When they got back to camp after patrol, the tar fires were already roaring. Thick, black smoke rolled in to the air, and an unmistakable smell filled their noses. The effluvium from the fires was supposed ward off malaria from bogs all around the city.
Murphy and Luther broke off from the rest of their company and headed toward the weathered canvas tent they slept in.
“I hate that stink,” Luther said dropping his pack to the ground.
“Yep, but it’s much preferred to crappin’ my guts out while a fever burns the rest of me.” Replied Murphy, doing the same.
Luther grunted a half-hearted agreement as he peeled one of his boots off.
“Pshoo!” Murphy exclaimed at the smell coming from Luther’s boots. “You carryin’ a dead skunk in those?
“That odor ain’t nothin‘ more than the evidence of a hard day’s work, you sissy.” Luther growled defensively.
“Hell, Luther, those ain’t boots. They’re our own personal tar fire. Ain’t no way we’re catchin’ anything with those stink pots in here. ‘Course, the stench might suffocate us before the dawn.”
“Don’t worry ‘bout the boots. I might be the one doin’ the suffocatin’ you don’t shut your trap.”
In addition to yellow fever, malaria was a constant threat during the summer months as mosquitoes spawned in the stagnant water swamps around Memphis. During the Civil War, when there were large numbers of soldiers sleeping outdoors, the disease was kept at bay by burning tar fires. The horrible stink apparently repelling the disease carrying mosquitoes.