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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ambulance Trains

Excerpted from: "Ambulance Trains" by Addeane S. Caelleigh


Just as the horse-drawn ambulance had been originally developed by military medicine, so were ambulance trains. Evacuating, distributing, and treating the wounded during modern war requires mass transportation, which by the 1850s meant the railroad and steamship. In the United States, both were used in the Civil War (1861-65), and rail evacuation was important in the treatment of sick and wounded soldiers for almost the next hundred years.

In the Civil War, the wounded were at first carried away from battles in empty freight and passenger cars, which were not well suited to the needs of the patients or the medical corps. A system of rubber slings was fitted into some cars to hold litters and act as shock absorbers. Others were outfitted fully as hospital cars, with facilities for staff, apothecaries, dressing stations, and kitchens.

Hospital railway cars were not needed again until World War I, when they were used in both the United States and Europe. In Europe, railroads were an integral part of war planning by all belligerent countries, to move men and equipment both to and from areas of fighting. Although there were specifically outfitted ambulance trains or hospital trains, at the front during combat the common pattern was for freight cars to carry equipment and soldiers up to the front and to take away the wounded to the rear areas. In the United States, rail cars were used to move the wounded from East Coast ports, where they had been delivered from Europe by ship, to hospitals throughout the rest of the country. In the early months after America entered the war in 1916, these cars were converted civilian rail cars, but later special hospital cars were used. These hospital cars and trains continued to be used for many months after the November 1918 Armistice that ended the war, because the U.S. wounded remained in hospitals throughout Europe for many months, returning home or to U.S. hospitals only as they improved enough to be moved.

Author: I gratefully acknowledge information gained from visiting the U.S. Army Medical Department Museum, Fort Sam Houston, Texas (near San Antonio), which has a 1953 ambulance car as part of its excellent collections.
© 2001 Association of American Medical Colleges

From: journals.lww.com


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