Medical Practices of the Civil War

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s): 100
  • Published: September 14, 2010
Read full document
Text Preview
Medical Practices of the Civil War

The medical practices used during the Civil War era were not very advanced and took a big toll on the war itself. Many of the soldiers, both Union and Confederate, returned home with missing body parts, were shell shocked, or were psychologically traumatized. These medical practices during this time did not do much to help the lives of the soldiers other than doing the bare minimum to keep them alive, which in many cases, resulted in infection and disease. All of this consequented in the soldiers being affected both mentally and physically, as well as the lives of a tremendous amount of men were ruined.

Many of the field surgeons during the Civil War had little experience and knowledge. This is as a result of the demand of medical personnel in the battle field. According to historian Bryan Bock, “Many schools were all over during the Civil War period. Most of these were just diploma factories, providing very little real training” (Medical Technology). In fact, many of the medical personnel were only required to complete a short term of study in their area. Additionally, Bock explains, “The good medical schools were established in colleges, i.e. Princeton, Yale, etc. These schools’ programs were only 1 year programs, although 2 years was recommended.” (Medical Technology) This also caused physicians to be uneducated about a wide range of bacterial infections and disease. Another contribution to unnecessary soldier fatalities was the poor medical treatment given to soldiers by Civil War doctors. One situation explained by Bock - “After and operation, they thought it

good if pus formed. They called it ‘laudable pus,’ when really the pus was a sign of massive bacterial infection that could eventually kill the soldier” (Medical Technology) -and many others alike made for very traumatic experiences for soldiers.

In most instances, when an injured soldier had just returned from battle, surgery was the only option. Expert Bryan Bock also has insight on this situation: “Amputation was the most common surgery performed during the Civil War. 3 out of 4 operations were amputations” (Amputations), as well as the quickest. According to another historian, Ira Rutkow, “Even more grim was the fact that bone exsection or resection, the formal name of Fisk’s operation, was a technically demanding feat and more difficult to perform than a straight forward amputation. As a result, exsection carried an extraordinary risk of infection, tissue neceisis, blood poisoning, hemmoege and death,” which Rutkow stated in Bleeding Blue and Gray (150-151). Another factual statement by Gordon E. Damman was “Civil War surgeons knew that if amputation was necessary, it had to be done within 48 hours, and the sooner the procedure was performed, the better the likely outcome”(Images of Civil War: A Photographic History 175). These practices were most widely used due to the risk factor and time expense that experimentation of other methods would have taken. This also could not be done because, at the time, there was very little know about the human anatomy. Therefore, the different methods would have created a risky and timely business, which would have been far beyond possible with the amount of injured soldiers anticipating their need for medical attention. “It was also believed that the need for early amputation in the pre-antibiotic Civil War era outweighed the risk of not performing an amputation” (Bleeding Blue and Gray 239). This explains that there could be a possible negative outcome with that kind of trial.

The most influential part of the medical practices during the Civil War would have to be the way many of the soldiers had been changed. This deals with the psychological state that soldiers were in due to the medical treatment given to each. Amputation was one of the most traumatic of the medical procedures that soldiers underwent. After...
tracking img