild case. However, the risk of death from variolation was felt to be acceptable when held against the problems that could result from uncontrolled infection (some estimates set mortality at 2-3%, which was still less than a tenth of the mortality rates seen without variolation), and conscientious quarantine would prevent problems with variolated patients spreading disease.||
The Chinese produced immunity to smallpox using a technique in which a dried
powder of the material from a pustule was blown into a persons nose beginning
in the Eleventh century.
The practice of variolation was introduced by Circassian traders to the Ottoman Empire, where it was practiced beginning no later than 1670.
| Variolation would
become especially popular in England, although not as a result of the 1714
article in the Philosophical Transactions (nor, for that matter,
as a result of a second article that appeared in 1716). Its popularity is
attributed to the actions of Lady Mary Wortley Montague, who had had been
afflicted by smallpox and who had lost her brother to it. Lady Montague
was married to Lord Edward Wortley Montague, who was the ambassador to the
Sublime Porte of the Ottomans in Istanbul. There, Lady Montague observed
the practice of variolation as practiced by the Turks and, determined not
to have her family suffer as she had, directed the surgeon of the Embassy
to learn the technique and, in March, 1718, to variolate her five year old
son. After her return to England, she determined to promote the technique,
and had Maitland variolate her four year old daughter in the presence of
several physicians, including the king's physician. The royal interest was
aroused, and Charles Maitland was given leave to perform what came to be
known as the Royal Experiment, in which he variolated six condemned prisoners
(who had been promised full pardons if they survived). When the prisoners
survived (and were pardoned), further experiments were done on charity children.
The safety of the procedure being established by these experiments, two
of the king's grandchildren, the daughters of the Princess of Wales, were
treated on April 17, 1722. After this the practice of variolation spread
like wildfire, reaching even the rural areas of England by the 1740s.
Across the sea, in England's American colonies, the practice was accepted even earlier than in England. In 1721, the Reverend Cotton Mather had prevailed on Dr. Boyston to variolate some 244 people in an effort to halt a smallpox epidemic in Boston. When the deaths were tallied (six of the variolated against 844 of 5980 infected who had not been variolated) it was clear that variolation was the way to protect against the smallpox. By the 1750's, no less a personage than Benjamin Franklin was promoting the technique.
|The goals of the practitioners of variolation, were, of course, benign. Smallpox was a terrible disease, killing from 20% to 60% of those afflicted (with a disproportionate effect on those younger than 5 years old - in one outbreak in Berlin, 98% of the children who caught the disease died). A significant number of the survivors of the disease were left blind as a result of corneal infection. At the least, a survivor would bear the scars of the disease.|
But the popularization of variolation was a two-edged sword. Those living in the countries where variolation was popular could be presumed to know:
|To Sundries got to Replace in kind those which were taken from people in the Hospital to Convey the Smallpox to the Indians|
|- line item in the ledger for Ft. Pitt, June, 1763|
|In 1763, during the Pontiac Rebellion, Captain Simon Ecuyer, the commanding officer of Fort Pitt, found himself in a difficult situation. The indians were pressing hard - three forts in the Ohio River watershed had been lost, and many settlers had come to Fort Pitt seeking safety. The Fort was crowded and uncomfortable, and smallpox had appeared among the refugees. On June the twenty-third, two Delaware indians appeared at the fort, asking for a parley with Alexander McKee, the Assistant Deputy Superintendent of Induan Affairs for the Crown. On the twenty-fourth, Captain Ecuyer, along with a delegation including Mr. McKee and also William Trent (who was the commander of a local civilian militia) met with the indians, who professed a desire to avoid conflict and called for the evacuation of Fort Pitt, indicating that, if this were done quickly, it could be done peacefully. Captain Ecuyer declined to evacuate the fort, claiming that three large armies were coming to his aid. The indians indicated that for their part they hoped for friendship (a hope that the British, at least, were doubtless suspicious of, since the history of wars with the American indians had been full of spurious offers of safe conduct), and at this point, as Mr. Trent records in his journal , "Out of our regard for them, we gave them two Blankets and a Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect" In the event, the Delaware were to suffer severely from an epidemic of smallpox, although the infected materials may have been only one of several sources of infection.|
