Medicine Level during the Civil War

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Today, many people are blessed with the growing advancement of the medical field and put many of its perks to use whether its antibiotics or major surgeries. Some may find it hard to believe, but nearly two centuries ago, people did not have the same privileges that are offered today. The American Civil War was a key factor in expanding the growth and knowledge of modern medicine. The United States Civil War began in 1861, after years of tension and racism between the northern and southern states of the country. The War ended in 1865 with the surrender of the South and abolishment of slavery. This conflict was one of the bloodiest and brutalist wars in America and even winded up taking the lives of 2.4 million American soldiers. Although a majority of the deaths caused by this war were due to violent combat, many of the deaths were a result of unsanitary medical procedures. Medicine played a key factor in the civil war whether it was notable doctors, disease, and war hospitals.

Given that the country was split into two, the Norths outlook on medicine differed from the Souths. The North was more experienced than the South, but it took the region more time to establish proper tactics, doctors, and hospitals. At the beginning of the war, there were no plans to treat wounded or sick Union soldiers. The hygiene of the camps was poor, especially at the beginning of the war when men had been brought from all over with little to no knowledge of their background. One of the first epidemics that arrived in the North was the widespread growth of the childhood diseases of chickenpox, mumps, whooping cough, and measles. There were no antibiotics, so the surgeons prescribed coffee, whiskey, and quinine to treat these infections. Harsh weather, bad water, inadequate shelter in winter quarters, poor policing of camps and dirty camp hospitals took their toll. This was a common scenario in wars from time immemorial, and conditions faced by the Confederate army were even worse. After the Battle of Bull Run, the government adopted several private hospitals in Washington, D.C., Alexandria, Virginia, and surrounding towns to accommodate both sides. The Northern army officers believed the war would be short and that they would not need to create or provide a long term care plan for wounded or sick soldiers.

Although they had differences from the North, the South was quick to establish a long term medical plan for their soldiers with the start of the war. Even though the Souths medical corp began before the Norths, their medical corp was at a disadvantage during the war given that they did not have near as many resources that the North did. The Souths first Medical Department was created by the Confederate government on February 26, 1861 with the intent to harbor to the Confederate armys needs. Field hospitals were located in an open area behind the lines of battle and were usually staffed by two surgeons. It was the responsibility of the surgeons to determine which soldiers could return to duty and which should be sent to the general hospitals for further treatment. There were no intermediary hospitals, and each regiment was responsible for transporting its wounded to the nearest rail depot. At the rail depot, the injured were transported to the general hospitals for longer term care, usually resulting in death. In some of the lengthier battles, buildings were used as a temporary hospital where the severely wounded could be held when they could not transport the soldiers.

Many of the soldiers, on both sides, during the civil war faced many outcomes of death whether it was enemy fire, disease, or antiseptic surgeries. The most common injury was enemy fire. Unless a soldiers wounds were minor, this often led to amputation of limbs to prevent infection from setting in, because antibiotics had not been made mainstream yet. Other contributing factors to combat-related deaths were inexperienced surgeons that worked on the battlefield. There was no coordinated system to get the injured off the battlefield quickly, which often resulted in death of the wounded and death of the doctors who were responsible of retrieving the hurt soldier. Since sterile techniques were not important yet, many soldiers died from the lack of antiseptics and the bacteria that quickly found a way into wounds. Amputations had to be made at the point above where the wound occurred, often leaving men with stubby limbs. Another one of the deadliest things that faced the Civil War soldier was disease. The unhygienic camps, close proximity of soldiers, and septic surgeries often lead to disease among soldiers. In fact, for every one soldier that died of a battle-related injury, two died from disease. In particular, diarrhea and dysentery alone claimed more men than did battle wounds.

Although many soldiers died from medical inefficiencies during the time of the Civil War, there were still many positives that outshone the negatives. Following this dark time in medicine, the modern medical world of the United States was shaped by the event with the exploration of antiseptics and antibiotics.

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Medicine Level During The Civil War. (2019, May 18). Retrieved June 18, 2024 , from

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