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.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Common Causes of Death in the Civil War Prison

From: thomaslegion.net

Abscess - Swollen, inflamed area in body tissues with localized collection of pus.

Anasarca - Abnormal accumulation of fluid in tissues and cavities of the body, resulting in swelling. Also known as dropsy.

Ascites - Accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity.

Asphyxia - Loss of consciousness due to suffocation; inadequate oxygen, and too much carbon dioxide.

Catarrh - Inflammation of mucus membranes of nose and throat causing increased flow of mucus. (Common cold).

Constipation - Condition in which feces are hard and elimination is infrequent and difficult.

Diarrhea - Frequent, loose bowel movements. Symptoms of other diseases.

Diphtheria - Acute, highly contagious disease. Characterized by abdominal pain and intense diarrhea.

Dysentery - Various intestinal inflammations characterized by abdominal pain and intense diarrhea.

Enteritis - Inflammation of intestines.

Erysipelas - Acute infectious disease of skin or mucus membranes. Characterized by local inflammation and fever.

Gastritis - Inflammation of stomach.

Hemorrhoids - Painful swelling of vein in region of the anus, often with bleeding.

Hepatitis - Inflammation of liver, often accompanied by fever and jaundice.

Hydrocele - Accumulation of fluid in the scrotum.

Icterus - Characterized by yellowish skin, eyes, and urine. Also known as jaundice.

Laryngitis - Inflammation of the larynx.

Nephritis - Acute or chronic disease of kidneys, characterized by inflammation and degeneration.

Pleurisy - Inflammation of membranes covering lungs and lining of chest cavity. Characterized by difficult and painful breathing. Also known as pleuritis.

Rubeola - Measles.

Scurvy - Disease resulting from deficiency of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), which is found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Characterized by weakness, spongy gums, and bleeding from mucus membranes. Also known as scorbutus.

Smallpox - Acute, highly contagious disease. Characterized by prolonged fever, vomiting, and pustular skin eruptions.

Tonsillitis - Inflammation of tonsils.

Typhoid - Acute infections disease, characterized by fever and diarrhea.

Ulcus - Ulcer.

Civil War Prisons

From: thomaslegion.net

Introduction to Civil War Prisons

The exigencies of Civil War (1861-1865) applied to the soldier, the grunt on the battlefield, but it also extended to the infantryman who became the prisoner of war. Union and Confederate prisons were unimaginable horror chambers employing slow agonizing deaths to its guests. Early in the war prisoner exchanges were common, but many on both sides believed that the war would only last 90 days. As months became years, it was obvious to Union and Confederate commanders that the continued battlefield gridlock and stalemate had to cease. The once honored prisoner exchanges were now viewed by Northern politicians such as Lincoln and Stanton as merely recruiting stations and reinforcements for the dwindling Confederate military. Attrition was the answer to winning the war, was the prevailing thought of Secretary of War Stanton. The Union Army could replace soldiers, but that was not the case in the South, so halting all exchanges indicated that the Confederacy would soon be unable to field an army. While it was true that it spelled the final hurrah for the men in gray, it also meant that until the war ended the Union prisoners could no longer hold to hopes of being exchanged, but they would now have to endure prison life knowing that only their death or complete Union victory would liberate them. Although the South continued to field an army for nearly two years after the prisoner exchanges halted in the summer of 1863, it was not able to adequately feed and clothe its men on the march. Since Rebel soldiers marching into the fray lacked shoes, uniforms, medicine, and food, how would Yankee prisoners fair in the Heart of Dixie? But the Confederacy continued to plead with Washington that it was vital to resume exchanges because they could not feed nor clothe Union prisoners. For the sake of humanity, we want for medicine, we can not feed nor clothe nor shelter the prisoners, so for their lives will you not exchange them? By failing to resume large scale prisoner exchanges, several thousand Union soldiers would die in Confederate prisons.

"Captain Wirz was unjustly held responsible for the hardship and mortality of Union prisoners at Andersonville, but the Federal authorities must share the blame for these things with the Confederacy, since they well knew the inability of the Confederates to meet the reasonable wants of their prisoners of war, as they lacked a supply of their own needs, and since the Federal authorities failed to exercise a humane policy in the exchange of those captured in battle." Former Andersonville prisoner-of-war Lt. James Madison Page, Company A, 6th Michigan Cavalry. After the execution of Wirz, Page, a Union officer, who had spent seven months as a prisoner at Andersonville, leveled unprecedented allegations against Washington, including remarks that Wirz was merely a scapegoat, his trial was unconstitutional, and the court was filled with perjurers. He also said that the trial was a feeble attempt by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to divert attention away from himself, because it was Stanton's no prisoner exchange policy that killed the Union prisoners. Federal propaganda and political cover-ups wrote Page in his 1908 best seller, The True Story of Andersonville Prison: A Defense of Major Henry Wirz, were disingenuous efforts by Washington insiders for their halting all prisoner exchanges, which resulted in thousands of Union men dying needlessly in Confederate prisons. Although Page had spent seven months as a prisoner at Andersonville, his captivity and imprisonment included several months at other Confederate prisons during 1863-64.

