Medicine in the Civil War (1)

Table of Contents

Andrew Dunlap Dr. Jennings HIST 2111.03 March 22, 2019 Medicine in the Civil War When the Civil War started most Americans thought this was going to be a quick war, maybe only lasting a couple weeks or months. The war quickly became very drawn out and the care for soldiers wounded in battle was very different than the care provided today. The Civil War was one of the deadliest wars in history, many bodies laid in the fields of battle to be brought to the hands of medical professionals with limited train ing. These doctors, surgeons and hospitals were not very clean and almost nearly twice as many soldiers died of disease after treatment in a hospital than soldiers died in battle 1. This is because doctors and surgeons didn’t quite understand bacteria and d iseases. The lack of medical advances that took place leading up to and during the Civil War led to much unnecessary loss of life that possibly could have been avoided. In 1865, Walt Whitman wrote the very known words to the poem “O Captain! My Captain!” i n the poem, the captain is supposed to represent Abraham Lincoln and the United States of America. The poem has been analyzed and explained to mean that the “rack” was the life that was lost during the war. 2 This poem is a very good explanation of how the people 1 Lab, Digital Scholarship. “The History Engine.” History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research | Episodes. Accessed April 12, 2019. 2 Hochman, Jhan. "An overview of “O Captain! My Captain!”." In Poetry for Students . Detroit, MI: Gale. Literature Resource Center (accessed April 21, 2019).viewed the war. They knew there would be a great loss of life and the soldiers were willing to die if it meant the Union would completely stay together. The ambulance transportation during the Civil War was just beginning and was very unskilled. The surgeon general during the war, William Hammond, realized that too many people were dying on the battlefield and wanted faster way to get to the wounded. 3 The ambulances came in two different forms, two -wheeled or four wheeled. The two wheeled ambulances as one writer wrote, “The wounded occupants would be compelled to ride for hours with their heels elevated above their heads and may finally be shaken out or have their bones broken by the terrible jolting.” The ride was very dangerous, as the wounded wer e collected at night, so they had to ride through the woods hitting bumps. 4 The four wheeled ambulances were better about not knocking people out as easily, but the makers enclosed them and as the same writer wrote, “The four -wheeled ambulances are built i n compartments, but the wounded are in danger of suffocation” 5 During the civil war Clara Barton, the woman who founded the American Red Cross also saw the need for people to begin receiving prehospital care in an ambulance, but it wasn’t really till after the Vietnam War that ambulances started providing care and not just transportation to a facility. 6 It is thought of by most doctors, surgeons and other medical professional that if the wounded soldiers were able to have been provided care in ambulances like today that the wounded would have had a higher survival rate. 3 Lab, Digital Scholarship. “The History Engine.” History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research | Episodes. Accessed March 30, 2019. 4 “The Prose of Battles.” 1863. Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science & Art (London) , February, 129 –33. – live&scope=site. 5 “The Prose of Battles.” 6 Limmer, Daniel, Michael F. OKeefe, Edward T. Dickinson, Harvey D. Grant, Rob ert H. Murray, and J. David Bergeron. Emergency Care . Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2016. pg 3 -4The dirty facilities did not really help treating the wounded and the misunderstanding of germs and wound care made for a massive infection pit in the field hospitals. The hospitals and almos t the entire medical field entered this war unprepared but mostly the physicians and surgeons working in the hospitals. Not only were the hospitals running rampart with diseases of all sorts, such as smallpox and yellow fever, the poor care of the patients by the untrained individuals led to many extra deaths. 7 In the confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal from January 1864, it says, “a starch bandage was applied to the limb, which remained for several weeks… was removed upon request. The wound s hortly after opened and irritative fever occurred.” 8 This is showing how the dirty facilities were causing more harm than good. The wound care is also showed that it has yet to advance. All the ignorance, not because the people were unwilling to learn, but because of the simple fact the advances had yet to b e made were major causes of so much extra death. 9 7 WALL, BARBRA MANN1, KATHLEEN2 ROGERS, and ANN3 KUTNEY -LEE. 2016. “The North vs. the South: Conditions at Civil War Hospitals.” Southern Quarterly 53 (3/4): 37 –55. -live&scope=site. 8 “Confederate States Hospital Reports.” 1864. Confederate States Medical & Surgical Journal 1 (1): 8 –11. :// – live&scope=site. 9 Stacy, George, photographer. Hospital scene at Fortress Monroe, Va . Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, .This is an image of the General Hospital at Fortress Monroe in Virginia. In the picture you can see nurses working together to deal with a wounded soldier. The image is a good representation of how the pe ople were handled. You can tell that the soldier is laying on the dirt, which isn’t very clean, and the people are using their bare hands, which in today’s world is a big no. The unsanitary conditions and ignorance of better, more advanced medical practice s was yet to be common knowledge. “‘It is the fear of death,’ he said, ‘that makes life bitter’” 10. This was the constant fear that soldiers had to worry about when they were injured. Reverend T. H. Robinson said in a newspaper article that the wounded wer e cared for at a ratio of “one nurse to ten to twenty men.” 11 This is a much harder ratio of care than like the one to three nurses to patient ratio in today’s hospitals. Nurses in the Civil War were everybody from free white men; women and men slaves or es caped slaves; free blacks; and women members of aid societies, the US Army, religious congregations. 