Monday, August 22, 2011

Civil War Veterinary Medicine

by Carole Adrienne /

The first veterinary facility in Europe was established at Lyon, France, in 1762, after centuries of wars, disease epidemics, livestock plagues and food shortages.

The United States, with a lower density of animals, had not faced any of the major animal epidemics that had periodically swept Europe. The first veterinary college in the country was established in 1862 in Philadelphia.

At the start of the Civil War, dozens of cavalry units were formed, requiring thousands of horses. A War Department General Order in May 1861 provided for one “veterinary sergeant” for every Union cavalry regiment, but listed no qualifications for the post. Only six veterinarians were on the rolls of the Union army.

In the course of the war, thousands of horses, mules, pigs and cows died of disease, battle wounds and overuse.

By mid-1863 both forces began to centralize the collection and distribution of horses. The largest Union depot was at Giesboro Point, in Washington, D.C., with 32 stables and 6,000 stalls. It had a veterinary hospital that could hold 2,650 animals.

Disease among animals could have a devastating effect on the course of a campaign, limiting transportation for food, supplies and artillery. Battles are thought to be won or lost because of numbers, weapons, tactics or courage; not because horses are sick.


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