Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wounded Warriors: Civil War Amputation

Compiled by Laura June Davis

In the heat of battle, Civil War doctors often had to make quick diagnoses of soldiers’ injuries. According to The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, 1861-65, 70% of all wounds were to the extremities—35.6% to the upper extremities and 35.2% to the lower extremities. These statistics help explain why surgeons performed so many battlefield amputations; if they couldn't save the limb, they wanted at least to save the soldier’s life.

When deciding whether or not to amputate a limb, a cursory probe of a wound was often the only examination a doctor had the time (or the ability) to conduct before beginning surgery. The high frequency of amputation was often attributed to the damage created by minié balls, which shattered bones and mangled tissue, but the high risk of bleeding, infection, and gangrene were deciding factors as well. By war’s end, Union and Confederate surgeons had performed an estimated 60,000 amputations.

Image: Though staged after the war, this image is one of the few existing photographs of a Civil War era amputation surgery. This "surgery" was staged outside of a Gettysburg hospital tent. (Image credit: Library of Congress.)

From: civilwarmonitor.com


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