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, August 24, 2015

Medical Heresy in the Nineteenth Century: Women and the Water Cure

By Gene Franks

"Health and bodily perfectionism might be the ultimate metaphors for self-determination and choice amid cultural uncertainty and upheaval; they do indeed yield a self-directed, life-giving, empowering vision. Now, as then, health may be one of the few arenas in which a utopian, perfectionist ideal can be sought and--for given moments--realized."--Susan E. Cayleff, Wash and Be Healed: The Water-Cure Movement in Women's Health.

Editor/Publisher/Writer's Note: The article that follows is twice-recycled. It appeared first in a paper version in Pure Water Gazette #22, October, 1989, then was improved and expanded for paper publication in Gazette #47, Fall, 1997.  The present version, improved, I hope,  dates from the Spring of 2001.  The pictures are from a magazine article published a century and a half ago.

I think you'll be surprised at how the current upsurge of popularity of alternative healing systems had its exact parallel in pre-Civil War America. You may be surprised, too, at how little the "regulars," or allopathic doctors, have changed their ways in the century and a half they've been "practicing" since the days described in the article.  The Bleed, Purge, and Poison strategy of Antebellum "heroic" medicine isn't all that different from today's Slash, Burn, and Poison style. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, the French say.  The more things change, the more they stay forever the same.

A century and a half ago, one of America's most hazardous professions was that of the affluent housewife. Freed from the necessity to contribute to family income, many ladies of the leisure class inherited the role of petted, over-protected dolls--overfed on rich and highly refined foods, inactive, and extremely unhealthy. Among their worst enemies were the dressmaker and the doctor.

Fashion was such a burden to health that reformer Lydia Sayer Hasbrouk liked to say, "Dress reform to us is synonymous with health reform." In an effort to achieve the appearance of an unnaturally narrow waist, women were wrapped in "misery-making machines" consisting of tightly-laced corsets stiffened with whalebones and steel splints. These caused pain in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis, and probably contributed to miscarriages and premature births. Many women suffered deformed ribs and chronic shortness of breath. Equally oppressive was the effort to achieve a "tea cosy effect" by wearing six, eight, or more heavy underskirts weighing up to 15 pounds and supported by strings drawn so tightly that they left visible indentations even after death.

Although fashion was hideous, doctors were a more immediate threat. Pre-Civil War doctors treated women, one writer of the time said, like "ignorant children who must be guided by their betters--especially by their physicians."

For middle- and upper-class women, pregnancy, parturition (as childbirth was called), and postpartum complications were the leading health concerns. Seeking to replace midwives as birthing attendants, doctors waged a systematic campaign--a campaign still much in evidence today--to turn childbirth into a medical problem. As Jane Donegan explains in Hydropathic Highway to Health:

Although then as now, the vast majority of births were uncomplicated, doctors stressed the potential hazards that accompanied every normal case. They capitalized on their medical training to emphasize their claim--not always founded in fact--that only with their assistance could childbearing be transformed into a safer, shorter, and less terrifying event. In the process, physicians redefined parturition. What had once been regarded as a natural physiological function eventually became a pathological condition requiring the physician's scientific rnanagement.

The "scientific management" of childbirth came to be standard fare of the medical system known as "heroic medicine," which was practiced by "regular" doctors, or allopaths.  Heroic medicine featured an invasive, aggressive attack on disease, relying on such weapons as bloodletting (by way of venesection, or opening of the veins, applying leeches, and cupping) and massive drugging.

The process of procreation was in general shrouded in secrecy, and the information that women got from doctors was less than perfect. Doctors advised, for example, that conception was most likely to occur during menstruation and was least likely during the period we now know as ovulation. It is no wonder that women seemed to be eternally pregnant.

Doctors believed, too, that the cessation of menstruation during pregnancy indicated a problem needing heroic intervention. Bloodletting was the logical cure. Bleeding weakened the "patient" and lent support to the notion that pregnancy was a disease requiring medical treatment. A respected specialist in uterine diseases in 1858 taught medical students to insert leeches into the womb even though he admitted that the practice "could induce a paroxysm of almost intolerable suffering." Exercise was discouraged, and even young women became virtual invalids during pregnancy and for weeks or months after childbirth.

The famous physician Benjamin Rush defined childbearing as "a disease taking the form of a clonic spasm" and recommended venesection and medicating with opium. Bloodletting, in fact, became the standard treatment for most of the "symptoms" of pregnancy, including morning sickness, swelling of the hands, wrists, and face, headache and vertigo. Doctors even sought to control hemorrhage with bloodletting, theorizing, according to Jane Donegan, that "bleeding a woman [until she was unconscious] would temporarily reduce circulation and encourage her blood to clot." This practice often led to temporary blindness and prolonged periods of weakness.

