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Doctors, Nurses & Medicine During the Civil War

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Alexandra Ruhinda

on 28 March 2014

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Transcript of Doctors, Nurses & Medicine During the Civil War

Thank You!
This video describes the resources doctors used during the Civil War and the importance of them. If they didn't have any of these equipment for amputations and curing soldiers, there would have been a much higher death toll.
- At the time, nurses weren’t trained. Nurses were usually an officer’s wife who joined him on the battlefield, or someone who came to care for their wounded family or were apart of a religious community in a hospital who helped others
- Women were used to caring for sick family members at home, so they were perfect for the job
- After learning about the inadequate medical treatment and insufficient medical supplies in the military camps through newspapers, they volunteered to care for soldiers in the battlefield and field hospitals
- The roles of nurses weren’t respected by doctors in the Union army at first because they believed that women were ‘inexperienced and disorganized’
- Physicians were concerned because their lack of experience caused many problems with the patients care. They chose to meet patient’s request instead of listening to Doctor’s orders and substituted their home-treatments for the drugs given

- Minie balls in arms and legs were the reason for most amputations
- ¾ of a surgeons time was spent on amputations
- Amputations were the best chance of survival. If it was delayed more than 48 hours, blood poisoning, bone infection or gangrene would affect the soldier and the death rate would increase
- Chloroform was used as an anesthetic when a surgeon was amputating
- Patients chance of survival depended on how far the wound was from the trunk of the body

Works Cited
“Caught in the Line of Fire: Civil War Medicine.”
Army Heritage Center Foundation
, n.d. Web.
24 March 2014
“Medicine in the American Civil War.”
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 24
March 2014
“Medical Treatment.”
Spartacus Educational
. Spartacus Educational, n.d. Web. 25 March 2014
“Medical Care, Battle Wounds, and Disease.”
Civil War Medicine.
Civil War Medicine, 2002. 24
March 2014
“War in History of Drugs in America.”
. Shmoop University, Inc. 24 March 2014

The Role of Nurses
Alexandra Ruhinda
Doctors, Nurses & Medicine During the Civil War
Healthcare in the Union & Confederacy

The Union believed that the war would be short and had no plan for long-term care

Surgeon, Charles S. Tripler takes action and creates new plans to improve healthcare by enlisting surgeons and creating general hospitals

Steamboats were used as 'floating hospitals'

Ambulance Corps created to transport people and supplies

Common Diseases
Dysentery (#1 killer)
– severe diarrhea with passage of mucous and blood
Typhoid Fever (#2 killer)
– caused by bacteria and transmitted by body lice. It causes high fevers, rashes and intense headaches
– caused by a virus and transmitted by a mosquito
– inflammation of the lungs
– contagious disease that affects the lungs and is caused by bacteria
– causes fever and bumps
Epidemics of Childhood disease occurred
(chicken pox, mumps, whooping cough and measles)
Men in rural areas were put into large groups for the first time and had no immunity to these diseases

620,000 men died
2/3 died of disease, not wounds...
Causes of Disease
Poor Hygiene
Soldiers didn’t get a shower every day. Doctors didn’t wash hands before/after operation or clean the tools after each patient
Garbage in Camps
Filth from Camp Sinks:
Latrines were too close to water streams that gave them their water supply. This infected their drinking water
People with sicknesses and diseases were often too close to each other and transmitted other diseases to one another.
Exposure to all elements and weather decreases the ability to resist disease
Lack of Surgeons:
Too few to handle the huge amount of people sick and wounded
Poor diet and Spoiled food:
Fruits and veggies were uncommon and meat spoiled before it could be eaten

An overcrowded hospital with more patients than doctors and nurses could manage
These statistics show that soldiers were more likely to die if they were amputated from their hip joint
This is a painting of a man who has just been amputated after being wounded from a Minie ball
Amputation Procedure

