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, September 29, 2014

Cesarean Sections

From: historyengine.richmond.edu

On January 29th, 1822, Dr. Ebenezer Basset who was the town physician of Nassau, New York was abruptly interrupted by his medical assistant Jacob Kipp, who notified the doctor of their servant girl who was terribly ill. Braving the cold, Dr. Basset attended to the black servant girl who was lying in the snow with an unusually large cut on her abdomen and right next to her was a razor blade that was covered in blood. Upon further examining the youth of fourteen, Dr. Basset noticed and began to uncover a fetus hidden underneath the snow. Dr. Basset was in complete shock at what he had just witnessed. To his amazement, the youth of fourteen had just conducted a cesarean section on herself. After Dr. Basset recovered from his shock he sent Jacob Kipp to a neighboring town to retrieve Doctors Francis and Beck to help assess the situation.

Upon their arrival to the city of Nassau, Dr. Basset explained to his colleagues what had occurred. The three physicians began to treat the African American servant girl while making detailed notes of the procedure. The physician’s amazement is understandable given that cesarean sections were known about, but not widely used. Even more amazing, the procedure was a self-administered one. How could a black youth of fourteen perform such a complicated procedure on herself?

Historians have always claimed that cesarean sections had been performed by slaves who came from Africa to America. In fact, the first recorded successful cesarean section was performed in Colonial America. There is an account of a doctor in Virginia by the name of Dr. Jesse Bennett who on January 14th, 1794 performed the first cesarean section on his wife with the help and guidance of their slave who was well versed in the procedure of cesarean section. According to author Herbert M. Morais who wrote, The history of the Negro in medicine, African Americans had prior knowledge and used cesarean sections in Africa and brought that knowledge with them to the early colonies of America. Although the procedure was amazing to these white doctors, it would have not been foreign to black females in this era.

Did Stonewall Jackson Have Hypochondria?

From: uselectionatlas.org

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was one of the most gifted commanders in U.S. History. But he has a dubious distinction that had haunted his legacy since the 1850’s; Jackson has been accused of being a hypochondriac.

Jackson had some strange distinctions:

1 He thought he was “out of balance” in battle if he didn’t raise one arm while on his horse. He said he wanted to, “Keep the blood balanced.”

2.He refused to have pepper on his food, stating it made his left leg weak.

3.Despite wartime shortage, Jackson would constantly suck on lemons because he felt it helped his “dyspepsia.”

4.His staff noticed his strange diet, some of his meals consisted of only raspberries, bread, and milk.

5.Jackson was only comfortable when he was in an upright position, and I mean standing straight up. He felt it helped his organs stand “naturally” one atop each other. For this reason he had no chairs in his study at Lexington, Virginia. He spent long hours reading the Bible or memorizing Virginia’s laws.

6.While on honeymoon with his second wife (seeing how his first wife had died) he took her to Eastern America so he could bath in the mineral spas to “improve my sagging bad health.”

7.Even while he was a plebe West Point, first classman Ulysses S. Grant called him a “fanatic” whose “delusions took strange forms- hypochondria, fancies that evil spirits had taken possession of him.”

8.Jackson offered some dietary advice to his sister Laura, “If you commence on this diet, remember it is like a man joining a temperance society, if he afterwards tastes liquor he is gone.”

9.His complaints listed almost endlessly through his young manhood: rheumatism, chilblains, poor eyesight (witch he treated by dipping his head in a vat of cold water, eyes open, for as long as he could hold his breath), cold feet, nervousness, neuralgia, impaired hearing, tonsillitis (which required surgery), biliousness and “slight distortion of the spine” as Jackson stated in the late 1840’s.

Because of these things it is now said Jackson was a hypochondriac. But modern physicians have stated that Jackson may have suffered from the fairly common and most uncomfortable diaphragmatic hernia. This is the theory of Dr. E.R. MacLennan of Opp, Alabama. He states that this hernia caused Jackson to suffer from his many body ailments.

Ironically Jackson’s habit of draping his abdomen with cold towels to heal his “dyspepsia” may have caused his death. Soon after the amputation of his left arm at Chancellorsville, cold towels were laid on his abdomen as Jackson did everyday. This may have led to his contraction of pneumonia that killed him.