Overview of Civil War Prisons

When the Civil War began, neither side expected a long conflict. Although there was no formal exchange system at the beginning of the war, both armies paroled prisoners. Captured men were conditionally released on their oath of honor not to return to battle. This allowed them to return to camps of instruction as noncombatants. It also meant that neither side had to provide for the prisoners' needs. An exchange system set up in 1862 lasted less than a year. North and South found themselves with thousands of prisoners of war.

The confined soldiers suffered terribly. The most common problems confronting prisoners both North and South were overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate food. Mismanagement by prison officials, as well as by the prisoners themselves, worsened matters. The end of the war saved hundreds of prisoners from an untimely death, but for many the war's end came too late. Of 194,732 Union soldiers held in Confederate prison camps, some 30,000 died while captive. Union forces held about 220,000 Confederate prisoners, nearly 26,000 of whom died. The mortality rates for some of the Civil War prison camps are shown below.

Union and Confederate Prisons and Prisoners

"We will not exchange able bodied men for skeletons. We do not propose to reinforce the Rebel army by exchanging prisoners," Union Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton
Regarding the treatment of the Prisoner of War: “For the Northern side there is no excuse; for the Southern side there is one--and but one. The Union prisoners were starved, as I have said before, because we were starving ourselves; our children were crying for bread, and our Confederate soldiers were fighting on half-rations of parched corn and peas. The North had plenty of food, clothing, and provisions, but they intentionally withheld every provision from the Confederate prisoner… And it was done with calculated cruelty that has gone unmatched in any civilized society.”

Statistics indicate that the U.S. Government exchanged and paroled 329,963 "Rebels" and the Confederacy exchanged and paroled 152,015 "Federals." Because exchanges and paroles often occurred on the battlefield, the soldiers were not subjected to the privations of prison. Once Total War was implemented, however, the exchanges halted abruptly. The North had recognized that the paroled and exchanged prisoners were merely being recycled into the Confederate army, thus prolonging what it now viewed as a war of attrition. Of 194,732 Union soldiers who were held in Confederate prison camps, some 30,000 died in prison. While Union forces detained nearly 220,000 Confederate prisoners, nearly 26,000 died. An exact number of deaths will never be known because of poorly kept and destroyed records.

While the North had no shortage of troops, the South, however, could not afford to lose a single soldier. It was now simply a war of attrition, but, on the other hand, although it favored the Union on the battlefield, it had strong ramifications for the Federal prisoners.

Grant, in his Memoirs, discusses why the Federal government, as late as 1863, paroled the enemy during the Civil War. On the Confederate capitulation at Vicksburg, Grant wrote: "The enemy surrendered this morning. The only terms allowed is their parole as prisoners of war. This I regard as a great advantage to us at this moment. It saves, probably, several days in the capture, and leaves troops and transports ready for immediate service. Sherman, with a large force, moves immediately on Johnston, to drive him from the State. I will send troops to the relief of Banks, and return the 9th army corps to Burnside."

At Vicksburg alone, 31,600 prisoners were surrendered, with 172 cannon, approximately 60,000 muskets, and a large amount of ammunition. Whole regiments were captured and paroled at Vicksburg, and most of the paroled Confederates simply reformed or mustered into their prior (paroled) units and then returned to battle.

The attitude of United States Secretary of War Stanton and of General Grant that no exchange so long as the North held the excess of prisoners was a necessity of war is best seen in their own communications on the subject. On August 8, 1864, Grant sent the following telegram to General Butler: "On the subject of exchange of prisoners, however, I differ with General Hitchcock. It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to release them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. To commence a system of exchange now, which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated. If we hold those already caught, they amount to no more than so many dead men. At this particular time to release Rebel prisoners would insure Sherman's defeat and compromise our safety here."

