by Elise Stevens Wilson
Cannons blasted and bayonets tore through flesh in America’s worst war, the American Civil War. This war was gruesome for many different reasons. It tore the country apart and created divides that exist to this day.
One of the more ghastly aspects of the war concerned medical practices. Being wounded and sent to the hospital was as much a death sentence as being sent to the front lines. Medical equipment was bulky and hard to move. It was a lower priority than ammunition and food, so the doctors rarely had what they needed. At the time, people had little to no understanding of how bacteria spread so surgeon’s tools were used on multiple patients with a simple cleansing with water between uses, and wounds were packed with filthy rags that encouraged the wounds to fester. Surgeries were crude and resulted in astonishing pain as anesthesia was rarely used, and painkillers were basically non-existent. Lastly, there was a severe lack of well-trained personnel. Soldiers were grateful for the thousands of female volunteer nurses and members of the Sanitary Commission. Needless to say, the state of medicine in the Civil War was deplorable, and for many people today, unimaginable. Records clearly show that more people died of diseases than in actual battles or of field wounds.