Medical Technology during Civil War

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The Civil War lasted from the year 1861 to the year 1865, believe it or not but the main cause of deaths in this war was not from battle wounds but from diseases and poor sanitation from doctors. Both Doctors and Nurses played a vital role during the civil war. They worked hard to save their soldiers, while doing so they discovered the medical practice and surgical operations but more importantly they helped medicine develop into what we have today. Although the medicine was being practiced, it also made the civil war one of the deadliest wars in Americas history. Roughly around six hundred twenty thousand soldiers died in this war; four hundred thousand of those soldiers died of diseases while in the hospital. There was not a high need for hospitals throughout the war, and this would have a major impact on the soldiers. Many men would fall ill with many contagious diseases before even stepping foot on the battle field. During this time the healthcare sources were limited, very few doctors, ambulances, untrained nurses, medical supplies, and sometimes there wouldn’t even be a bed for the wounded to rest so they would be lined up outside. Wounded soldiers would be divided into three different groups; first were the surgical cases that were thought to live, second is the slightly wounded because their injuries were non-life threatening, and last would be the beyond hope meaning they had no chance of living. They most fatal surgeries were rarely attempted by doctors such as abdominal surgeries, mainly because of the lack of antibiotics. When temporary hospitals became a high demand, they would use hotels, farmhouses, warehouses, and nearby barns. Hospitals slowly improved but towards the end of the war hospitals were starting to become more of a need and necessity to peoples everyday lives and also creating more jobs for women. During the civil war, the possibility of a doctor being well trained was very slim, the majority of doctors maybe had two years of schooling and they mainly did bookwork. Before the War, surgeons usually dealt with minor surgery cases such as pulling teeth. There were very few Doctors who knew what they were doing during the surgeries and medical practice, they struggled to find out how diseases spread, therefor these doctors didn’t realize that they were the reason that the increase of disease was getting out of control. Not washing their hands nor sterilizing their surgical equipment was their main cause of diseases such as typhoid and dysentery; the leading cause of deaths of civil war soldiers during this war. Diseases killed more war soldiers than did battles; bayonets caused less than four percent of wounds, artillery fire caused five percent of wounds and bullets would cause more than ninety percent of wounds. Many people wonder how these brave soldiers gotten through their pain during extreme surgeries. Sulfuric ether and chloroform were the first two anesthetic methods used, but chloroform was preferred by doctors because it took a less amount of dosage than it would sulfuric ether just to do the same job; chloroform also worked faster than sulfuric ether. Sulfuric ether was discovered in Europe by William Morton in 1846. As we honor the sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, of the Civil War, it is still widely believed that the sole anesthetic agent used was the whiskey bottle said Maurice S. Albin, M.D., professor in the UAB Department of Anesthesiology. Some patients were given whiskey and a dose of opium, then knocked out with chloroform. Local pain killers, such as powdered opiates, were used for bullet extractions and wound dressings whereas the chloroform and sulfuric ether would be used for more of the major surgeries like amputations. Opium became an addictive drug to the soldiers because opiates or morphine were given to them when they became sick, once the soldiers came home they struggled with the addiction to the pain killers. Soldiers were not the only people who would be addicted to this narcotic, women and families would get addicted as well. Family physicians would prescribe women or family members opium or morphine to cope with grief or an injury. Even with their lack of experience and education, women would offer to help take care of the wounded and sick soldiers on both the battlefield and in the make shift hospitals, they were called nurses and this was the beginning of this profession. Nearly thirty-two hundred women served as nurses in the Civil War. These nurses would assist the doctors during surgeries and amputations, they dressed soldiers wounds, and helped feed the wounded who couldn’t feed themselves. During this war, the number of women whom could work for the military was limited but the need for nurses amplified. Women left their families, risked their lives, lived in tents and hospital wagons for around twelve dollars a month. After the war, some of the nurses had went off to write books about their experiences during that time. Doctor Mary Walker was one of the first women surgeons and was the first and only one to treat the injured soldiers of the Civil War. Dr. Walker had not seen this amount of blood shed before, much less worked in the environment. She spoke about one specific soldier who had a serious head injury. As doctor Mary Walker described in her journala shell had taken part of his skull away, about as large a piece as a dollar I could see the pulsation of the brain, and when he walked I could see movement of the same, slight though it was. He was perfectly sensible, and although I never saw him after he was taken to Washington, I learned that he lived several days. Today, people don’t think about how much our medicine has changed and shaped since the Civil War or how the Civil War is the start and reasoning in the changing of our medicine. Field medics, or combat medics which were people in the battle field who would be the soldiers first responders and care for them until they get to an actual doctor. The change in surgeries are outstanding as well. During the Civil War a doctor could perform an amputation within a couple of minutes, they would either leave the womb open and clean it regularly until new skin grew over the womb. Or they would leave a nice size flap of skin and layer it over the open wound and sealed it, although at that time the word germ wasn’t too considerable to the surgeons. Nearly three quarters of the operations performed in the Civil War makeshift hospitals were amputations. And with the amputations becoming more commonly used, prosthetics were born and became more and more demanding. Craftsmen would craft hands, feet, arms and legs according to what that patient needed and was more comfortable in. During the Civil war, there were many forms of medicine and operations, some of the medicine that were used then are still used now such as opiates. Although the basics still remain the same, the medical technology and knowledge has come a far way. The deadliest thing among the soldiers during the war was diseases such as outbreaks of measles, small pox, malaria, pneumonia, and camp itch. Roughly around six hundred twenty thousand soldiers died in this war; four hundred thousand of those soldiers died of diseases while in the hospital.

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Medical Technology During Civil War. (2019, May 08). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from

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