Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Civil War Veterinarians

From: suite101.com

While much research has been done on the casualties of the Civil War among the soldiers and civilians, one area has been overlooked...that of the animals that carried troops.

Though the United States was estimated to have about 7.5 million horses at the beginning of the Civil War, there were only 50 graduate veterinarians in the country.“Although three veterinary schools were established during the decade of the fifties, only one survived. The survivor was the New York College of Veterinary Surgeons founded in 1857. The first graduates were a class of two in 1867,” according to Walter R. Heiss in Veterinary Service during the American Civil War (Baltimore, Md.: Publish America, 2005, pg. 9).

If not done by a veterinarian, animal care might be given to horse doctors or farriers.

War and the Horse
With the secession of the southern states and outbreak of war, both the Union and the Confederacy started on a massive procurement of horses. Hundreds of thousands of horses needed to be fed, sheltered, shod and equipped.

Many of the cavalry battles in the war left horses with saber wounds that could have been healed if treated properly. Because no proper care existed, many of these injuries became fatalities.

Despite the Confederacy's reputation of having superior horsemen, Heiss's research found they didn't care for their horses any better than the Union troops.

Did having Vets Win the War?
According to Fredie Steve Harris, writing in Western Horseman in 1976, the Union was better able to care for their horses and won the war. The Confederacy was unable to cope with the demand and lost.
Typically, a horse received 26 pounds of grain and hay a day. "At the end of the war, General Lee was writing and asking if he could just receive five pounds a day," Heiss said in an interview with the author.
Caring for the Horses

Military horses lacked good care. They were overworked and many suffered from a disease called glanders, a contagious disease that increased mucus secretions from a horse's nostrils and swelled the glands in their lower jaws.

Because of this poor care, close to 1.5 million or 20 percent of the nation's horses died during the war.
Heiss said both the Union and Confederacy built "magnificent remount depots" that could hold up to 30,000 horses with appropriate infirmaries, haying facilities and wide open corrals.

"There were no veterinarians to work there," Heiss said. "It was like building the National Institutes of Health and not having any doctors to staff it."
Why there were no Veterinarians

There were people who had practical knowledge of horses, just not doctors trained in their care. Cavalry units had veterinary sergeants at the beginning of the war, the position was eliminated without explanation in July 1862.

In part, the lack of veterinary surgeons was an economic one. Sergeant majors received $75 a month in pay. Farriers got $15 a month.

"So if a commanding officer could get one veterinarian or five farriers, he was well ahead to take the farriers," Heiss said. "He could get more people who could provide some medical care and do other things as well."

Heiss said that veterinary service really wasn't established in the military until 1916 when the veterinarians were first given their commissions.


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