Civil War Hospital Ship

The U.S.S. Red Rover, a captured Confederate vessel, was refitted as a hospital ship.

Evolution of Civil War Nursing

The evolution of the nursing profession in America was accelerated by the Civil War.

The Practice of Surgery

Amputations were the most common surgery performed during the Civil War.

Army Medical Museum and Library

Surgeon-General William Hammond established The Army Medical Museum in 1862. It was the first federal medical research facility.

Civil War Amputation Kit

Many Civil War surgical instruments had handles of bone, wood or ivory. They were never sterilized.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Average Civil War Soldier

Excerpted from The Library of Congress and
The average Civil War soldier was 26 years old, weighing 143 pounds and standing 5'8" tall. (Library of Congress)

According to historian Bell I. Wiley, who pioneered the study of the Civil War common soldier, the average Yank or Reb was a ‘white, native-born, farmer, protestant, single, between 18 and 29.’ He stood about 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed about 143 pounds. Most soldiers were between the ages of 18 and 39 with an average age just under 26.

The majority of soldiers North and South had been farmers before the war. Union rosters contained references to more than 300 different careers, including accountant, surveyor, locksmith, teacher, carpenter, shoemaker, black- smith, painter, mason, teamster, and mechanic. Southerners who had not farmed included carpenters, mechanics, merchants, machinists, lawyers, teachers, blacksmiths, and dentists.
IMAGE: Recruiting Office of Ninth Massachusetts Battery, Boston, (LC)

Retreat of the Confederate Wounded from Gettysburg

On July 4th, after the battle had ended, a wagon train carried the wounded Confederate soldiers away from Gettysburg. They passed by the Snyder farm in New Franklin, Pennsylvania. Milton J. Snyder remembered:
"On Saturday evening, July 4th, 1863, while we were quietly seated inside the house, my father heard a peculiar noise--like the approach of a heavy storm. This was, if I remember correctly, about ten o'clock on Saturday night.
"Father went out into the darkness to listen. A short time after a body of Confederate cavalry came down the road from Greenwood. They halted in front of my father's house and called him out. The night was very dark, and they asked to be directed to Greencastle. They seemed to be lost or bewildered. . .
"About midnight the first of the train of wounded reached our place. The wagons kept the main road as much as possible, and on either side of the train a continual stream of wounded soldiers kept moving. Thus they continued coming and going the remainder of Saturday night, all day Sunday, and the last wagon passed by New Franklin Monday morning at nine o'clock. . .
"Wounded Confederate soldiers were left all along the route of retreat. Many died and were buried by the roadside. I shall never forget those ghastly wounds, those thousands of faces dusky with powder, and that battery of black and horrid fieldpieces, which had sent, as could be seen, many charges of grape and canister into the bosoms of our brave men . . ."

The Casualties at Gettysburg

Excerpted from
Many different estimates exist on the number of casualties inflicted during the battle of Gettysburg, but one common estimate is as follows:
 KilledWoundedMissingTotal% of Total
* Total Confederate casualties have been estimated to be as great as 28,000. It is usually agreed that total Confederate casualties numbered at least 1/3 of Lee's army.

** Casualties generally included anyone who deserted, was captured, missing, wounded, or killed. In essence
, if a soldier was not present during muster, he could likely be counted as a casualty.

The following casualties are based on official losses (Union) and official and estimated losses (Confederate) for the 3-day battle:
Union Casualties by Corps
I Corps   II Corps III Corps V Corps VI Corps
6,060 4,370 4,210 2,190 240
XI Corps XII Corps Cavalry Corps Artillery Corps
3,800 1,080 850 240

Confederate Casualties by Corps
I Corps II Corps III CorpsCavalry Division  
7,575 5,935 6,935

Civil War Dead: The Gettysburg Casualties

One must look hard at Civil War casualties to get the full realization of the devastating loss of human life over the course of the 4-year conflict. There were over 1,000,000. casualties (dead, wounded, missing) on both sides and this represented 8% of the population at the time.
Of the 620,000 men who perished in the war, more than two-thirds were by disease. The number of Civil War dead amounted to more American deaths than in all other American conflicts combined. Roughly 8% of the white population aged 13-43 died in the war.
The Gettysburg casualties were nothing short of catastrophic and it survives to this day as the bloodiest engagement ever fought by Americans.
51,000 would be dead, wounded or missing at the end of the 3-day battle and the devastation left behind in the small Pennsylvania town was almost too much to bear for the local population.
Thousands of men and horse carcasses lay roasting in the summer heat and the grisly job of burying the dead fell upon civilians and contractors hired for the grim task.
The Civil War casualties were devastating beyond comprehension and it would take many years for the country to recover from the loss of so many young lives.

Aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg

From Gettysburg Foundation
Throughout July 2 and July 3, the Confederate army occupied buildings in the town. During the battle, virtually every building in downtown Gettysburg became field hospitals, as doctors and surgeons struggled to treat thousands of Union and Confederate wounded at Gettysburg
While the Battle of Gettysburg lasted three days, a second battle at Gettysburg began on July 4, 1863. The conflict that followed was the dilemma of what to do with the scores of dead soldiers and horses that littered the battlefield. Roughly 21,000 men from the two armies lay wounded at Gettysburg. The responsibility of caring for the wounded from both armies rested in the hands of a few Army surgeons, aides and the residents of Gettysburg and Adams County. Volunteers began arriving soon after the fighting ended. Four months later, efforts to help the wounded at Gettysburg were still in progress. One field hospital, located at the George Spangler farm, treated more than 1,400 wounded soldiers on both sides until mid-August 1863.

