Cholera, Soldiers, and the Medina River


by Christopher Hohman

This post is from our 2021 Summer Internship series.

This summer I had the privilege of working with a group of the University of Texas Austin graduate students who created a historical marker for an unmarked, Reconstruction Era, cholera, the burial ground of union soldiers, located on the banks of the Medina River here in Texas.

Prior to my involvement with the project, the team had already established contact with various community partners such as representatives from the city of San Antonio and the head historian of the Fort Sam Houston Quadrangle Museum. One of my most important tasks was maintaining correspondence with these types of partners. Additionally, I reached out to new institutions and people while searching for resources, scheduling research visits, and tracking down new leads on historical sources. Almost everyone I reached out to was helpful to me. For example, I answered a phone call from a curator in Georgia who directed me to a page about one of the army regiments whose soldiers are buried at the burial site. On another occasion, I contacted the National Archives to find more information about two important primary sources the team had been searching for. Overall, I believe that managing correspondence for the team has helped me better prepare for communicating with people in my future profession. I certainly feel less stressed about sending emails and making phone calls to people now than I did at the beginning of the summer.

Another important task I performed for the team, was tracking down resources, primary source documents, and discovering new secondary sources. Occasionally in my internship, when I had very few assigned tasks, I had to make my own tasks. This meant scouring the internet for new sources about the two regiments whose men are buried at the site and evaluating those sources. For example, I found two dissertations that discussed the two regiments, albeit briefly. I was able to glean information about them and add it to the team’s collection of sources. On another occasion, I found a rare book written by a member of the 4th cavalry regiment about his career in the regiment during the Civil War. However, this source did not pan out as well as I had hoped because he left the regiment months before the cholera episode. Overall, this task really opened my eyes to the different avenues available to historians for finding sources. I found the dissertations and book by searching the footnotes of other sources the team found! I also branched out and used History Hub to inquire about where I might find two post returns that listed the soldiers that died from disease during the cholera epidemic.  Through History Hub I was able to get precise information about what I was looking for and who to contact to get more detailed information.

I also learned a great deal about how to schedule research trips to institutions and archives during my internship. I learned how to schedule appointments and what to expect when attending them. I met with the historian at the Fort Sam Houston Quadrangle Museum as well as the manager of special collections at my own St. Mary’s University. Overall, if I ever needed to schedule a research visit at a larger institution or archive, I feel I can do that now because of my experience this summer.

Finally, I outlined and drafted the historical narrative for the marker application using the U.S. Army’s 1866 Cholera Report. This was really the culmination of my work for the team, and it was certainly my most meaningful contribution! It was awesome to write a narrative relying almost entirely on primary sources. I got great feedback on the draft, and I am hopeful the team will use it for the application. This was another exercise in the research and writing skills required to be a historian and history student.

Union soldiers were stationed in San Antonio when the epidemic struck and moved to this site on the Medina River to protect themselves from the disease. Sadly the unmarked location became the final resting place for dozens of soldiers.

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