Another standard treatment for the disease of childbearing was ergot, a powerful drug used to "excite uterine contractions," thus inducing labor. Much abused by inexperienced physicians (and some doctors of the time began practice in obstetrics without having so much as witnessed a childbirth), ergot, in the words of one doctor,  left a trail of "ruptured uteri, deadborn children, puerperal convulsions, and widowered husbands."  The problem was that when given prematurely--as often happened--ergot stimulated forceful uterine contractions that could rupture the uterus or destroy the fetus by forcing it against the undilated cervix.

While many other problems attributable to medical treatment could be discussed, such as mercury poisoning and the spread of infection, it is enough to say that by the middle of the nineteenth century women's health in America was in a deplorable state. Catherine Beecher, sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of  Uncle Tom's Cabin, made an informal survey of over 1,000 women in 79 communities and found that the sick outnumbered the well by a ratio of three to one. Mrs. Beecher commented: "I am not able to recall, in my immense circle of friends and acquaintances all over the Union, so many as ten married ladies born in this century and country, who are perfectly sound, healthy, and vigorous."

Mrs. Beecher's suggested remedies  for women's poor health were three: dress reform, vigorous exercise,  and participation in the water cure.

Hydropathy, The Water Cure

The science of hydropathy, or the water cure, developed as one of the several heretical therapeutic systems that arose to offer alternatives to heroic treatment. Water therapy is based on the reasonable belief that water is the natural sustainer of life and therefore possesses varied and powerful curative properties. Water therapy has a long and interesting history, but here it is convenient to say that nineteenth century hydropathy began with a medically untrained Austrian named Vincent Priessnitz, who developed the essentials of the system while treating himself for, and recovering fully from the effects of what doctors had deemed an "incurable" accident.

In 1826 Priessnitz opened a water cure establishment at Grafenberg in the mountains of Silesia. It was an immediate success and, known as the "Water University," became a model for many similar establishments in Europe and  America.

The Priessnitz treatment, which centered on water, air, exercise, and diet, was quickly acclaimed for its effectiveness. Priessnitz' success was explained by Susan Cayleff:  

"Retrospectively, his success stemmed from removing his patients from the stresses  and excesses that had often induced their illnesses, providing a pleasant communal setting, implementing diet and exercise regimens that strengthened the body, ceasing heroic therapeutics, letting nature help right what was reversible, involving patients in their own cure through habit reformation, and applying the mystical healing powers attributed to Priessnitz' personality."

The water cure centers stressed plenty of rest, moderate living in all respects, outdoor exercise, a spare and wholesome, often vegetarian diet, avoidance of drugs and invasive medical treatments, and the internal and external use of pure water as a purifying and curative agent. Their success, especially when compared with heroic treatment, would seem inevitable.      

Hydropathy spread quickly in America. According to one account, 213 cure centers were established between 1843 and 1900. Although most treated both sexes, the centers were especially popular with women; and women, who had long been denied access to the "regular" medical field, not only gained acceptance but took the lead as water-cure physicians.

The advancement of women as health practitioners was strongly advocated by the very influential Water Cure Journal,  a publication that from 1845 through the 1850s promoted hydropathy as well as the related issues of temperance, women's rights, and dress and medical reform. The Journal also proclaimed gynecological medicine to be hydropathy's main concern.  In an age of exaggerated modesty, the Journal addressed such forbidden topics as abortion, the frequency of sexual intercourse, masturbation, and barrenness.  "In all these matters," Kathryn Kish Sklar writes, "hydropathy lived up to its claim to be the friend of nineteenth-century women. Its sympathy for the special medical problems of women stood in stark contrast to the hostility and indifference characteristic of traditional contemporary medicine."

Hydropathy presented a totally fresh approach to childbirth, denying that it was a disease, as the allopaths seemed to believe,  or that it was of necessity excruciatingly painful because it was God's punishment for Eve's sin, as many believed. Water curists taught that excessive pain in childbirth was unnatural and unnecessary--the result of poor health. They stressed extensive exercise and proper diet during pregnancy and the relaxing effects of free movement and warm-water baths during labor. Perhaps the most startling result of hydropathic parturition was that women found they could be up and about a few days after delivery. With the scientific management of allopathy, two months of invalidism after delivery was not uncommon.

The main message of the water-cure centers to women, though, was the revolutionary premise that "a woman's body belonged to herself--not to her doctor, not to her children, and not to her husband."