Was Stonewall Jackson a Hypochondriac?

By Usha Hari

Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general, was thought to be a hypochondriac. Even when his hand got wounded by a bullet during the First Battle of Bull Run, he kept his arm raised so that the blood might flow into his body. He avoided pepper in his food as he had a strange notion that it made his left leg weak. He was most comfortable in an upright standing posture so that all of his organs were aligned "naturally." He tried to cure his poor eyesight by keeping his head dipped into a basin of cold water with eyes open!

From: au.ibtimes.com

“King Alcohol is More Formidable than Tyrant Lincoln”

From: historyengine.richmond.edu

In 1862, throughout the war-ravaged Confederacy, the thoughts of all were turned to the War that tore apart the country.  The death and destruction that had already occurred seemed to foretell a conflict that would not soon be resolved.  In the midst of the fighting, soldiers struggled to remain vigilant and confident.  Romanticized visions of passionate soldiers, Confederates in particular, were created to motivate future as well as current soldiers to continue fighting “the good fight.”  An ideal soldier was one who fought bravely for a cause he believed in, and these beliefs were strengthened when God was on his side.  Thus religion and the strength of a soldier’s faith were often tied directly to his ability to prevail in battle.

An article in The Confederate Baptist entitled “Temperance in the Army” stated that there was evidence that the reason that battles had been lost was because of the drunkenness of the commanders.  Subsequent articles in the paper had already declared that God was on the side of the Confederacy; the postulation of a possible explanation of recent defeats looked to the soldiers themselves and their behavior while fighting for the Confederacy.  The author J.L. Reynolds looked to the experiences of other countries to teach a valuable lesson.  He cited the Madras Presidency, a part of present-day India, and the proportion of temperate men who died in battle to the number of drinkers who died in battle.  The number of temperate soldiers who died numbered 2,315.   The number of drinkers who died was 4,458.  According to Reynolds, “this proves that soldiers will be healthy in proportion to their temperance”.   Alcohol was “the bane of our soldiery,” and if use was not curbed immediately, the Confederacy, despite being divinely-ordained, would surely fall.

To bring these soldiers back to morality, religious revivals were often held in which missionaries traveled to soldiers’ camps to instill a renewed sense of faith.  These revivals also served to inspire the citizen morale that waned as the war dragged on and the death toll rose.  The temperance movement as a whole, however, was not an issue of great national or regional importance during the Civil War.  The Temperance Societies that had emerged in the decades prior had claimed millions of members but receded into the background as the nation faced a crisis of unprecedented proportions.

The Day in the Life of a Union Prisoner of War: Disease and Deprivation

From: historyengine.richmond.edu

The United States Sanitary Commission conducted a series of interviews following the conclusion of the Civil War. The Commission focused on the details of Union soldier's imprisonment during their service. The soldiers gave testimony as to their experience as a prisoner of war. The compilation of accounts details the suffering and privations of different soldiers both commissioned and non-commissioned officers.

Private Joseph Grider was sworn in and examined in Virginia by the Commission. He detailed his survival from both the Libby and Danville Prisons operated by the Confederate States of America. The main discussion elaborated on the health of Private Grider and the conditions in which he was held. Grider detailed the rations allotted to himself and his fellow prisoners of war; the main storyline revolved around the bread ration, a staple in the diet of Civil War soldiers. The bread was rough with whole grains; when he was moved to Danville he received black bread made of cane seed. Grider discussed the deterioration of his health as a result of the food rations and inadequate housing. The prisoners suffered from diarrhea and other ailments. One other area of interest from Grider's testimony involves the severity of punishment enforced by the Confederate guards; during his stay at Danville seven men were shot for out the window. Other punishments involved the holding of men in chambers until they 'fouled on the floor.'

