By Christine Dantz, February 2016
Medical amputation has come a long way since the American Civil War, in fact, today most of our country's war vets who loss a limb in the line of duty go on to live long, active lives. That wasn't always the case, during the Civil War, the chances of surviving and thriving after an amputation were similar to amputating a limb fast enough to stop a zombie infection today.
An estimated 60,000 amputations were performed by battlefield doctors during the American Civil War from 1861-1865, that is because 70 percent of all battle wounds were to the hands, arms, legs, and feet.
Here is a typical battlefront doctor's instrument case, the image is from the archives of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This case has a surgical saw, a curved and straight surgical probe, and tweezers.
The probes were used to inspect the wound prior to amputation. There were two types of amputations done at this time, circular and flap. The circular peeled back the skin before severing the bone and then rolling the skin back down and sewing it together at the end around the bone creating the stump. The Flap cut the skin around the bone into two long flaps that would be sewn back together and around the end of the bone creating the stump.
An example of the crude leg amputations during the American Civil War is depicted in the photo below, of Private Charles Myer, taken by William Bell. While battlefield surgeons were working hard to save lives, the cuts made in their quickened hast left many veterans looking butchered. The cut and closure of the stump is important for prosthetic fittings.
Luckily for today's veterans, the bone saw is electric, pre-and-post surgical would care has improved greatly, and pain medication is safer, as well as more efficient.
According to the Amputee Coalition, there are about 2 million people living without a limb in the U.S. That number grows by nearly 200,000 each year.
Davis, Laura June. "Photo Essay: Wounded Warriors: Civil War Amputation." Civil War Monitor. Accessed December 11, 2015. http://www.civilwarmonitor.com/photo-essays/album?albumid=1007.
"File:Wallen Wounded by Minie Ball.jpg." Wikimedia Commons. Accessed December 11, 2015. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wallen_wounded_by_Minie_ball.jpg.
"File:Wbell-leg-amputation.jpg." Wikimedia Commons. Accessed December 11, 2015. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wbell-leg-amputation.jpg.
"Limb Loss Statistics." Amputee Coalition. Accessed December 11, 2015. http://www.amputee-coalition.org/limb-loss-resource-center/resources-by-topic/limb-loss-statistics/limb-loss-statistics/.
"Lower Leg Amputation Surgery (Amputated Leg)." YouTube. September 28, 2009. Accessed December 11, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFb2fXPZi8A.
"U.S. National Library of Medicine (archives)." Accessed December 11, 2015.