"General Grant is a great general. I know him well. He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always." Words of General William Tecumseh Sherman in 1864 regarding his successful March to the Sea

To Exchange or Not to Exchange Prisoners of War

Grant states in his Memoirs that "the exchanged Confederate was equal on the defensive to three Union soldiers attacking." In other words, an exchanged Confederate soldier would divert and engage three Union soldiers. Grant simply did not want to allow and permit the South that luxury.
Stanton's words are well known: "We will not exchange able bodied men for skeletons. We do not propose to reenforce the Rebel army by exchanging prisoners."

In a letter from Washington September 30, 1864, H. W. Halleck, major general and chief of staff, says to Major General Foster, in charge of exchange of prisoners at Hilton Head, S C.: "Hereafter no exchange of prisoners shall be entertained except on the field when captured."

General Grant in a telegram August 21, 1864, to Secretary Stanton says: "Please inform General Foster that under no circumstances will he be authorized to make an exchange of prisoners of war. Exchange simply reenforces the enemy at once, while we do not get the benefit for two or three months, and lose the majority entirely. I telegraph this from just hearing that some five or six hundred prisoners have been sent to General Foster."

Skeletons For Soldiers, No Thank You

On one occasion, when General Ould had effected arrangements with General Butler for an exchange at Fortress Monroe, Grant's order that no able bodied man should be exchanged without his consent came into effect. (General Butler stated on the floor of Congress that after he had arranged with the Confederate authorities for an exchange of prisoners on his own terms, the whole plan was defeated by the intercession of Mr. Stanton and General Grant. They claimed that by such an exchange Lee would get thirty thousand fresh troops, and that Grant's position at Petersburg would be endangered and the war prolonged.) A little later Grant telegraphed to Butler to take all the sick and wounded the Confederates would send him, but to return no more in exchange therefor.

At one time President Davis ordered General Lee to go under a flag of truce to Grant and ask in the name of humanity that exchange of prisoners be granted, showing him how proper care of the captives was beyond control of the South. Grant did not allow the interview, and treated everything with a deaf ear. On Lee's testimony before the Congressional Reconstruction Committee he said: "I made several efforts to exchange the prisoners after the cartel was suspended." When his attempts at exchange had met only with failure, General Lee reported to President Davis: "We have done everything in our power to mitigate the suffering of prisoners, and there is no just cause for a sense of further responsibility on our part."

Approximately 13,000 Union prisoners died at the Confederate's Andersonville Prison, Georgia, because of starvation, malnutrition, diarrhea, and disease. Meanwhile, Prisoner of War Camp Douglas in Chicago was considered the “Andersonville of the North,” because of similar conditions that resulted in nearly 6,000 Confederate deaths.

Regarding prisoner exchange, during Union General Stoneman's Raid in North Carolina in 1865, General Gillem, commanding the cavalry division, appropriated and sacked the house of Mr. Albert Hagler. Gillem, furthermore, was especially impertinent to Mrs. Hagler, an accomplished young lady, though she parried his attacks with the civility of a lady. On one occasion he said to her rudely, "I know you are a rebel from the way you move--an't you a rebel?" She replied, "General Gillem, did you ever hear the story of the tailor's wife and the scissors?" "Yes." "Then I am a rebel as high as I can reach." Coarseness, however, can not always be met playfully, and Mrs. Hagler incurred his anger to its fullest extent when, in reply to his violent denunciation of the Confederates for starving their prisoners, she ventured to suggest that the Federal authorities might have saved all this suffering had they agreed to [prisoner] exchange and take them North, where provisions were plenty. The General's reply to this was the giving his men tacit license to plunder and destroy the houses of Mrs. Howard's daughter (Mrs. Hartley) and niece (Mrs. Clark), who both lived near her. No houses in the place suffered more severely than theirs. The house of her daughter, Mrs. Hartley, was pillaged from top to bottom. Barrels of sorghum were broken and poured over the wheat in the granary, and over the floors of the house. Furniture and crockery were smashed, and what was not broken up was defiled in a manner so disgusting as to be unfit for use. Mrs. Clark, the niece, was driven out of her house by the brutality of her plunderers.


General Grant in his "Memoirs" bluntly but honestly gives the reason for not exchanging prisoners. It seems that it was decided at Washington that exchange meant the reinforcement of the rebel army, and he goes on to explain that the exchanged rebel soldier behind barricades and fortifications fighting on the defensive was equivalent to three Union soldiers attacking him. This was the Stanton policy, and if this atrocious and inhuman doctrine is anyway meritorious, the "War Secretary" is entitled to the credit.