The cures themselves involved a regulated, wholesome lifestyle and the liberal use of water both internally and externally. Priessnitz urged patients to drink 20 to 30 glasses of water per day to induce internal cleaning, and no other beverage was permitted. A variety of bathing techniques were used to promote general cleansing and to address specific problems. The most commonly used treatment was the wet-sheet pack. In this "bath, " the patient was wrapped in a mummy-like encasement consisting of a sheet dipped in cold water and four blankets. Additional covers were added until the patient perspired freely. The patient was then removed from the wrapping and plunged into a cold bath. A doctor described the therapeutic effect as follows:  

When the pure water of the wet sheet came into contact with the skin the impure water of the blood on the inside of the skin passed through the skin into the water of the wet sheet while pure water of the wet sheet passed through the skin to supply the place of the impure water.  An interchange took place.

From the patient's viewpoint, the wetsheet wrap was less scientific. Here's a poem written by a patient named Carrie May at the Saratoga Water-Cure in 1857:

First they wrap you closely
In a dripping sheet.
A bottle of hot water
Is then placed at your feet:

Blanket after blanket
Wrap around your form,
Comfortables in plenty,
Keep you nicely warm: . . .

Acting like an opiate,
 Easing all your pain,
Calming down your bounding pulse,
Cooling off your brain.

Puts you in a slumber,
Gives you dreams of bliss,
 Naught is any Treatment
 Is so nice as this. . .

Whatever the curative effects, the "dreams of bliss" described by Carrie May sound a lot better than having your blood drained by leeches or lancet.

The water-cure centers had a profound effect on American health and American thinking. They served as rallying points for many divergent ideas--from women's rights and dress reform to dietary and hygienic instruction. The people involved with the cures were for the most part far ahead of their time.

Water-cure doctors, for example, consistently stressed the importance of a spare, meat-free diet. They were forerunners, with hygienists like Sylvester Graham (the man Graham Crackers were named after), of the gradual but steady rise of vegetarianism. Similarly, the water Purists' successes with drug-free, noninvasive treatment have certainly opened doors in the public mind for the gentler and increasingly popular "alternative" therapies of today. Above all, the hydropathists reminded us of the inseparable relationship that exists between good health and pure water.

Every age considers itself the peak of civilization and loves to point a finger at its ancestors' follies. From our vantage point, heroic medicine's reliance on bloodletting seems naive and outrageous.

We should not forget that bloodletting was not a medical fad but the dominant medical strategy for many years. Many current medical practices, even some that are strongly established as medical tradition, will seem equally absurd to future generations. Certainly the aggressive tactics of modern cancer therapy will be the shame of our age. The shame lies not only in the total failure of the much touted "War on Cancer" (which the medical establishment will continue to wage as long as we are gullible enough to pay for it so lavishly), but equally in the boldfaced suppression of successful alternative therapies. For example, the FDA persecution of Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, whose antineoplaston therapy has proven to be not only highly effective but also totally free of the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, is a black page in our history. That one must travel to Mexico to receive the well-documented advantages of the totally natural and harmless Gerson therapy is equally shameful. Dr. Julian Whitaker, editor of Health & Healing  newsletter and a practicing physician, avoids cancer treatment because of the political climate. He writes:

Given our dismal track record in treating cancer, you'd think that the medical establishment would be open to alternatives. However, it is exactly the opposite. Cancer generates billions of dollars, and the financial interests involved work tirelessly to influence government to outlaw alternatives and eliminate your choice. In the state of California, as well as others, it is illegal to treat cancer with anything but surgery, radiation or chemotherapy!

I do not, as a rule, treat cancer patients. My reasons for this are very simple. I do not live in Mexico, and I do not want to go to jail. If the environment was less oppressive, I would open the doors for cancer, and regardless of what I did, I'm convinced that it would be at least as successful as what is being done now. . .

I look upon cancer in the same way that I look upon heart disease, arthritis, high blood pressure, and even obesity, for that matter, in that by dramatically strengthening the body's immune system through diet, nutritional supplements, and exercise, the body can rid itself of the cancer, just as it does other degenerative diseases. Consequently, I wouldn't have chemotherapy and radiation because I'm not interested in therapies that cripple the immune system, and, in my opinion, virtually insure failure for the majority of cancer patients.

(Of incidental interest in the context of this article, recent issues of Health & Healing have presented  strong evidence that ailments from asthma to arthritic and low-back pain conditions can often be effectively corrected simply by increasing one's intake of pure water.)

Other customs that will certainly earn  us the derision of future generations    include our childishly naive belief in vaccination  a truly silly idea when you look at it squarely, apart from the hype and propaganda that government and the medical establishment spew out daily in its support. Equally outrageous, and equally tragic, is modern medicine's adoption of the religious ritual of circumcision as a medical treatment simply because it is profitable. It will be a happy day for men when circumcision finds its final resting place on the scrap heap of medical bad ideas.