|The natives of the New World also used chemical and biological weapons. In South America, the smoke from burning chili peppers was used boh in local conflicts and against the Portuguese as a sort of tear gas, while in the North, there are several incidents that suggest that the Indians may also have tried to initiate smallpox outbreaks among the European soldiers and settlers.||The documentation that survives, including the ledgers (which had to be approved by British authorities up to the level of General Gage, the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in America), makes it clear that this action was not seen as something extraordinary, or an action taken under unusual circumstances by a local commander. In fact, letters survive from a correspondence in July of 1763 between General Sir Jeffery Amherst (then the British Commander-in-Chief) and Colonel Henry Bouquet, who was leading a relief force to Ft. Pitt, that the use of smallpox as a weapon against the indians was receiving general consideration. In a letter which seems to have been written shortly after he learned that smallpox had broken out at the fort, Genral Amherst suggests asks Colonel Bouqet "Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians?" On the thirteenth of July, Colonel Bouqet, on his way to Ft. Pitt, replies "I will try to inoculate the...with some blankets that may fall in their hands, and take care not to get the disease myself." This independent mirroring of the use of the smallpox, down to the method of delivering the infectious particles, makes it seem likely that the use of smallpox had received some attention in military circles prior to the event. Indeed, there is some evidence, although none is conclusive, that this was not the first time smallpox was employed against the indians. Certainly the inclusion of the line item noted above in his accounts makes it clear that Captain Ecuyer was not concerned that there would be any censure for his actions.|
|Fort Pitt was not the only time that informed attempts at biological warfare were made in the New World in the second half of the 1700s, simply the best documented one. Among the most significant would be those by the British during the American Revolution, not for their effect, but for the response they provoked.|
| In April of 1775,
the British in Boston found themselves facing both the Continental Army
and a smallpox epidemic. Reasonably enough, they began to variolate their
troops. Less reasonably, they began to variolate civilians fleeing the city.
While there is no documentation surviving that demonstrates the British
intention in this instance, it was well known that those variolated became
infectious. General Washington, the commander of the Continental Army, wrote
that he believed that "...the enemy intended spreading the Small pox
amongst us". He had been encouraged in this belief by the stories of
British deserters, about which he was skeptical until an outbreak of the
disease among the evcacuees convinced him. He delayed his attack, regarding
the smallpox in Boston as "a weapon of Defence" being used by
the British. When it was finally evacuated by the British, Washington advanced
with great care, fearing the exposure of his troops to the disease.
Washington had himself been a victim of smallpox, and in 1776 saw his attack on Quebec fail in large part because many soldiers were affected by an outbreak of smallpox (which many believed, albeit with small evidence, to have been the work of the British, judging by the testimony given to a Congressional hearing on the attack). He knew what the disease could do, and had come to regard it as "the greatest enemy of the Continental Army". But he also knew what to do - variolate. On January 6, 1777 he issued to Dr. William Shippen, Jr., Director General of the Hospitals and Physician in Chief to the Army, an order to inoculate all the Continental troops and the new recruits, also advising him to keep "the matter as secret as possible". danger was past.
Surviving letters indicate at least the hope of causing infection among
the Rebels on several other occasions. One of the most significant is that
of General Alexander Leslie, who notes in a missive directed to General
Cornwallis dated July 13, 1781 that more than "700 Negroes are come down
the river in the Small Pox." and that he intends to "distribute them about
the Rebell plantations."
The idea of speading smallpox to the rebels was discussed openly. Robert Donkin's 1777 book, "Military Collections and Remarks", published in New York, contains a footnote picturesquely suggesting that the rebellious Americans would disband in fear if the British should " Dip arrows in matter of smallpox and twang them at the American rebels, in order to inoculate them."
For the first time in history, measures had been taken to secure an army against, not only the very real risk of natural infection, but also against the risk of a deliberate biological attack. And they worked - after 1777 the Continental Army was never hampered by smallpox in its operations again.
or Kirrha; sometimes misidentified as Crissa, or Krissa, due to the (incorrect)
observation in Pausanias' commentary on Homer that Homer is refering to
Cirrha by its "more ancient name of Crissa" and further confused
by the habit of ancient historians of indiscriminately applying the names
Cirrhæan and Crissæan to the surrounding plains - it is issues
like this that often confound attempts to study ancient warfare. [Back])
2. This is sometimes incorrectly
attributed to Captain Ecuyer's report. In fact, he makes no mention of the
gift in the offical report of the incident. The documentation of Captain
Ecuyers involvement resides in the ledgers of the Fort.
Some information about how the use of smallpox was viewed by the command
structure of the time, including access to images of some of the documents,
may be found at a site (not part of CBWInfo.com) developed by Peter d'Errico:
Some information about how the use of smallpox was viewed by the command
structure of the time, including access to images of some of the documents,
may be found at a site (not part of CBWInfo.com) developed by Peter d'Errico:
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