Civil War Hospital Ship

The U.S.S. Red Rover, a captured Confederate vessel, was refitted as a hospital ship.

Evolution of Civil War Nursing

The evolution of the nursing profession in America was accelerated by the Civil War.

The Practice of Surgery

Amputations were the most common surgery performed during the Civil War.

Army Medical Museum and Library

Surgeon-General William Hammond established The Army Medical Museum in 1862. It was the first federal medical research facility.

Civil War Amputation Kit

Many Civil War surgical instruments had handles of bone, wood or ivory. They were never sterilized.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Prostitution in Civil War Nashville

By Greg Segroves, 4-3-13
Trivia question. What city in the United States was the first to legalize prostitution? If you answered Las Vegas Nevada you are wrong. It was Nashville Tennessee in 1863. There are many things that can reduce the effectiveness of an Army in wartime. The use of alcohol, drugs, and sexually transmitted disease. That is in any era. More soldiers died from disease in the Civil War than died from bullets. Besides sexually transmitted disease men died from poor hygiene. The poor placement of latrines near a camp. Surgeons using dirty hands while treating wounds. Because of the Civil War medical officials began to realize that disease could be prevented by changing unhealthy practices and educating troops. This ratio of deaths from disease as opposed to combat wounds changed in World War 1. In every war since more men have died from combat wounds than disease. There were 750,000 deaths from both causes in the Civil War.

In 1860 there were 207 prostitutes living in Nashville. The largest brothel housed 17 women and it was located on the river front near lower Broad & 1st Ave, or as it was called then, Front St. The average house had anywhere from one to three women. In 1860 Nashville had a population of 17,000. Five thousand of these were free blacks and slaves. When the war broke out thousands of Confederate troops passed through Nashville and then the city fell to Union Forces on 25-Feb-1862. There were as many as 100,000 troops in and around Nashville at various times. Washington D.C. and Nashville had the biggest problem with prostitution because Washington was the headquarters for the eastern armies and Nashville was the headquarters for the western armies.

There was a four block area from present day 1st Ave. to 4th Ave. called "Smoky Row" which was the "red light district". The term hooker was in use before the war but it was popularized in relation to General Joseph Hooker who had a reputation for hanging out with loose women. Nashville actually acquired the nickname as the "city of 10,000 whores' but the actual number was estimated at 1,500. The rise of sexually transmitted disease became so bad that the army's chief medical officer rounded up as many prostitutes as he could find and put them on a new steamboat called the "Idahoe". He sent them to Louisville and that city refused to take them. Then they eventually traveled to Cincinnatti where they also were not wanted. In the meantime these women trashed the steamboat. The steamboat Captain gave up and returned To Nashville. They found that the black prostitutes were picking up the slack for the missing white prostitutes. After this failed attempt a notice was issued to the prostitutes that they had until 20-Aug-1863 to be medically examined by a Army surgeon and after paying a 5.00 dollar fee they would be issued a permit to ply their trade. The new ordinance stated that they must be re-examined every 10 to 14 days. By April 30th 1864, 352 women had been licensed. Thanks to legalization only 30 of the first 999 soldiers to contract a sexually transmitted disease contracted it in Nashville.

Syphilis before the discovery of penicillin was the 19th century's version of AID's. They treated it with salts of mercury. Mercury is extremely toxic. This treatment led to the saying that "a night with Venus means a lifetime with Mercury". There were 23 military hospital's in Nashville during the war. One hospital was for soldiers suffering from STD's. One was for white prostitutes, and one was for black prostitutes. The first picture is of an era prostitute. The second is the permit issued to a Nashville prostitute and the third is believed to be the wartime hospital for white prostitutes on Second ave. near Jo Johnston . Because of the success achieved at Nashville Memphis became the second city to legalize prostitution.

From: gregsegroves.blogspot.com

Division and Corps Hospitals

From: rochestergeneral.org

The Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, Dr. Jonathan Letterman, organized the Army into a system of Divisional hospitals in October 1862. This system of organization and management eventually spread throughout the Federal Army.

Commanded by one medical officer rather than a line officer, it consisted of four operating teams of three surgeons each and numerous medical attendants and support staff. Each hospital carried sufficient medical supplies to house and care for a typical division of 7,000-8,000 personnel. Division surgeons performed more thorough examinations and treatment of wounds and emergency surgeries. A large portion of surgeries were postponed until reaching the much larger Depot evacuation hospitals.

At the end of the day’s campaigning, each division hospital set up what was referred to as a “Ambulance hospital” that treated minor wounds and common illness’ such as sunstroke and diarrhea. Division hospitals were organized into centrally located Corps Hospitals consisting of three to four divisions.

Image 1: The Field Hospital of the 3rd Division, 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac at Brandy Station Virginia.