A single scrap heap will not be large  enough to hold the medical atrocities against women. Certainly the problems of childbirth have not diminished with modern medical management of pregnancy, and the "regulars"  continue to wage war against  midwives.  As Dr. Robert Mendelsohn pointed out in Confessions of a Medical Heretic, the Church of Modern Medicine  still views women as second-class creatures. Pregnancy is still treated as if it  were a disease. The bag of tricks has new gadgets, but the result is the same. Dr. Mendelsohn writes:

If you're pregnant, you go to the doctor and he treats you as if you're sick. Childbirth is a nine-month disease which  must be treated, so you're sold on intravenous fluid bags, fetal monitors a host of drugs, the totally unnecessary episiotomy, and--the top of the line product--the caesarean birth!

The U.S. now ranks second only to Brazil in the percentage of Caesarean births. Our Caesarean birth rate grew from 5% in 1962 to 23% in 1992. That's progress.

From: purewatergazette.net

Civil War Nurse Helen Gilson

By Maggie MacLean

Helen Louise Gilson was a native of Boston, but moved in childhood to Chelsea, Massachusetts. She was the niece of the Honorable Frank B. Fay, former Mayor of Chelsea, and she was his ward. Mr. Fay took an active interest in the Union cause during the Civil War, devoting his time, his wealth and his personal efforts to the welfare of the soldiers.

Beginning in the autumn of 1861, Gilson's uncle Frank Fay went in person to every battle in which the Army of the Potomac fought. He went promptly to the battlefield and moved gently among the dead and wounded, soothing those who were parched with fever, crazed with thirst, or lying neglected in the last agonies of death.

Helen Gilson was greatly influenced by her uncle's selfless work and wanted to assist him. She applied to Dorothea Dix, the Superintendent of Female Nurses. She was rejected because she was too young, but that did not prevent her from fulfilling her desire to minister to the sick and wounded.

Gilson was allowed to work directly with her uncle and his assistants. They had their own tent, formed a tight-knit group, and even created something of a home life. She was present at almost every great battle of the Army of the Potomac, except the first Battle of Bull Run.

In the summer of 1862, Gilson was for some time attached to the Hospital Transport Service, and was on board the ship Knickerbocker at White House and at Harrison's Landing, Virginia during the severe battles of McClellan's movement from the Chickahominy to the James River, called the Peninsula Campaign.

When not more actively employed, she sat by the bedsides of the suffering men. She sang for them and knelt beside their beds amid all the agonizing sights and sounds of the hospital wards. She exerted a remarkable influence over the wounded soldiers.

The Auxiliary Relief Corps
The United States Sanitary Commission had been established in 1861 to care for sick and wounded soldiers, but they had no field agents, and did not attempt to care for the wounded until they were brought to the field hospitals.

In 1863, Mr. Fay took to the Sanitary Commission his plans for an Auxiliary Relief Corps, which would give personal relief to the wounded soldier in the field, and to help him bear his suffering until he could be seen by a surgeon or be transferred to a hospital. For less serious wounds, the Corps would furnish the necessary dressings and attention.

The Sanitary Commission adopted these plans, and made Mr. Fay chief of the Auxiliary Relief Corps. He served in that capacity until December 1864, when he resigned, but he continued his independent work until the war ended.

Helen Gilson collected supplies and arranged for the transportation of wounded soldiers. She obtained a contract from the government to make army clothing, and kept soldiers' wives and daughters busy raising money so she could attract more workers by paying a better wage than other contractors.

Gilson always shrank from publicity in regard to her work, but thousands witnessed her ability to evoke order out of chaos, and providing for thousands of sick and wounded men where most people would have been completely overwhelmed.

From the reports of the Sanitary Commission, the following passage refers to her:

Upon Miss Gilson's services, we scarcely dare trust ourselves to comment. Upon her experience we relied for counsel, and it was chiefly due to her advice and efforts that the work in our hospital went on so successfully. Always quiet, self-possessed and prompt in the discharge of duty, she accomplished more than anyone else could for the relief of the wounded, besides being a constant example and embodiment of earnestness for all. Her ministrations were always grateful to the wounded men, who devotedly loved her for her self-sacrificing spirit. Said one of the Fifth New Jersey in our hearing, "There isn't a man in our regiment who wouldn't lay down his life for Miss Gilson."

But Gilson's crowning work was performed during the last series of battles in the war, the Overland Campaign. Fought entirely in Virginia, from the Battle of the Wilderness to Spotsylvania Court House to Cold Harbor to Petersburg to Appomattox, this campaign was marked by almost a year of constant fighting, and ended the most destructive war of modern times.

