Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pest Houses and Other Places to House the Sick and Wounded

From: in.gov

Public hospitals in 1860, if they existed, were small. Most were dirty and infested with rats. Their main use was for isolating poor people who had smallpox and other eruptive fevers.

The Union had no army hospitals to treat the wounded after the First Battle of Bull Run or Manassas Junction. By 1865 the Union had 204 hospitals with 136,894 beds. The two types of hospitals were the field hospital and the general hospital. Indiana had general or army hospitals in Indianapolis, Jeffersonville, Evansville, New Albany, and Madison. For a short time there was a hospital in Vincennes.

The Sisters of Providence was a group of religious women who settled on the Wabash River near Terre Haute in 1840. Their leader, Mother Theodore Guerin, studied medicine and pharmacy in France. As was the “Rule”, Sisters were “expected to have a knowledge of the elements of pharmacy so as to render service when necessary.”

In May of 1861, a measles epidemic threatened the soldiers at Camp Morton. Because of their informal nursing training, Governor Morton asked the Sisters of Providence for assistance. A recently built $30,000 hospital stood vacant in Indianapolis. The Daily Journal of June 18, 1861, described their work this way: the Sisters “took charge of the cooking, cleaning, washing and general housekeeping.” The hospital needed a thorough cleaning before it could be used so their first request, was for “men who knew dirt when they saw it.”

After the rooms were cleaned to the walls, patients took up residence. Just behind the scene of the battle was the field hospital. Slightly wounded men, who were able, walked here. Others had to be carried by litter bearers on stretchers or in carts. At this primary station the bleeding was stopped, wounds were bandaged, and opiates were administered. Regimental surgeons with boxes of medications treated the soldiers as they arrived. Within a few days, they evacuated those who were able to travel to a general hospital. General hospitals early in the war and field hospitals near the battle scene utilized any convenient building. This could be a mill, church, school, or farm house, even a stable might be used.

Boards placed across chairs or benches became the flat surface for an operating table. In the beginning each regiment set up a hospital and treated only members of its own unit. This proved very inefficient and wasteful of resources. Over the first two years regimental hospitals combined to make brigade and then division and finally by 1863 corps level hospitals. A division hospital served seven to eight thousand (7,000-8,000) soldiers. It took about 20 wagons to carry the tents, supplies, and equipment necessary for a hospital.

Two styles of general hospital plans became popular during the Civil War. The pavilion style had a number of buildings attached to a central area for cooking, laundry, and administration. The isolated style had separate buildings or huts similar to the ones used during the Crimean War by the British. In all the hospitals, fresh air was thought to be healthy. There were lots of windows that were regularly thrown open in all seasons. Foul air was called “noxious effuvia”.

As the war years lengthened, improvements in sanitation did away with much of this bad air.


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