Sunday, March 13, 2016

Maimed Men - Life and Limb: The Toll of the American Civil War

From: nlm.nih.gov

"The limbs of soldiers are in as much danger from the ardor of young surgeons as from the missiles of the enemy." Surgeon Julian John Chisholm, 1864

Although the exact number is not known, approximately 60,000 surgeries, about three quarters of all of the operations performed during the war, were amputations. Although seemingly drastic, the operation was intended to prevent deadly complications such as gangrene. Sometimes undertaken without anesthesia, and in some cases leaving the patient with painful sensations in the severed nerves, the removal of a limb was widely feared by soldiers.

Under the Knife
At this time, most of the vast numbers of wounded men made it impossible for surgeons to undertake more delicate and time-consuming procedures such as building splints for limbs or carefully removing only part of the broken bone or damaged flesh. Critics, like Confederate surgeon Julian John Chisholm, charged that inexperienced doctors were too eager to attempt amputation as a way to improve their skills, and accused them of experimenting, often exacerbating existing injuries. Soldiers nicknamed such enthusiasts "butchers" and some even went so far as to treat themselves to try to avoid the painful intervention of the surgeon.

Image 1: "The Civil War Surgeon at Work in the Field," Winslow Homer's heroic image of medical care in the chaos of the battlefield, 12 July 1862

Image 2: Private George W. Lemon, from George A. Otis, Drawings, Photographs and Lithographs Illustrating the Histories of Seven Survivors of the Operation of Amputation at the Hipjoint, During the War of the Rebellion, Together with Abstracts of these Seven Successful Cases, 1867


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