Gilson took the field with Mr. Fay at the beginning of the campaign, and was tireless in her efforts to relieve the suffering caused by those horrible battles in May of 1864, in which the dead and wounded were numbered by scores of thousands.

Caring for the Colored Troops
Not until the battles of June 15 through June 18 of 1864 had there been any considerable number of the colored troops among the wounded of Army of the Potomac. In those engagements and the actions immediately around Petersburg, they suffered terribly. The wounded were brought rapidly to City Point, where a temporary hospital had been provided.

This is a description of this hospital given by Dr. William Howell Reed, who was associated with Miss Gilson in its management:

It was, in no other sense a hospital, than that it was a depot for wounded men. There were defective management and chaotic confusion. The men were neglected, the hospital organization was imperfect, and the mortality was in consequence frightfully large. Their condition was horrible. The severity of the campaign in a malarious country had prostrated many with fevers, and typhoid, in its most malignant forms, was raging with increasing fatality.

These stories of suffering reached Miss Gilson at a moment when the previous labors of the campaign had nearly exhausted her strength; but her duty seemed plain. There were no volunteers for the emergency, and she prepared to go. Her friends declared that she could not survive it; but replying that she could not die in a cause more sacred, she started out alone.

A hospital was to be created, and this required all the tact, finesse and diplomacy of which a woman is capable. Official prejudice and professional pride was to be met and overcome. A new policy was to be introduced, and it was to be done without seeming to interfere. Her doctrine and practice always were instant, silent, and cheerful obedience to medical and disciplinary orders, without any qualification whatever; and by this she overcame the natural sensitiveness of the medical authorities.

A hospital kitchen was to be organized upon her method of special diet; nurses were to learn her way, and be educated to their duties; while cleanliness, order, system, were to be enforced in the daily routine. Moving quietly on with her work of renovation, she took the responsibility of all changes that became necessary; and such harmony prevailed in the camp that her policy was vindicated as time rolled on.

The rate of mortality was lessened, and the hospital was soon considered the best in the department. This was accomplished by a tact and energy which sought no praise, but modestly veiled themselves behind the orders of officials. The management of her kitchen was like the ticking of a clock—regular discipline, gentle firmness, and sweet temper always. The diet for the men was changed three times a day; and it was her aim to cater as far as possible to the appetites of individual men.

Her daily rounds in the wards brought her into personal intercourse with every patient, and she knew his special need. At one time, when nine hundred men were supplied from her kitchen (with seven hundred rations daily), I took down her diet list for one dinner, and give it here in a note, to show the variety of the articles, and her careful consideration of the condition of separate men.

Unparalleled Service
Through all the war, from the Seven Days' conflict on the Peninsula in those early July days of 1862, through the campaigns of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and the fierce battles that were fought for the possession of Richmond and Petersburg in 1864 and 1865, Helen Gilson labored on until the end.

Through scorching heat and bitter cold, in the tent or on the open field, in the ambulance or in the saddle, through rain and snow, under fire on the battlefield, or in the more insidious dangers of contagion, she worked quietly, doing her part with all womanly tact and skill, until she finally rested, with the sense of a noble work done, and with the blessings and prayers of the thousands whose sufferings she has relieved, or whose lives she has saved.

As was the case with nearly every woman who cared for the sick and wounded, Helen Gilson suffered from malarious fever. As often as possible, she went home for a short time to rest and regain her strength, and it was those brief intervals of rest that enabled her to remain at her post until several months after General Lee's surrender ended the war.

Helen Louise Gilson finally left Richmond in July 1865, and spent the remainder of the summer at a quiet retreat on Long Island, where she partially recovered her impaired health. In the autumn, she returned to her home in Chelsea, Massachusetts.

From: civilwarwomenblog.com

Ellen Mitchell, Civil War Nurse

By Maggie MacLean 9-27-08

This lady, better known as Nellie Mitchell, was at the opening of the war a resident of Montrose, Pennsylvania, where she was surrounded by friends, had a pleasant home, was amiable, highly educated and accomplished. Her family was one that was often named as "our first families."

Miss Mitchell left her home in Montrose early in May 1861, and went to New York City, where she took a course in surgical nursing at Bellevue Hospital, to prepare for assuming the duties of an army nurse. The terrible sights she witnessed there so impaired her health that after six weeks she went to Woodbury, Connecticut, where she remained with friends while awaiting orders, and in September her labors in the military hospitals began.

She had intended to give her services to her country, but after witnessing the frequent destitution of comforts among those to whom she ministered, she decided to receive the regular pay of a nurse from the Government, and spent it entirely on the suffering ones around her. Luxuries sent by her friends for her own use she used in the same manner.

