Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Eye Ailments

By Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein
During the Civil War many Union and Confederate soldiers suffered from eye problems. These problems tended to fall into three categories: disease, injury, and nutritional deficiency. Though Civil War physicians treated eye problems according to current knowledge, one important innovation on both sides was to establish special wards or hospitals devoted to eye disease and staffed by a skilled doctor. The Union forces had eye infirmaries in St. Louis, Missouri, and Washington, D.C., while in 1864 the Confederate Army of Tennessee had the Opthalmic Hospital at Athens, Georgia.

Eye diseases were often labeled ophthalmia, meaning a severe inflammation of the eye or eyes. Then, as now, these problems could be caused by germs or irritants. A number of soldiers developed ophthalmia as a consequence of having measles, a “childhood disease” that spread rapidly through new regiments when they joined the army. Eye injuries resulted from accidents or gunshot wounds.
Excerpted from: “The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine”
PHOTO: Civil War bullet wound of the eye, 1864. The Burns Archive
Learn more about Civil War opthomologists at


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