Throughout the Civil War, bitters manufacturers were enormously successful, supplying a sundry of remedies to the Union troops, preying on their fears of southern tropical afflictions and, in particular, water-borne dysenteric ailments. To alleviate digestive disorders and other physical ailments, troops often relied on a variety of “medicinal” bitters—herbal brews steeped in alcohol—whose advertisements claimed spurious cures for a host of stomach, intestinal and liver complaints as well as a number of other bodily disorders. No doubt, these dubious antidotes offered bottled courage to plenty of frightened men in times of need.
Veterans returned home addicted to bitters and other therapeutic cocktails they believed prevented or alleviated illnesses during the war, spurious remedies they then passionately advocated to families and friends. While wartime deprivations and crippling illnesses undermined health, conditions at home were often equally harsh. Pervasive poverty and an inadequate diet contributed to a host of diseases that attacked weakened immune systems. The post-war South offered a perfect market for the many alcohol-laced formulas including the hundreds of bitters bottles shipped as cargo aboard the SS Republic bound for New Orleans.