Image 2:  The Field Hospital at Savage Station, Va. After the battle on June 27, 1862

Civil War Uniforms

By John Heiser, Gettysburg National Military Park

The soldier of 1863 wore a wool uniform, a belt set that included a cartridge box, cap box, bayonet and scabbard, a haversack for rations, a canteen, and a blanket roll or knapsack which contained a wool blanket, a shelter half and perhaps a rubber blanket or poncho. Inside was a change of socks, writing paper, stamps and envelopes, ink and pen, razor, toothbrush, comb and other personal items. The amount of baggage each soldier carried differed from man to man.

The southern soldier was highly regarded for traveling with a very light load basically because he did not have the extra items available to him that the northern soldier had. Southern uniforms were quite different from the northern uniforms, consisting of a short-waisted jacket and trousers made of “jean” cloth — a blend of wool and cotton threads which was very durable. Dyed by different methods, the uniforms were a variation of greys and browns. Northern soldiers called Confederates “butternuts” because of the tan-grey color of the uniforms. Vests were also worn and were often made of jean material as well. Shirts and undergarments were universally of cotton material and often sent to the soldiers from home. Southern-made shoes were of very poor quality and difficult to obtain. Union uniforms were universally of better quality because of numerous mills throughout the north that could manufacture wool cloth and the steady import of material from Europe.

The Union soldier’s blouse and trousers were wool and dyed a dark blue until 1862 when the trouser color was altered to a lighter shade of blue. The floppy-crowned forage cap, made of wool broadcloth with a leather visor, was either loved or loathed, but universally worn by most soldiers in the Army of the Potomac. Each soldier would adorn his cap with brass letters of the regiment and company to which he belonged. Beginning in 1863, corps badges were designed for the different army corps and these were universally adopted for the top of the cap. Like their Confederate counterparts, most Union soldiers disdained the itchy wool flannel army shirt for cotton shirts and undergarments sent from home.

The color of the trim on a soldier’s blue uniform told you what type of soldier he was. The infantry wore light blue trim, cavalry uniforms used yellow, and the artillery wore red. Both Union and Confederate armies used this convention. Confederate Army officers wore different colored facing on their jackets, Union soldiers wore stripes on their pants, and even some Confederate officers’ hats were these colors.

Image: This magazine illustration shows the variety of uniforms worn by Confederate soldiers. Published Aug. 17, 1861, Harper’s Weekly

From: learnnc.org

Soldiers' Food

By John Heiser, Gettysburg National Military Park

By far, the food soldiers received has been the source of more stories than any other aspect of army life. The Union soldier received a variety of edibles. The food issue, or ration, was usually meant to last three days while on active campaign and was based on the general staples of meat and bread. Meat usually came in the form of salted pork or, on rare occasions, fresh beef. Rations of pork or beef were boiled, broiled or fried over open campfires.

Army bread was a flour biscuit called hardtack, re-named “tooth-dullers,” “worm castles,” and “sheet iron crackers” by the soldiers who ate them. Hardtack could be eaten plain though most men preferred to toast them over a fire, crumble them into soups, or crumble and fry them with their pork and bacon fat in a dish called skillygalee.

Hardtack, a dry flour biscuit, made up a large portion of a soldier’s daily ration. Factories in the North baked hundreds of hardtack crackers every day, packed them in wooden crates and shipped them out by wagon or rail. If the hardtack was received soon after leaving the factory, it could be tasty and satisfying. Usually, the hardtack did not get to the soldiers until months after it had been made. By that time, they were too hard to be eaten without first being soaked in water or coffee. Sometimes they were infested with small bugs the soldiers called weevils.

Other food items included rice, peas, beans, dried fruit, potatoes, molasses, vinegar, and salt. Baked beans were a northern favorite when the time could be taken to prepare them and a cooking pot with a lid could be obtained. Coffee was a most desirable staple and some soldiers considered the issue of coffee and accompanying sugar more important than anything else. Coffee beans were distributed green so it was up to the soldiers to roast and grind them. The task for this most desirable of beverages was worth every second as former soldier John Billings recalled: “What a Godsend it seemed to us at times! How often after being completely jaded by a night march… have I had a wash, if there was water to be had, made and drunk my pint or so of coffee and felt as fresh and invigorated as if just arisen from a night’s sound sleep!”

Soldiers often grouped themselves into a “mess” to combine and share rations, often with one soldier selected as cook or split duty between he and another man. But while on active campaign, rations were usually prepared by each man to the individual’s taste. It was considered important for the men to cook the meat ration as soon as it was issued, for it could be eaten cold if activity prevented cook fires. A common campaign dinner was salted pork sliced over hardtack with coffee boiled in tin cups that each man carried.

