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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Treatment of Burns During the Civil War

Civil War soldiers faced serious problems from burns. These injuries were produced by ordinary fire or by the explosion of gunpowder. They varied from the trivial to the most serious lesions. The treatments offered were the most advanced then available, and doctors did have some satisfactory results.

The famous Dr. Samuel Gross recommended the use of white-lead paint, the type used in the arts. The paint was mixed with linseed oil to the consistency of heavy cream. It was applied directly to the burns to cover them completely. A dressing of lint or cloth was then applied.

The application of wheat-lead paint to burns was a precursor to some of today’s treatments. Many burn patients were successfully treated with paint during the Civil War. The paint was soothing, and it diminished fluid loss from the burn surfaces. There was a danger of lead toxicity when the burned surface was very large, and a susceptibility to infection as none of the ointments or dressings were sterilized.

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