Miss Mitchell spent the first three months in Elmore Hotel Hospital in Georgetown, District of Columbia. Around this place cluster some of the pleasantest, as well as the saddest memories of her life. The lack of a systematic plan of action in this hospital, made the tasks of the nurses peculiarly trying. Yet Miss Mitchell never found more delight in her labors, and never received warmer expressions of gratitude from her "boys."

On being brought for the first time to a place associated in their minds only with gloom and suffering the joyful surprise of these poor fellows at finding kind hearts and willing hands ready to minister to their wants with almost motherly, or sisterly affection, exceeded words and called forth such manifestations of gratitude as amply rewarded those who watched over them.

Often as they saw these kindly women engaged in their busy tasks of mercy, their eyes would glisten as they followed them with the most intense earnestness, and their lips would unconsciously utter remarks like these, so homely and spontaneous as to leave no doubt of their sincerity. "How good, how home-like to see women moving around. We did not expect anything like this!"

But much as she loved her work and had become attached to her charges, circumstances of a very painful nature soon compelled Miss Mitchell to resign her post in that hospital. But in less than two weeks, she entered St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, across the Eastern branch of the Potomac in an unfinished wing of the Insane Retreat.

It was about the last of December that she entered there, and in February she was compelled to relinquish the care of her ward by a severe and dangerous illness that lasted seven weeks. Her greatest joy in returning health consisted in her restoration to the duties she loved.

Miss Mitchell had scarcely recovered from this illness when she was unexpectedly summoned home to the deathbed of her beloved mother. After a month's absence, she again returned to Washington, but was sent directly to Point Lookout, in Maryland, where a hospital had recently been established. She remained about two months at Point Lookout.

Her next station was at the Ware House Hospital, Georgetown, District of Columbia, where she was employed in the care of the wounded from the Second Battle of Bull Run. Most of these poor men were suffering from broken limbs, had lain several days uncared for on the field, and were consequently greatly reduced in strength.

They had suffered so much from their removal in the jolting ambulances, that many of them expressed a wish that they had been left to die on the field, rather than to have endured such torment. Ellen was always best pleased to work in the surgical wards, where she dressed and cared for wounds with almost the skill, and more than the tenderness, of a practiced surgeon. This hospital was too open for cold weather, and in February was closed.

Miss Mitchell was then transferred to Union Hotel Hospital, where five of the nurses were laid up by illness, and her duties became unusually arduous. The hospital had been closed, refitted, improved and reopened. The soldiers were so kindly cared for there, but with great regret they saw the hospital broken up in March.

Miss Mitchell's inclination would then have led her to the front, but she was forced to obey orders, and was transferred to Knight Hospital in New Haven, but she became so worn out from her long service that she was compelled to resign her position as army nurse. She accepted a desirable situation in the Treasury Department in July 1863, but she was not satisfied with that, and again enlisted as an army nurse after a few months, resolving never again to abandon the service, as long as the war continued.

This was in the beginning of May, 1864, and Ellen was immediately sent to Fredericksburg to assist in caring for the wounded from the Battle of the Wilderness. The scenes and labors of that terrible period are beyond description. Miss Mitchell was amidst them all, and like an angel of mercy made herself everywhere useful to the crowds of ghastly sufferers from those fields of awful carnage.

When the Union army left Fredericksburg, most of the wounded were transferred to Washington. Miss Mitchell would again have preferred to go to the front, but obeyed orders, and went instead to Judiciary Square Hospital in Washington, where she found many of her former patients.

After she had spent one day there, she would not willingly have left those poor men whom she found so greatly needing a woman's care. For weeks the mortality was fearful, and she found herself surrounded by the dead and dying, but gradually this was lessened, and she became engaged in the more delightful duty of superintending the improvement of convalescents, and watching the return to health of many a brave hero who had perhaps sacrificed limbs in the service of his country. Here she remained, until the final closing of the Hospital in June, 1865, which also ended her army service.

The four years of her service were filled with self-sacrifice and faithful devoted labor. Perhaps her own words extracted from a letter to the writer of this sketch will give the best statement of her views and motives.

"I only did my duty, did what I could, and did it because it would have been a great act of self-denial not to have done it. I have ever felt that those who cheerfully gave their loved ones to their country's cause, made greater sacrifices, manifested more heroism, were worthy of more honor by far, than those of us who labored in the hospitals or on the fields. I had not these 'dear ones' to give, so gave heartily what I could, myself to the cause, with sincere gratitude, I trust, to God, for the privilege of thus doing."

Image: "The Dying Soldier - The Last Letter from Home" engraved by J.J.Cade, published by A.D.Worthington in My Story of the War ..., 1888.

