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Medicine of the Civil War


an HMS American Cultures collaborative production


At the beginning of the Civil War, the U.S army had only 98 surgeons and assistant surgeons total. Half of the surgeons of the Civil war never went through proper schooling to be a suergeon. They were just taught quickly through a diploma factory, and they only had to attend thirteen weeks of school. They had to be taught the practice of medicine and how to make the medicine. The most common pain killer that the doctors would use was morphine; this was the most advanced pain killing medication at the time (1861). This drug was often rubbed of dusted onto a wound, or it was given in the form of an opium pill. If a wound was bad enough, the surgeons would often amputate a limb. They would first cut off the blood flow with a tourniquet. After that they would take a scalpel and slice throught the outlying tissue and flesh. Then they would use a hacksaw and cut right through the bone. Once that was done then the surgeon would take cotton thread and sew all the arteries back together, and then they would sew the skin together to stop the bleeding, as well to close the wound. Because of the medicine and the technology that they did have back then, they were able to save almost thousands of lives, and keep some in one piece.


Twice as many men died of disease than of gunshot wounds in the Civil War. Dysentery, measles, small pox, pneumonia, and malaria were the soldier's greatest enemy. The overall poor hygiene in camp, the lack of adequate sanitation facilities, the cold and lack of shelter and suitable clothing, the poor quality of food and water, and the crowded condition of the camps made the typical camp a literal breeding ground for disease. Conditions, and resulting disease, were even worse for Civil War prisoners, who were held in the most miserable of conditions. In order to try and curb these appalling conditions in camp, and the resulting rampant disease, the Sanitary Commission was formed. The Sanitary Commission tried to educate the army on proper sanitation techniques to help stem the spread of disease. The sanitary commission report issued in 1861 was widely disseminated, and included many guidelines to improve sanitation and reduce disease.