"The Government held a large excess of prisoners, and the rebels were anxious to exchange man for man; but our authorities acted upon the coldblooded theory of the Secretary of War, that we could not afford to give well-fed, rugged men for invalids and skeletons. Those 5,000 loyal graves at Salisbury, North Carolina, will ever remain fitting monuments of rebel cruelty and the atrocious inhumanity of Edwin M. Stanton, who steadfastly refused to exchange prisoners. The war office at Washington preferred to let us die rather than exchange us! The refusal upon the part of our government to exchange prisoners was now an assured fact. The sick lost hope and died. Those in better condition physically became disheartened and sick. It is no wonder that during August, 1864, nearly 3,000 prisoners died at Andersonville." Lieut. James Madison Page, Company A, 6th Michigan Cavalry, after spending seven months at Andersonville.

In December 1865, the New York News printed a contrarian story that sent shockwaves across the Northern states. "Stanton wanted to treat the populace at the North to a bloody spectacle; they believed he wanted to divert attention from his own barbarous and persistent refusal to exchange prisoners of war; they believed he deliberately resolved to make poor Wirz the scapegoat of the iniquities of his own Government and of himself, and to this end he violated the spirit and the letter of the military convention between Johnston and Sherman as well as the fundamental law of the land. They believed, moreover, that the military commission before which Wirz was tried, setting aside all decency and catching at the spirit of the Secretary of War, was overbearing and dictatorial, and that he did not have a fair trial. And, finally, they believed the war minister of the Government, taking counsel of his passions, his prejudices, and his hatreds, sought by the conviction and execution of Wirz to write a false chapter in the history of the war and to infamize the South. The revulsion of feeling in the North over the unjust execution of poor Wirz was too strong even for "the great War Secretary" to face, and Jefferson Davis, Alex. H. Stephens, General Cobb, Josiah H. White, R. R. Stevenson, W. J. W. Kerr, Captain Reed, and last but not least, Colonel Ould, the "Confederate Commissioner of Exchange," were never brought to trial. Therefore, poor ill-fated Wirz must have "conspired" single-handed and alone to starve and murder Union prisoners."

Image: "The 100." When A.J. Riddle took this photograph on August 17, 1864, there were nearly 33,000 Union prisoners confined within Andersonville's 26-1/2 acres. In May of '64, 708 prisoners died, but while scorching temperatures loomed during August, approximately 3,000 died -- an average of 100 prisoners per day.

New York Hospital and the Civil War: Regimental Surgeons

By Elizabeth M. Shepard on May 31, 2013

When the war broke out, each state began forming volunteer regiments. Most of the New York Hospital doctors who served in the war began their service as volunteer surgeons in the regiments from New York State. Often doctors who were recruited for these regiments were small town physicians who had no training in military medicine and were ill prepared to treat wounded soldiers or perform amputations. Surgeons had to pass an exam and be approved by the war department. Their first task was to conduct the exams for the enlisted men and officers. These surgeons were responsible for treating the soldiers in the camps or after the battles in makeshift field hospitals. In the first year of the war, surgeons got some of their medical supplies from their states as well as the Medical Department.

Starting in 1862, the supplies were distributed by brigade surgeons to the regiment surgeons. Regimental physicians were furnished with medicine chests designed to be carried on horseback. Orderlies carried knapsacks with essential bandages, instruments, and medicines. Each surgeon had four sets of surgical instruments: major, minor, pocket case, and field case.

From: weill.cornell.edu

Gettysburg and the Christian Commission

Edited with an introduction by Daniel J. Hoisington

Following the battle of Gettysburg, the United States Christian Commission provided spiritual and physical care to thousands of wounded and dying soldiers of both armies. More than three hundred volunteers came to the battlefield, leaving a legacy of “a thousand little nameless acts.”

In his introductory essay, Daniel Hoisington explains the pivotal role that the Christian Commission played at Gettysburg and its lasting effect on evangelical Christianity. Delegates included J. B. Stillson—Dwight Moody’s mentor, George Junkin—Stonewall Jackson’s father-in-law and staunch Unionist, Rowland Howard—brother of General Oliver O. Howard and later Secretary of the American Peace Society, and George Duffield—composer of the hymn, “Stand Up! Stand Up for Jesus!”

The book includes important contemporary accounts of the battle’s aftermath, including the first complete publication of the diary of John Calhoun Chamberlain, one of the first delegates at Gettysburg and brother of the hero of Little Round Top. Jane Boswell Moore’s letters provide a glimpse of women’s work among the soldiers. Andrew Cross’ official report describes the carnage of battle as “a most fearful judgment of God upon a nation and people.” In a postwar story, George Peltz tells of a return to the Second Corps Hospital eight years later on a final mission of mercy.

