Thursday, September 12, 2013

Civil War Hospitals

From: library.thinkquest.org

The story of Civil War medicine is upsetting. It is made slightly brighter by the sacrifices and generosity of the doctors and nurses. One reason for the poor conditions was the inadequate preparation for war and the conditions of medicine and public health in general in the mid-1800s.

At the beginning of the war, the United States Surgeon General's office consisted of only 115 surgeons 24 of whom resigned to join the Confederate medical services. The army relied on untrained male nurses. At the beginning of the war, humanitarian, Dorothea Dix, traveled to Washington to offer her services and was appointed Superintendent of Women Nurses.

Most field hospitals consisted of nothing more than a tent with a single surgeon, amputating damaged limbs at an alarming rate and throwing them in a pile. Patients received no pain killers or anesthesia. Many died of infection, as there were also no antibiotics and no way to sterilize instruments.

In an inspection of hospitals in the Union Army around 1863, it was reported that a total of 589 hospitals were rated as good and 303 as bad or very bad. Inspections of doctors found 2,727 to be good, while 851 rated as bad!

Reading this, it is not surprising to find that death rates from disease and wounds was higher than from bullets, and that hospitalization was often regarded as a death sentence. Statistics for the Union armies list 67,000 killed in action, 43,000 of wounds, 224,000 died of disease and an additional 24,000 from "other causes".

Although there are no accurate statistics, it is assumed the situation in the South was even worse.


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