Another testimony from Private Robert Morrison detailed the differences between Richmond, Pemberton, and Danville Confederate Prisons. Similar to Grider, he discussed the loss of personal items and the deprivation of clean and warm shelter during his early experiences in the prisons. The deprivation of healthy and clean food was another problem for Private Morrison. He noted the decline in his health as coinciding with his entrance into the prisoner of war encampments. Prior to his capture he did not have problems with diarrhea or fever; sickness did not take hold upon Morrison until he began eating the rations given to him by Confederate guards. Unlike Grider's testimony, Morrison detailed his final living quarters as warm, spacey with endless amounts of food and also access to a 'privy.'

The similarities between these two privates testimony is parallel when it comes to their experiences with food rationing. In many instances they expressed their opinion that it was contaminated or perhaps undercooked. Private Morrison stated, "I got a chunk of corn bread daily...sometimes it was about half baked." Dr. Joseph Jones, a witness in trial against Henry Wirz, 'formerly the commandant of the interior of the Confederate States military prison at Andersonville', shared this hypothesis stating, "As far as my experience extends, no person who had been reared on wheat bread, and who was held in captivity for any length of time, could retain his health and escape either scurvy or diarrhea, if confined to the Confederate ration (issued to the soldier in the field and hospital) of unbolted corn meal and bacon."

Interestingly enough, Confederate law decreed that all prisoners should have access to the same privilege and food rations as the Confederate Soldiers; this act was acknowledged by General Robert E. Lee himself in a letter to a relative stating, "The laws of the Confederate Congress and the orders of the War Department directed that the rations furnished prisoners of war should be the same in quantity and quality as those furnished enlisted men in the army of the Confederacy, and that the hospitals for prisoners should be placed on the same footing as other Confederate States hospitals in all respects." Whether this was an act of forbearance or an act of compassion it is easy to see, Union soldier in Confederate prisons suffered through disease and desperation similarly. Although this was an act in effect, prisons in the South failed to comply with all its' standards and requirements. William Best Hesseltine pointed out that the closing of the summer of 1863 brought about the halt of a cartel in which prisoners from both sides of the war were exchanged; this halt increased the number of mouths to feed and also the growing debt of the Confederacy. Prisoners in southern camps suffered the consequences of this halt. Hesseltine remarked that the quality and quantity of rations for prisoners especially at Libby prison decreased markedly as the days passed by and yet the officers continued to enjoy luxuries such as apples, sugar, eggs, molasses, and corn.

State-Supported Schools for the Blind for African-American Children

From: aph.org

The first school for blind children in the United States was chartered in 1829, in Boston. It was quickly followed by schools in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. In these cities, as well as other Northern cities in which schools for the blind were established, black and white children attended the same classes.

In the South, however, racial attitudes, complicated by the institution of slavery, were much different. Slowly, after the close of the Civil War in 1865, the states in which slavery had been well established began to open departments or divisions for African-American children, usually in facilities separate from the school for white children. By the middle of the twentieth century, there were fifteen residential schools for African-American children who were blind: North Carolina, founded in 1869; Maryland, 1872; Tennessee, 1882; Georgia, 1882; South Carolina, 1883; Kentucky, 1884; Texas, 1887; Arkansas, 1889; Alabama, 1892; Florida, 1895; Oklahoma, 1909; Virginia, 1910; Louisiana, 1892; West Virginia, 1929; and Mississippi, 1951. Thus, as one Southern legislator remarked, "color was distinguished where no color was seen."

Ironically, in nineteenth century, separate schools for African-American children who were blind were viewed as a positive social reform and were encouraged as much by African- American leaders as by whites. Separate but equal education had been established as the law, and, for a while, it seemed to promise two flourishing societies, one white, one black, in the same country. The author of the entry on "blindness" in the 1918 Encyclopedia Americana observed:

In northern schools the colored blind are educated with the white; in Southern schools it is best for the colored to have schools of their own. Both the whites and they prefer this arrangement.

In the two decades following the Civil War, African-American leaders generally left unchallenged the existence of segregation in social programs. When they felt denied certain benefits, such as education for blind children, they demanded the establishment of separate programs. The Georgia Academy for the Blind responded to petitions from black churches when it proposed the "Negro Division" of the Georgia School for the Blind in 1881. A black legislator, Thomas A. Sykes, introduced the bill that provided the "Colored Department" for the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville, and in West Virginia, three black legislators pushed for the creation of a school to serve both the deaf and blind. In both Tennessee and Texas, where African-American women had taken on the task of teaching blind children in their own homes, the state formalized what already existing by making the women the matrons, or housemothers, of the new schools.