The southern soldier’s diet was considerably different from his northern counterpart and usually in much less quantity. The average Confederate subsisted on bacon, cornmeal, molasses, peas, tobacco, vegetables and rice. They also received a coffee substitute which was not as desirable as the real coffee northerners had. Trades of tobacco for coffee were quite common throughout the war when fighting was not underway. Other items for trade or barter included newspapers, sewing needles, buttons, and currency.

From: learnnc.org

Enduring Amputation

From: learnnc.org

Walter Waightstill Lenoir to Thomas Lenoir, April 8, 1863, in the Lenoir Family Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dear Thomas

My leg is finished at last, and I have been using it for over a week. It is, I suppose, as good as they make ‘em,’ but it is a wretched substitute for the one that I left in Virginia. It will take me a good while to become enough accustomed to it to know how it will do, as the skin and flesh where the weight is received will have to become hardened by degrees. At present I can’t walk near as well with it as I could with the one Rufus made me; but as I learned that others had the same difficulty at first in using such legs I will not get out of heart yet. I will have to make up my mind however to take very little exercise and to do very little work, which goes hard when I think how much I ought to do. I am greatly pleased to find that I can ride with ease, though I will have to have a gentle and sure footed horse to ride in safety. I can sit, too, much more comfortably with the new leg than I could with the old one.

Your Brother
WW Lenoir

Civil War Army Hospitals

From: learnnc.org

Nearly 200,000 men lost their lives from enemy fire during the four years of the war. However, more than 400,000 soldiers were killed by an enemy that took no side — disease.

From our modern perspective, medicine during the Civil War seems primitive. Doctors received limited medical education. Most surgeons lacked familiarity with gunshot wounds. The newly-developed minie ball produced grisly wounds that were difficult to treat. The Northern and Southern medical departments were ill-prepared for removing wounded men from the battlefield and transporting them to hospitals. Systems to provide hospital care for the sick and wounded had not been developed. Blood typing, X-rays, antibiotics, and modern medical tests and procedures were nonexistent.

Open latrines, decomposing food, and unclean water were the rule in the camps. Diarrheal diseases affected nearly every soldier and killed hundreds of thousands of men. Although surgeons used ether and chloroform routinely as anesthetics, surgery was performed with unwashed hands and unclean instruments, resulting in infected wounds. The most effective drugs were the pain-killers opium and morphine, while many of the other available drugs were useless or harmful. Despite these limitations, Civil War doctors achieved some remarkable successes in treating the wounded and comforting the sick.

Popular but generally incorrect images of Civil War medicine involve surgery-amputations without anesthesia, piles of arms and legs, the surgeon as a butcher. By modern standards, wartime surgery was limited. Despite the lack of both surgical experience and sanitary conditions, the survival rate among those who underwent the knife was better than in previous wars. Amputation was not the only surgical recourse available. Surgeons also extracted bullets, operated on fractured skulls, reconstructed damaged facial structures, and removed sections of broken bones.

As bullets hit their victims, shattered bone and shredded flesh became the calling cards of the minie ball. Most of the surgeons who had come from civilian practices had little or no experience in dealing with such wounds. They quickly became aware of the surgical options: remove the limb, remove the fractured portions of bone, or clean the wound and apply a dressing. Union surgeons documented nearly 250,000 wounds from bullets, shrapnel, and other missiles. Fewer than 1,000 cases of wounds from sabers and bayonets were reported.

Walt Whitman describes a battlefield hospital:

FALMOUNT, VA., opposite Fredericksburgh, December 21, 1862. — Begin my visits among the camp hospitals in the army of the Potomac. Spend a good part of the day in a large brick mansion on the banks of the Rappahannock, used as a hospital since the battle — seems to have receiv’d only the worst cases. Out doors, at the foot of a tree, within ten yards of the front of the house, I notice a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, &c., a full load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near, each cover’d with its brown woolen blanket. In the door-yard, towards the river, are fresh graves, mostly of officers, their names on pieces of barrel-staves or broken boards, stuck in the dirt. (Most of these bodies were subsequently taken up and transported north to their friends.) The large mansion is quite crowded upstairs and down, everything impromptu, no system, all bad enough, but I have no doubt the best that can be done; all the wounds pretty bad, some frightful, the men in their old clothes, unclean and bloody. Some of the wounded are rebel soldiers and officers, prisoners. One, a Mississippian, a captain, hit badly in leg, I talk’d with some time; he ask’d me for papers, which I gave him. (I saw him three months afterward in Washington, with his leg amputated, doing well.) I went through the rooms, downstairs and up. Some of the men were dying. I had nothing to give at that visit, but wrote a few letters to folks home, mothers, &c. Also talk’d to three or four, who seem’d most susceptible to it, and needing it.
— Walt Whitman, Specimen Days

Image: Nurses and officers of the U.S. Sanitary Commission pose under a tree in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Photograph by James Gardner, May 1864.


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