Burying the Dead at Gettysburg

From Gettysburg Foundation
Roughly 7,000 men died on the battlefield at Gettysburg in three days of fighting — almost three times the population of the town (2,400). Bodies lay over 25 square miles of ground. The townspeople of Gettysburg had never seen death on that scale. The overwhelming task of burying the dead began. At first, soldiers were buried on the battlefield, but these gravesites were only temporary.
Thousands of families traveled to Gettysburg, searching the temporary graves, to claim the bodies of their loved ones. The citizens of Gettysburg wanted a proper resting place for fallen Union soldiers and with the establishment of Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Union dead were removed from the battlefield to permanent graves in that cemetery. Thousands of Confederate dead, however, lay in shallow graves for nearly a decade before their remains were eventually returned to the South.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Feigned Diseases

By J. Theodore Calhoun, Assistant Surgeon in the United States Army, And Surgeon in Chief, 2d Division, 3d Army Corps

It may seem strange that in an army of volunteers - an army from the people and of the people - men should go to such extremities and use such means and be so persistent in their efforts at deception, and it is strange, yet not difficult to be accounted for.

There is generally in every regiment some old soldier who knows the tricks, and perhaps teaches them to his comrades more for the fun of the thing or to show that he is "posted," than any thing else, and once started in a regiment it is sure to spread. All medical men know how a case of chorea placed in a ward of a hospital be soon be followed by other cases, and so it is with the feigned diseases of an army; men seem to flood the bad example set them from a pure spirit of imitation. But in the vast majority of cases there is besides incentives to feign diseases, the desire to escape duty, or punishment, or the anxiety to keep out of fight for instance, or to procure a discharge.

A very common deception is the production of simulated fever. A species of wild onion that grows abundantly in Virginia is used for that purpose. The bulb is peeled and introduced into the rectum. In about an hour a flushed face and accelerated pulse is said to be produced, which can easily be mistaken for febrile symptoms.

A brown furred tongue, quite commonly produced for deceptive purposes, is said to be the result of gunpowder chewed for awhile, followed by vinegar held in the mouth for some minutes.

The swallowing of a small piece of tobacco is frequently resorted to for the production of the nauseating and prostrating effects which are well known to follow.

Excerpted from The Medical and Surgical Reporter, August 22, 1863.

IMAGE: Wild Onion

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Supply Situation at Gettysburg Improves

By Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein
Many Gettysburg civilians did what they could to nurse and feed the patients, but their own supplies were low because of Confederate raiding a few days before the battle.
With the reopening of the railroad on July 6, the supply situation improved dramatically. Trains also took those patients able to be moved to Baltimore for transfer to other hospitals.
As the crisis passed, the medical department established a consolidated hospital on the George Wolf farm about one and a half miles east of Gettysburg. Camp Letterman, as it was called, had at least 400 hospital tents arranged in neat rows, each tent housing eight to ten patients. The camp was located by the railroad for ease of transferring supplies and patients. The hospital opened on July 22, but transporting the wounded to the hospital took about two weeks. By October 18, only 326 patients remained at Camp Letterman, and the camp closed entirely on November 20, 1863.
Excerpted from: "The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine"
IMAGE: Dr. Martyn Fonds attending surgery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania., during the Civil War

Gettysburg: The Army of the Potomac's Medical Staff Arrives

By Alfred Jay Bollet, M.D.
Most of the medical personnel, as well as a large part of the army, arrived after the fighting had already started, thus they had no time to make preparations.
The flood of wounded started while the meager supplies were still being unpacked. No tents were available for field hospitals, so both sides commandeered homes, churches, barns, the railroad station, and even covered bridges for this purpose. Each evening after the fighting subsided, stretcher bearers and ambulances collected the wounded; each morning, before the fighting began at dawn, all the wounded (both Union and Confederate) within Union lines were receiving care. This was an unprecedented achievement, and it was accomplished during the largest battle that has ever been fought on American soil.
Excerpted from: Civil War Medicine: Challenges and Triumphs

The Wounded Left at Gettysburg

By Alfred Jay Bollet, M.D.
[Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, Major Jonathan] Letterman calculated that 14,193 wounded were collected and cared for during the battle. In addition, he reported that 6,802 Confederates "fell into our hands" after the battle. These men were among the most seriously wounded, and had been left behind, too ill to be transported, when the Confederate army retreated across the Potomac. Many Confederate surgeons stayed behind to help care for them.
With nearly 21,000 wounded soldiers to treat, the surgeons working in Union medical facilities at Gettysburg labored day and night, completely overwhelmed. "I worked until three o'clock in the morning," wrote Surgeon Peltier of the 126th New York (3rd Division), "then slept about an hour on the ground among the wounded."
Excerpted from: Civil War Medicine: Challenges and Triumphs
IMAGE: Louisiana State Monument, Gettysburg


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