The ten schools founded in the nineteenth century were created as departments of the already-established schools for white children and were under the nominal rule of the white superintendent. Students were housed in separate campuses or separate buildings on the same campus. The five schools founded after the twentieth century--Oklahoma, Virginia, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Mississippi--had no ties with the white school.

As was true throughout the South, in the public schools, equipment, materials and facilities provided for African-American children who were blind were generally, although not always, inferior, and their education suffered, despite the efforts of excellent teachers and supportive families. In 1945, Charles Buell pointed out that the annual reports issued by the various schools "suggest to the reader that the education of the Negro is similar to that for the white students." Buell's exhaustive study of the curriculum of the schools for African-American blind children indicated "this theory is not put into practice." He found that the "colored departments," as a whole, spent more time on manual training, that science classes suffered for lack of laboratory equipment, that texts were outdated and inadequate, and that instruction was formal and not practical.

Buildings housing African-American students were sometimes unsafe and their furnishings bare, with "worn furniture, chipped crockery, and faded towels." A teacher at the Negro Department of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind recalled, somewhat bitterly, "When a typewriter or a sewing machine got too old or broke on North Campus, they'd send it over to us." Margaret Johnson, who attended the whites-only school for the blind in Arkansas in the 1950s, remembers, even as a child, being appalled by the conditions at the black school, where the white students were bused for a Christmas concert. Their auditorium "had no stage and only straight-backed chairs." She also remembered feeling bad that the white school's worn-out books were sent to the Colored Department; "Why, the dots were so worn they could scarcely be read," she said.

In general, teacher-pupil ratios were higher in the African-American schools and teachers' salaries were lower. African-American teachers could not attend training courses offered at segregated universities, nor could they afford to attend similar institutions in the North. Enrolling children was also a problem. Not all African-American children who were blind attended the state schools, despite compulsory education laws. To identify students, an African-American superintendent would have had to visit places throughout the state, asking questions and checking public records--not a safe undertaking in the Jim Crow South.

In the 1940s, Helen Keller emphasized the needs of African-American children who were blind to a committee studying the public and private aid given to physically disabled students.

"In my travels up and down the continent I have visited their shabby school buildings . . . I have been shocked by the meagerness of their education . . . I feel it is a disgrace that in this great wealthy land, each injustice should exist to men and women of a different race--and blind at that!"

Her words were instrumental in prodding the state of Mississippi to establish a state school for African-American students who were blind. However, the battle for legislative support was intense, and the Mississippi School for the Negro Blind didn't open its doors to students until 1951—only three years before the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education signaled the end of segregated schools in the United States.

It was more the beginning of the end than the end itself. The process of integration took nearly twenty-five years and varied considerably by state. Some schools integrated peacefully, with little fanfare, whereas others dealt with lawsuits and threats, just as schools for sighted children. Some schools did not integrate until after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, in 1964. Other schools delayed integration into the 1970s. Among the first schools, sighted or blind, to be integrated in the United States were the Kentucky School for the Blind and the West Virginia School for the Blind, both in the summer of 1955. One of the last schools in the South to be integrated, sighted or blind, was the Louisiana School for the Blind, in 1978.

Even though classrooms were integrated in the North, some dormitories were not. In the 1940s, the Missouri School for the Blind had separate dormitories for white and blacks.

Change is slow. In a 1945 study of the "Education of the Negro Blind" in the United States, Charles Buell notes that an earlier study, done in the 1920s, "assumed that all Negroes desire segregated schools, but many leaders among the colored people have expressed the opposite point of view".

In Mississippi, African-American children who were blind could attend the Piney Woods Country Life School, a private boarding school for African-American Youth. A department for deaf and blind children was established in 1929, and the school did receive some money for the students' room and board from the state of Mississippi at the outset.

Image: Museum at the Perkins Institution for the Blind


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