When was germ warfare, the releasing of bacteria to cause harm or even death to victims, first utilized in a war? Vietnam war? Korean War? World War II? World War I? Spanish American war? I am not sure if this was the first use of germ warfare, but there was a germ warfare plot that was carried out by the Confederates near the end of the American Civil War.
The cause of yellow fever, now known as malaria, was unknown at the time, but it was believed it could be transmitted through contact with infected persons or their personal possessions. Dr. Luke Pryor Blackburn, a leading American authority on yellow fever who had won wide acclaim for his successful efforts in epidemic control, served as a Confederate agent in Canada during the war. When yellow fever broke out in Bermuda in April 1864, Blackburn went there and volunteered his services. He stayed until the disease abated in late October and received praise from the British authorities for his work.
Allegedly, Dr. Blackburn packed a number of trunks with infected clothing from diseased victims and shipped the trunks to Union-controlled New Bern, North Carolina. Coincidently, an epidemic broke out there at the same time that killed more than 2,000 from yellow fever. To the participants of the plot, this proved that the sending of infected clothes would work to disable Union forces. More trunks were filled with infected clothes and were sent to Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Norfolk to be sold as secondhand clothes. One trunk was also sent to Mary Todd Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln's wife, in an effort to kill her.
The first news of this plot was revealed during the Lincoln assassination conspirators trial. Newspapers editorialized that the plot was an "outrage against humanity" and called Blackburn a "monster" and an "inhuman wretch." He was arrested in Canada, but was acquitted by a Canadian court in October 1865 because of lack of evidence. No further action was taken against Blackburn. Not until years later did scientists learn that yellow fever could be transmitted only by a type of mosquito.
While the history books claim that Blackburn hatched and carried out the plot, the scheme is inconsistent with Blackburn's humanitarian services before and after the war. He resumed his practice in Kentucky after the war, and was elected governor. His gravestone is inscribed "the Good Samaritan." While the yellow fever plot was carried out, history may never know if Dr. Blackburn was actually involved in the plot or not.