Civil War Medicine
United States History 101
October 25, 2012
To be a wounded solider during the Civil War was not a pleasant experience. The medicinal and medical practices that were used were not innovative under any circumstances, and were only slightly more advanced than medieval times. It is a great calamity that the medical knowledge of this time had not yet comprehended the importance of sanitation, sterility, or the practical use of medications. The barbaric and immoral practices used during this time period caused much hysteria and misery for the poor patients. During surgeries and procedures, without the pain-reducing effects of anesthetics, patients suffered long-lasting mental trauma. Many also would submit to cardiac arrest and would perish; some soldiers would scream out in disorientation, while many other men lay silent, pale, or even unconscious from shock. Medicinal practices during the time frame of the Civil War were repulsive, immoral, and medieval in nature. Thousands of soldiers lost their lives not only on the battlefield, but under the attention of inexperienced doctors and surgeons. An average doctor during the mid-nineteenth century took two years of non-formal schooling, normally in a general four-year university. This lack of medical training was in direct proportion to the absence of accurate knowledge during this time period. These men were inaccurately informed, because the teachers and professors that they were educated by were inexperienced and uninformed themselves. The overtone of cleanliness and of health was not commonly understood. During the 1860’s, doctors had not yet perceived the idea of bacteriology, and all citizens were commonly ignorant of the spread of disease and how it was caused. Most surgeons and doctors on duty during the Civil War had never conducted a procedure in relation to a gunshot wound, and many had never executed a surgical procedure whatsoever. Several doctors were presented to perform surgery for the first time on the battlefields during the Civil War, and had to respond and perform by adjusting and adapting. Armies belonging to both the Union and the Confederacy during the war assigned only one surgeon and one or two assistant surgeons per regiment. These surgeons would perform operations rapidly and they were normally conducted on the battlefield under a tent, or in available schoolrooms, warehouses or barns. Inexperienced surgeons performed poorly during this period and consequently caused many of the soldiers’ deaths during the Civil War. The medication that the doctors prescribed during the Civil War, for the most part, accomplished the opposite of the intended affect. During the 19th Century, some patients were given a concoction of chalk, honey, (sometimes licorice) and an extreme amount of mercury. This was prescribed by doctors for anything from a simple headache to a dangerous case of syphilis, but turned out to be a poisonous mixture. Another substance that was used as a medicine during the Civil War was alcohol. Alcoholic beverages were used to help treat a wide variety of maladies, and patients received high amounts of doses to prepare them for surgery or to prevent them from going into shock. Alcohol was used as a depressant to lower the patient’s acuity of pain, consequently making it appear to be healing. In actuality, this form of remedy was proven to be of little use. Wards and their doctors also commonly used quinine for malaria and fevers, ipecac to induce vomiting, and opium as a general painkiller. Confederate doctors, who were denied imported medicines by the Federal blockade, had to rely on creating their own remedies from native plants, with only the use of a mortar and pestle. These men who were trained with little medical experience were given a list of approximately 410 local plants with therapeutic or beneficial value, and were sent into forests and fields to locate them. These medical alternatives were...
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