From: civilwarwomenblog.com

Civil War Diseases

From: civilwaracademy.com

There were a whole host of Civil War diseases during the war. The worst disease was Dysentery.
This one disease accounted for around 45,000 deaths in the Union army and around 50,000 deaths in the Confederate army.

The reason Dysentery and so many other diseases were able to spread so rapidly through both armies was primarily because of a lack of sanitation practices and contaminated water.

Sanitation and hygiene were not a big issue when it came to healthcare during this time.

This was not because doctors and nurses were negligent. They just did not know any better.

Civil War Medicine was not yet advanced enough to connect a lack of hygiene with disease.

For example, during a typical Civil War surgery cleanliness was a mere afterthought.

Surgeons would often use the same tools continuously on patient after patient never cleaning them.

They might wipe them off on their apron, but that was about as much cleaning as any piece of equipment received.

Cross contamination was not known, so there was no thought of washing and sanitizing instruments after they had been used.

Unfortunately for people back then they didn’t realize that there was a link between hygiene and health.

Civil War nurses also helped to tend to sick soldiers. Often they put themselves at risk for disease in doing so.

Disease and Contaminated Water
Simple things such as placing a latrine downstream and away from the clean water supply were often overlooked. This foul water would quickly lead to water contamination which made the development and spread of disease much more frequent.

An interesting book that provides a great deal of information about Civil War diseases is "Nature’s Civil War". It describes what the soldiers really had to endure just to keep themselves healthy in such an unhealthy environment.

There were many diseases during the Civil War. Here is a brief look at some of the major Civil War diseases that people had to contend with:

Civil War Diseases: Typhoid
Typhoid was another major killer. This disease was a result of contaminated water or food. Typhoid killed around 30,000 Confederate and 35,000 Union troops during the war. 1 out of every 3 people who contracted this disease died of it.

Civil War Diseases: Pneumonia
Pneumonia was responsible for the deaths of 20,000 Union and 17,000 Confederate troops. 1 in 6 people who got this disease died from it. Stonewall Jackson died from Pneumonia after being shot during the battle of Chancellorsville by his own men.

Pneumonia was more of an opportunistic type of disease. It looked for weak people to inject itself into. If you became wounded on the battlefield or became sick with something else there was a good chance Pneumonia was going to find you.

Civil War Diseases: Measles
Measles killed a lot of people during the Civil War around 11,000 soldiers in total. Not as many as other diseases did but it had its fair share. With so many people gathered in such small areas this disease was able to spread rapidly. About 1 in 20 people who got this disease died as a result of it.

Civil War Diseases: Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis killed about 14,000 soldiers during the war. There was no known cure for it during the war. Even today there is no real cure, it can be treated but never cured. Once you get this disease you get it for life.

Civil War Diseases: Malaria
Malaria was also prevalent during the war killing roughly 30,000 soldiers. This number is high but considering around 3 million people contracted the disease it was not often fatal. This was due in large part to the readily available supply of quinine, which was used to successfully prevent and treat the disease.

The biggest thing that all of these Civil War diseases had in common was that nobody had any idea how to cure them. With the exception of Malaria.

This spelled bad news if you were one of the unfortunate ones to come down with any of these diseases.

Image: Surgeons and Stewards at Harewood Hospital, Washington, D.C.

More Than a Full Stomach: Nutrition and the Field Ration (excerpt)

By Sanders Marble, Office of Medical History

Rations are a never-failing source of conversation and complaint. The field ration has to balance nutrition and portability, and understanding and capabilities of those two have changed over the Army’s history.

Early Rations
The Continental Congress legislated this ration:: One pound of beef, 18 ounces of flour, 1 pint of milk, 1 quart of spruce beer, 1.4 ounces of rice, and 6.8 ounces of peas.

Flour was often baked into hardtack to travel better; milk was a nice idea but it did not travel, and it is unlikely milk was regularly delivered anywhere, especially in those quantities. Spruce beer was a mild antiscorbutic (scurvy-preventative) agent, but, again, impractical because a quart of spruce beer per man per day was too large to be manageable. This ration kept you full and had enough calories if the Commissary General could actually supply everything, but was vitamin-deficient. That should not be a surprise; vitamins were not discovered until the early 20th Century and even carbohydrates, protein, and fat (as subcomponents of food with differing nutritional effects) were unknown concepts. The main reason foods were chosen for the ration was because they shipped and stored well. Moreover, troops were expected to get food beyond the ration: by purchase, by foraging, by gifts from civilians, or by growing it themselves if camped long enough.