12 There were many types of people that served as nurses to try to help these many wounded soldiers get back to health and back to their families. Emma Edmon ds accounts the life of a nurse saying, “I was not merely to go to Washington and remain there until a battle had been fought and the wounded brought in, and then in some comfortable hospital sit quietly and fan the patients, after the Surgeon had dressed their wounds; but I was to go to the fron t and participate in all the excitement of the battle scenes, or in other words, be a ‘Field 10 “ART. I. —EPICURUS AND EPICUREANS./1. HEGEL’S Geschichte Der Philosophie./2. LEWES. Biographical History of Philosophy./3. FÉNELON. Lives of the Ancient Phiosophers./4. ERS CH Und GRUBER.Encycolopädie Der Wissenschaften Und Künste. Art. Epikuros./5. Dictionnaire de La Conversation et de La Lecture. 1854. Art. Epicure./6. Encycolopédie Catholique. 1846.” 1861. Christian Examiner (Boston, MA) 71 (1): 2 –27. http://ezproxy.mga.ed u/login?url= – live&scope=site. 11 “Hospitals in the Field.” 1864. Sanitary Reporter: To Promote the Health, Comfort & Efficiency of Our Army & Navy 2 (8): 61–62. http://ezproxy.mga .edu/login?url= – live&scope=site. 12 WALL, BARBRA MANN1, KATHLEEN2 ROGERS, and ANN3 KUTNEY -LEE.Nurse’”. 13 The nurses and surgeons worked as a team, which would be thought of to help the mortality rate be lower. Edmonds explains how as her job, she would not j ust sit around and play cards, but she would be up going, dealing with patients, making them comfortable. The idea of being a “Field Nurse” is a very exciting job, showing that the nurses were very important in the medical field even though the mortality r ate was so high. A very outstanding group of nurses was the Daughters of Charity. They were a religious group that was known for not picking sides, they were nurses for both groups of the conflict. One of the Fathers of the group wrote the sisters a lette r explaining not to be political and to treat them all the same saying in a letter from September 1861, “refrain from uttering Political sentiment… They have no Enemy but pride and the evil spirit — North, South, East or West are alike to them.” 14 The fathe r of this group is trying to make all the sisters understand and not pick sides no matter where they were born or what side of the conflict they support. This is very important for nurses that are simply trying to help the wounded soldiers. They were a rel igious institution who people looked at to have morals, so helping the mortality rate increase would look very bad. They were very important in the cause since they provided so many nurses. 13 Edmon ds, S. Emma E. 1865. Nurse and Spy in the Union Army : Comprising the Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps, and Battlefields . Hartford, Conn: Digital Scanning Inc. -live&scope=site. 14WALL, BARBRA MANN1, KATHLEEN2 ROGERS, and ANN3 KUTNEY -LEE.15 This image is called “A man knows a man” and was placed in “Harper’s Weekly” on April 22, 1865 and it depicts two soldiers that had their legs amputated. Amputations were a very common practice during the civil war and many people ended up dying because of infection caused by the unsanitary conditions. One surgeon , Boucher, from the time reports that “two – thirds of those amputated succumb,” 16 or die of disease caused. Another surgeon states that ”300 amputations gave only 30 to 40 successful results.” 17 These are shocking numbers of lives lost simply from disease aft er they are ’fixed’ by these untrained doctors and surgeons. These doctors and surgeons were simply out to help the injured people but the injured people, but the new technology and education had a long way to go before there would be higher success rates across the board. Later in the same article it says, “This is the sad mortality of our operations… inclemency of climate, epidemics, and the overcrowding of hospitals.” 18 This explains the issue of them not being able to get people set to go back out into the fight or back to their families fast 15 “A Man Knows a Man.” 1865. Harper’s Weekly 9 (434): 256. -live&scope=site. 16 “The Mortality After Amputation.” 1863. Army & Navy Journal 1 (5): 69. – live&scope=site. 17 “The Mortality After Amputation.” 18 “The Mortality After Amputation.”after the operation. The surgeon general also states that, “amputations preformed in the United States General Hospitals during the months of September… and December, 1862… shows that of 1342 case, 100 were ret urned to duty… 336 died… and 34 a secondary operation was necessary.” 19 This was during the Civil War showing that almost twenty -five percent of people who had to have a limb amputated died from a secondary issue like infection. Amputations were a nasty thing that caused a lot of unnecessary harm and death during that period. If the medical advances had been taken place earlier than it seems more likely that more people would have survived. The American Civil War lased from 1861 -1865, four years and alm ost one million lives lost is very remarkable. The nurses, doctors, and surgeons did the best they could with the knowledge of the world they knew. They were only there to help but the ignorance of medicine during the time, even with the great medical adva nces, was not enough to save the lives causing nearly twice as many people to die. Everything from the dirty facilities to the misunderstanding and ignorance about germs and diseases led to many unnecessary deaths that possibly could have been easily avoid ed. 19 “The Mortality After Amputation.”