Thursday, September 12, 2013

Medical Treatment In Prison Camps

The Case of John W. January

An estimated 61,000 men perished in Civil War prisons. This thread will discuss medical situations that were more or less exclusive to the prison camps. Civil War prisons were poorly managed, horribly overcrowded, and, riddled with disease. Both sides possessed their share of shameful conditions; due mainly to inadequate planning, nutritional ignorance, and nonexistent sanitation. Ultimately, the sheer number of confined men, proved absolutely unmanageable. Every problem that existed in the regimental camps, increased exponentially in the prisons. The hundreds of thousands of men imprisoned simply exceeded either side's ability or will to manage. Leading causes of death included diarrhea, dysentery, scorbutus (scurvy), and various diseases exacerbated by starvation and filthy living conditions.

The Case of John W. January

"John W. January joined the 14th Illinois Cavalry in June of 1864. He was taken prisoner the next month and spent about 16 months at the prisons in both Andersonville, GA and Florence, SC.

During his imprisonment, malnutrition, scurvy, and gangrene damaged his feet to such an extent that he amputated them himself with a penknife because none of the army doctors would perform the operation. January survived and arrived in David's Island in New York on February 28, 1865 weighing forty-five pounds. He spent seven months under treatment in a hospital and recovered well.

An interview with Valentine Meyers in The Pantagraph in 1906 gave a slightly different version of January's ordeal. Meyers was an army nurse and helped take care of January during his recovery in the hospital in Florence, South Carolina. Meyers said that when January was first brought to the hospital in November of 1864 he was sent to lie in the pen because the hospital was full. Meyers said that January's clothes were stolen from him while he lay unconsious on January 5. Friends got together to provide him with some new clothing.

Meyers claimed that when January asked to have his feet cut off, the army doctor refused and told him that he was going to die anyway and he wanted him to have his feet with him when he died. January managed to convince the doctors to remove his feet. Meyers said that it was an easy task because the gangrene had rotted his bones away."


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