The ration changed little between 1775 and the 1890s, and some moves were backwards. Vegetables and spruce beer were dropped in 1790. Coffee was added, and rum removed in 1832. Aside from a small allowance of peas and beans, there was relatively little change. Joseph Lovell, the first Surgeon General, suggested replacing some of the meat with vegetables, but he was ignored. However, the army did not waste away from deficiency diseases. First, soldiers bought and/or grew ration supplements; most forts had land to grow vegetables, keep cows, and so forth. Troops also foraged, either hunting or gathering. In the desert southwest, surgeons found cactus juice an effective, if unpalatable, anti-scorbutic. To get the troops to drink it they added sugar, lemon extract, and – probably the key – whiskey. Furthermore, “commutation” was allowed. A unit could take the cash value of some of the authorized ration and buy other food. But these supplements stopped when troops went into the field. Then it was back to hardtack and salt meat.

The Civil War
The ration was almost unchanged in the Civil War. Potatoes were added in 1861 and desiccated vegetables were available to U.S. forces, but troops hated them (calling them ‘desecrated vegetables’ or ‘compressed hay’) and over-cooked them. Thus, most of the vitamins that had survived the drying process were destroyed. To reduce bulk, “essence of coffee” was developed, but it looked – and tasted – like axle grease and was soon replaced with ground coffee. Eben Horsford, a pioneering civilian nutritionist, explored better rations, and the Army bought some to test. Horsford’s designed his Marching Ration to be more compact, with roast wheat instead of hardtack and 3 ounces of cooked-down beef he claimed was equivalent to 10 ounces of fresh lean beef. It may or may not have been nutritionally equivalent, but it was an utter disaster: the wheat molded and the meat spoiled – even dogs would not eat it.

In the Civil War there were thousands of troops on campaign for months and even years, and some nutritional problems arose. Scurvy developed over winters, and during the Atlanta Campaign around 20% of Sherman’s troops showed symptoms until fruits and berries were ripe. Elsewhere, there were occasional skirmishes for berry patches, the prize being the berries with their Vitamin C, although the troops probably wanted the sugar and flavor. Some Confederate troops, living largely off cornbread and bacon, developed night blindness due to low Vitamin A levels.

After the Civil War, the modest improvement for the citizen-soldiers disappeared. There was still no official field ration, although an improving canning industry could produce tinned meat and vegetables. These were mainly used as a travel ration for railroad journeys where troops could not build fires for cooking, rather than in the field.

By the 1890s there were glimmers of nutritional science. Foods were analyzed for carbohydrates, fat, and protein but the Army was still largely concerned with filling the stomach: 1882 regulations allowed the substitution of bread if no vegetables were available. In 1890 a pound of vegetables per day was authorized, but 70% had to be inexpensive potatoes.

Image: Soldiers cooking, Civil War. Source: Library of Congress

From: history.amedd.army.mil/newsletters

The Civil War, From a Medical Point of View

By Toriano Porter, Special to The Star, 10-14-14

Michael Monaco’s fascination with medical history began long before he became a doctor of internal medicine.

Monaco was reared in Jefferson City in an Antebellum home built in 1848. It was also a dwelling where Union troops were stationed during the Civil War.

On more than a few occasions Monaco’s family and neighbors discovered Civil War-era artifacts on their properties.

“We’d garden in the backyard and dig up horseshoes,” Monaco said. “My neighbor dug up a canon ball when she planted her tomatoes.”

After becoming a doctor, Monaco developed in 1994 a presentation on the medical practices of the Civil War era and how those practices evolved into modern medicine.

“I went to a Civil War presentation (in 1994) and I really enjoyed it,” Monaco said. “I thought ‘I’m a doctor, I can do this.’ ”

Monaco, a Lee’s Summit resident with a private practice at Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park, presented “Medical Practices During the Battle” on Sunday at the John Wornall House Museum in Kansas City.

Monaco’s lecture was part of the museum’s 150th celebration of the Battle of Westport. The Wornall House was used as a field hospital for both Union and Confederate soldiers. Other events in the monthlong tribute include medical re-enactments of surgery by candlelight and the mourning practices of residents during the Civil War.

Monaco is an instructor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s School of Medicine and team physician for the Kansas City Chiefs. His presentation included a lecture and a look at the medical tools of the era.

“Most of the people who died in the Civil War died primarily from illness and infections,” Monaco said. “They used to say more soldiers died from ‘being’ than bullets because they would get sick. The Civil War is actually the end of what I call the Medical Middle Ages. The concept of surgery and the skills and observation of how to do a better job came to pass because of the Civil War.”

Kerrie Nichols, executive director of the Wornall House, said Monaco’s exhibit added texture to the Farmstead to Field Hospital series that began Oct. 4.

“There were a lot of surgeries performed at the Wornall House and a lot of amputations,” Nichols said.

From: kansascity.com


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