What was medicine like during the Civil War?
The Civil War was fought between the years of 1861-1865. It was mainly over the issue of slavery. The Union states in the northern parts of the United States were opposed to it. The southern states, also known as the Confederacy, were pro-slavery. There were many battles fought during the duration of the war, which led to thousands of injured soldiers. Because of the lack of knowledge and lack of training regarding medical practices, many soldiers died as a result from their injuries. Infection was a major cause of death and disease.
- The Civil War lasted for four years and split the nation.
- Little was known about performing surgery in sterile conditions.
- Training for many " doctors " that treated the soldiers was learned on the job.
Some of the most common ailments during the Civil War included malaria, typhoid fever and food poisoning. Many soldiers also contracted dysentery, pneumonia and the mumps. Food poisoning and many types of bacterial infections were also common. Soldiers were often living in tents and other close quarters, so outbreaks of many diseases spread very quickly. Malnutrition was another issue and many soldiers that contracted diseases were not strong enough to fight them off.
Most battlefield injuries were to the arms and legs. Bayonets were used but the majority of the injuries sustained from battle were the result of a type of muzzle loading rifle that shot lead bullets. Revolvers and swords were also used. Well over 600,000 people died during the Civil War. It is believed that there were almost 500,000 wounded during the many battles.
- Dysentery was a common and deadly disease process.
- Many soldiers also suffered from malaria .
- Different types of rifles were commonly used during battles.
- Minie balls were the preferred bullets that were used in many rifles.
Surgery risks at the time were very high. Many of the people that were treating the soldiers were not actual medical doctors; they just were trained by medics and doctors on the job. One of the major risks was infection. Many surgeries were not actually performed in hospitals, but in camps that were in limited supply of clean water, soap and medicine. Often the surgeons had to use the same instruments over and over again on different patients before they were able to clean them.
Many injuries resulted in amputation. This was in part due to the infection from the original injury and partly because it was the only way to save a soldiers life in many cases. Gangrene was very common and also resulted in amputation. It is caused by a lack of blood flow to a certain area, usually a limb. Because even basic supplies were in such high demand many soldiers did not even get anesthesia during their amputations. The most commonly used type of anesthesia was chloroform and that was difficult to come by at the camps where many of the wounded were tended to after battles.
- Civil War surgeries were risky procedures.
- Anesthesia choices were extremely limited in comparison to what is available now.
- Infections were common, especially after surgeries.
- Doctors performed amputations regularly, especially after gunshot wounds.
During the Civil War era, the role of nursing became very important. Because there were so few doctors and medics, thousands of women from both the North and the South volunteered to care for the wounded. Some people believe that the Civil War started to pave the way for nursing as a supportive role in the medical field. Many of the women tended to wounds and cared for the soldiers throughout their various illnesses, nursing them back to health.