Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Early Civil War Ambulances

Ambulance drill of the 57th New York Infantry, 1864.

One of the greatest challenges presented by the huge Civil War was the transport of its wounded. The military had no formal ambulance corps. Men, usually those considered unfit for battle service, were randomly appointed to drive ambulances and carry litters. The wounded who survived these emergency efforts were transported to army hospitals in nearby cities or towns, frequently by two-wheeled carts or four-wheeled wagons.

By the end of the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, evacuation measures were still erratic. Terrified ambulance drivers fled battlefields, sometimes running over troops.

The crude wagons that served as ambulances often caused additional injuries secondary to the battle wound. Unpaved roads jostled the injured troops on their way to the field hospitals. If a soldier survived his initial wound, he no doubt prayed he would survive the subsequent transport.

The need for a coordinated ambulance system became apparent to the military, the medical community and the civilian press. The Christian Examiner printed a condemnation of the lack of existing systems.

“The best ambulance is of no aid if in the hands of cowardly, ignorant, inefficient, or unfeeling men, and the best way of raising, organizing, and disciplining the men who are to have charge of the ambulance, the personnel of the ambulance-train, is even more of a desideratum than the best model for the ambulance itself.”


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