Infirmary corps carried wounded to a foreward aid station
Assistant surgeon would then give the soldier alcohol and pain killers, then try to stop the bleeding by packing the wound with lint and bandaging it
If the bleeding didn’t stop, a touriquet would be applied which would stop the flow of blood to the limb and this meant that it would have to be amputated
The person would brought to a field hospital via ambulance and brought to a surgeon
Doctors wore no masks, caps, or gowns and often operated on a dirty “operating table” that was never cleaned after each patient
After Amputation
Solider was moved by ambulance to another hospital
Infection was common and the number one cause of death after surgery
– swelling of tissues caused by bacteria
– death of soft tissue
– blood poisoning caused by bacteria
This is a set of a surgeons tools used to perform amputations and other surgeries. The saw was the main tool used to remove limbs
Amputations became very common in the war because they often found that it was the only way to save a soldier life.
Soldiers recovering from amputations
Nurse treating wounded soldiers
Importance of Nurses
- By the end of the war, nurses had learned from their experiences and took on a professional image. Over 3000 nurses had volunteered to help out during the war and took on new challenges to improve patient care.
- These nurses laid out the foundation for professional nursing in America and changed the view of many people who believed that women shouldn’t work in the health care field.
- After the war, training schools for nurses were being endorsed by Samuel Gross, the president of the American Medical Association


: Recent discovery that was a narcotic used to relieve pain, treat diarrhea and dysentery. Although it helped the pain of sick and wounded soldiers, the drug was highly addictive and created a generation of addicts
“Blue Mass”:
A mixture of mercury and chalk used to help constipation and other intestinal complaints
Used to treat Malaria
Wild herb that was used to treat camp itch by ridding the body of pests
Whiskey/Alcohol used to treat wounds, disease and kill pain. Vegetables used to help scurvy
Used to treat respiratory problems such as pneumonia and bronchitis

Types of Drugs Used

- Most medicines were manufactured here
- Pharmaceutical industries and small research labs grew during the war and became a large wholesale business

- They were not as advances as the North and often had to run the Union blockade to get medicine. Many of their supplies also came from captured Union stores
- Occasionally, medicine needed for soldiers were sewn into petticoats of women who sympathetic to the Southern cause
- Southerners used more herbs and plants to treat the wounded and sick soldiers when manufactured medicines weren’t available

Development of Medicine in the Union and Confederacy

- Medicine was still in a dark age during the Civil War
- The discovery of anesthesia in the 1840’s created new ways to help sick and wounded soldiers. The anesthesia was either used in the form of ether or chloroform
- Patients would take these medications through a soaked rag filled with the anesthetic

Medications mostly came in liquid or pill form to help sick soldiers
- During this time, doctors knowledge came from books and they had little to no hands on experience. They received training for only 2 years or less and didn’t even know how to use a stethoscope or microscope until after the war
- Most of them were under qualified and inexperienced with military health care. They had never treated gun shot wounds, performed surgery or done any amputations
- Unfortunately, doctors were going through the “medical middle ages” and didn’t have as much knowledge of the human body as they do today.

- It was believed that if a wound produces pus, then it meant that the wound was healing, when it actually meant that the wound was infected. They also thought that the pus would help other soldiers injuries by smearing it on wounds, but it just spread the infection even more.
- Sanitation wasn’t a big concern when performing surgeries and amputations. Bloody fingers were used as probes, bloody knives were used again and again without being cleaned, doctors gowns were covered with pus and blood was usually everywhere.

Importance of Doctors
- The struggle of the North and South to improve the medical care given to soldiers helped to found the birth of modern medicine in America. Records on medical and surgical activites were kept on file, doctors improved their surgery skills and how to use anesthesia properly, and the importance of sanitation and a proper diet.
The confederates were quicker in organizing medical care for wounded soldiers, but they lacked the resources and tools needed for patient care

Many of the doctors were inexperienced and lacked organizational skills to keep the hospitals running properly

They created a policy to send severely wounded soldiers home, due to lack of field hospitals

Later on, each regiment became responsible for transporting the wounded to the nearest general hospital and staff their own surgeons
Full transcript