". . . especially welcome for integrating the religiously inspired work of a prominent voluntary agency into broader accounts of this much-studied battle." --Mark Noll, Books & Culture

"Gettysburg and the Christian Commission at Gettysburg offers a varied overview of a neglected aspect of the care of the wounded at Gettysburg. This study is highly recommended. Its unique perspective provides an understanding of the roll of the U. S. Christian Commission at Gettysburg as a case study of its contribution during the Civil War. " -- Michael Russert, Civil War News

On H-Net, David Raney wrote about Gettysburg and the Christian Commission, saying: "Hoisington has enriched our understanding of the United States Christian Commission, one of the least-known and least-understood participants in the American Civil War."

From: edinborough.com

The First Female Medical College: "Will you accept or reject them?"

From: doctordoctress.org

How were the first women physicians of the 19th century perceived?

The 19th century was a period of rapid social change and experimentation. The reform movements that swept through American society after 1820 were built on a new vision for the young nation and were reactions to a range of factors: slavery; the abuse of alcohol; the transformation of the American economy through industrialization; urbanization; and lingering goals of the American revolutionary period. These reform movements included: the Public Schools Movement to ensure public education for all; better care and treatment for the mentally ill; the Temperance Movement to control alcohol abuse; and most famously, the abolition of slavery and the promotion of women’s rights.

Two significant reform movements of the period, the abolition of slavery and the promotion of women’s rights, were inextricably tied together. Women were very active in the anti-slavery movement, even though their contributions were limited by their legal and societal status as second-class citizens. By participating in the abolition movement, women moved beyond their traditional domestic world of home and child-rearing and entered public life. They attended meetings, strategized, spoke out, and raised money for the anti-slavery cause.

The experience of advocating for equal rights for African Americans taught women the power of organizing and acting for change. Women used what they learned in the abolition movement to publicly fight for their own equal rights, including access to education and employment opportunities.

Prior to 1850, women practiced medicine in their communities and worked, informally, as nurses and midwives, but there was no opportunity for formal medical education. Many thought that it was improper for women to study medical subjects alongside men, and were opposed to women entering medicine as professionals. Others, though, thought it would be more appropriate for a woman physician, instead of a male physician, to treat women patients.

It was at this time that a small group of Philadelphia Quakers began to imagine a future where women were professional physicians, appropriately educated, bearing a medical degree, and serving their communities equally with their male counterparts. In 1850, they founded the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, the first medical school in the nation for women.

A Female Civil War Surgeon: "How Dr. Mary is Remarkable”

From: doctordoctress.org

Explore the story of a controversial woman doctor who served in the Civil War and fought for women's rights

Mary Edwards Walker was born in 1832 in Oswego, New York. In 1855, she received her M.D. from Syracuse Medical College. In March 1864, late in the Civil War, she was appointed as a contract surgeon for the Union's 52nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. In April 1864, Dr. Mary Walker was captured by Confederate soldiers and held prisoner for four months in Richmond, Virginia. She was released in August in exchange for a Confederate officer.

In recognition of her services to the Union Army, President Andrew Johnson awarded her a Medal of Honor in November 1865. However, her Medal was revoked in June of 1916, along with others, by an Act of Congress. The Medals of Honor for distinguished conduct had not been awarded according to the requirements specified by law, which requires those who receive the Medal of Honor to be involved in actual conflict with the enemy. Efforts made by her descendants ensured the posthumous re-instatement of her Medal by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

Dr. Mary, as she liked to be called, was also a strong advocate for women’s dress reform. She began wearing bloomers [loose-fitting pants, gathered at the ankle and often worn under knee-length dresses] during the Civil War, and after the War began wearing “men’s clothing” -- trousers and jackets, accompanied by short hair and sometimes a top hat. Dr. Mary became president of the National Dress Reform Association and was active in the Central Women’s Suffrage Bureau. She also supported the temperance movement. In the late 1860s and early 1870s, she toured the United Kingdom lecturing on her Civil War experience and the physiological arguments against women's traditional dress.

Dr. Mary, her stories, and her ideas could be controversial, and she caused quite a sensation. In 1874 Congress granted her a pension, and from 1882 to 1883 she served as a clerk in the Department of Pensions. Dr. Mary made occasional appearances at Congressional hearings and was quite well-recognized within Washington, D.C. While many women may have agreed with her ideas, Dr. Mary’s strong personality and sometimes impolite manner made people hesitant to work with her.

In her later years, Dr. Mary moved back to the small town of Oswego, where she lived alone and was often seen wearing denim overalls and a shabby hat, driving her horse-drawn wagon through town. She died in 1919 after a long illness.


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