Introduction - Civil War MedicineThe state of medicine and medical treatment that existed at that the start of the American Civil War in 1861 was primitive by today's standards. At the time of this war doctors were by no means prepared to deal with the massive casualties and rampant disease caused by the war. Thousands of soldiers, and citizens, died from causes that today would have been easily prevented by such simple things as the use of sterile dressings, more sanitary conditions for patients, and better hygiene practices. Civil War medicine was in fact primitive by today's standards however medicine and medical treatment did see great progress during the Civil War and numerous practices and standards still used today were developed during the course of the war. On this page is a list of interesting facts about Civil War medicine; including what Civil War medicine was like, and what advancements were made in medicine during the Civil War. This is a topic that interest many kids and adults alike. In fact the twenty-third annual conference on Civil War Medicine took place on October 9th - 11th of 2015 in Frederick Maryland featuring a tour of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
Click here for a great selection of Amazon.com books about American Civil War medicine.
Interesting Civil War Medicine Facts
- The main cause of death during the American Civil War was not from battle wounds but rather from disease. Thousands of soldiers and citizens died from diseases like typhoid, tuberculosis, mumps, measles and dysentery. These diseases spread like wildfire in the poorly sanitized and crowded camps of both the Union and Confederate Armies.
- Civil War doctors and surgeons, nick-named "sawbones" due to the numerous amputations they performed, were inadequately trained and in many cases not qualified. However many worked bravely and did the best job they could; often working dangerously close to the front lines.
- During the war most medicines that were available were produced in the Union states. Although the south did produce some medicines the Confederate states obtained most of it by smuggling it in from the north or by capturing Union medical supplies.
- A little known fact is that anesthetics, mostly chloroform, was available and widely used during the American Civil War.
- The most common procedure performed on wounded soldiers was amputation. Although a gruesome procedure often performed on soldiers who had no anesthesia amputation actually saved the lives of thousands who, had the infection from the wound been allowed to spread, would have died.
Advances in Medicine and Medical Treatment During the American Civil War
- The United States Sanitary Commission was created early on in the Civil War. This organization raised money for medical supplies for the Union Army and to provide hygienic advice to Union Army soldiers. It set an example for organizations such as the American Red Cross that would follow it in the future.
- The Ambulance Corps system was organized during the Civil War by the Union Army due to the efforts of the medical director of the Army of the Potomac (Union Army) Doctor Jonathan Letterman. This resulted in better trained ambulance drivers and provided quicker and better care for wounded soldiers on the battlefield.
- At the beginning of the war the wounded and ill were treated in unsanitary, crowded, and poorly equipped hospitals. Due to the efforts of William A. Hammond, who was the surgeon general of the Union army, hospitals were improved. He designed efficiently organized hospitals that were well ventilated, therefore helping limit the spread of disease. He also created standards for hygiene and care for the patients along with an inspection plan to insure standards were being met.
- In wars prior to the American Civil War a soldier with any type of substantial wound on the battlefield had little hope of treatment and little chance of survival. During the Civil War field hospitals close to the battlefield and field dressing stations even closer were created providing more immediate help for the wounded and therefore increasing their chance of survival.
- During this war an efficient triage system was organized whereas the wounded would be evaluated and separated into groups based on the care they needed. This system helped in making sure that treatment was provided first to those who needed it the most.
- During the war the importance of maintaining proper medical records was realized in that they could be used to pinpoint problems and issues in patient treatment and be used to design better medical practices.