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.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

“Bitten” Bullets


A common myth from the Civil War is that bullets were used for patients to bite during surgery. On the contrary, both chloroform and ether were available for administration before surgery. These bullets clearly show indications of teeth marks; however, the marks were made by hogs foraging for food on a field after a battle.

The location where they were recovered is unknown.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 31207

Amputation Kit


During major engagements in the Civil War the flood of wounded became overwhelming. Surgeons could afford to spend only a few minutes with each of the wounded, and the Minie bullet caused a terrific amount of damage to bones. As a result, amputation became the treatment of choice for gunshot wounds to arms and legs.

Due to the large number of wounded, surgeons became proficient at performing amputations; in many cases an amputation could be performed in ten minutes. The number of wounded needing attention and the lack of water in many cases meant there was no attempt to wash hands or instruments between procedures. The lack of hygiene, antibiotics and sterile procedures created a large chance of infection; however, it has been estimated that as many as 75% of the amputees survived.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30620

Bleeding & Blistering Cups


Examples of a metal bleeding cup used to withdraw blood from patients for various ailments and a glass cupping device used to raise a blister on the skin to lance for bleeding. A small incision was made in the patient and a piece of lint placed in the cup and ignited; the open end of the cup was placed over the incision or wound creating a vacuum which drew the desired amount of blood out. Bleeding was an ancient method of treating patients that was still in use during the Civil War, but the practice became increasingly unpopular as the war progressed.

Images Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30588 & 30589

Dental Tools


The tooth key was first mentioned in literature in 1742; the first examples were made of iron with a handle shaped like a turnkey. As improvements were made over the years the handle was made of horn, ivory and different types of wood. They were also made in different sizes, with the smaller sizes and shapes being made for children. In the second half of the Eighteenth century the tooth key became the most popular instrument for tooth extractions.

Leading up to the Civil War, tooth care was generally poor, dentists few and dental care expensive. Despite poor dental care, a soldier’s teeth were important on the battlefield. Many recruits were turned down if they lacked opposing upper and lower teeth, considered necessary to bite the end off paper cartridges used with muzzle-loading muskets.

The Confederate army had a dental program and conscripted dentists into the army, usually at the rank of hospital steward, although some held the rank of surgeon. The Union army rejected the idea of a dental corps.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30592

Ether Bottle


This bottle contained ether, which was used as an anesthetic during surgery. Ether was one of two anesthetics used during the Civil War; the other was chloroform, which was preferred by the majority of field surgeons, since ether was highly flammable and could not be used around open flames. A mixture of ether/chloroform was also used.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30448

'Unsung Heroines' Offered Care, Compassion after Battle of Antietam

By Janet Heim, September 12, 2012

SHARPSBURG — While Clara Barton’s care of the wounded and dying during the Civil War is the stuff of legend, it took the hands of just about every area woman and girl over the age of 13 to tend to the thousands of patients from the Sept. 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam, according to Susan Rosenvold, superintendent of Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office.

The efforts, from the Hagerstown-based Ladies Aid Society to local families whose homes were forcibly converted to hospitals, helped save lives and offered compassion and care both to those who would live and to the dying, Rosenvold said. The Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office is a satellite of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md.

The North’s two predominant civilian aid organizations, the U.S. Sanitary Commission and the U.S. Christian Commission, headquartered at the Susan Hoffman farm, were vital in obtaining and distributing supplies after the Battle of Antietam, according to

In military hospitals, nurses’ duties were mainly domestic in nature. They distributed linens, clothing and other supplies, and helped prepare and serve meals, based on doctors’ dietary recommendations.

They also provided emotional support by talking to, reading to and writing for injured soldiers. Rarely would they assist in surgeries.

Those who helped, by choice or not, put themselves at risk of death by disease or weapons. Typhoid fever, smallpox, measles, mumps and dysentery were rampant, because of unhygienic conditions.

“Two-thirds of those who died during the Civil War died of camp disease, not battle wounds,” Rosenvold said.

Although there are no concrete figures, some historians estimate that as many as 10,000 women, many of them volunteers, nursed the fallen during the Civil War.

While other women volunteers did not receive the media attention and accolades Barton did, not all their efforts went unmentioned.

According to, the Baltimore American praised Mrs. Susan Harry and the Hagerstown-based Ladies Aid Society as they repeatedly “assembled at different houses, sewed bandages, scraped lint and made up such things as would relieve the sufferers, and from sun-up to sun-down. You could find them in every nook of the town, and through the country, searching for, begging and buying such articles as the sufferers might ask for or want. At morning, noon, and evening, you would see these ladies, accompanied by their husbands, children and servants, with baskets, buckets, pitchers and plates in their hands winding their way to the hospitals.”

Some who were mentioned
Other care providers at Antietam included Lizzie Brown; Mrs. C. Evans; Mrs. Holihan; Mrs. Cadwalader; A. Anna Edmunds; Helen Gilson and Mrs. Gray, both at the Hoffman farm; Mrs. Mary Lee, who worked at several locations; and Ophelia Gehrt, who worked at a field hospital for the 33rd New York Volunteers on the Susan Hoffman farm.

At the Smoketown Hospital, Maria Hall, Mrs. Francis Barlow, Mrs. Mary Morris Husbands, Mrs. John Harris, Mrs. Howard Kennedy and Miss Tyson complemented the staff of surgeon Bernard Vanderkrieft, according to

Rosenvold said Mrs. Elizabeth Pry cared for at least two officers as patients in her home and cooked for many. Only high-level officers, such as Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker and Maj. Gen. Israel Richardson, and their staffs were treated in the house.

The Pry barn served as a larger field hospital for enlisted men and served more than 400, primarily Richardson’s troops.

Elizabeth and Philip Pry had six children at the time of the battle. Richardson died in their house, in what Rosenvold believes was the children’s room, which covered the length of the upstairs portion of the house. It was used as a storeroom afterward, because the children refused to go into that room after his death.

Food and bandages
Rosenvold said there were many civilians in the area, and some found “you were pressed into service and expected to help.”

Others chose to help.

Kathleen A. Ernst’s book “Too Afraid to Cry — Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign” recounts how on the day after the battle, Union soldiers tending the wounded and burying the dead were astonished by how quickly visitors arrived on the field for sightseeing and relic-hunting.

“But many of the newcomers were volunteers, wanting to provide aid,” Ernst wrote. “In Hagerstown, members of the Ladies’ Union Relief Association collected supplies, ripped heirloom linen tablecloths into bandages, and sent well-laden nurses to Sharpsburg. Miss Mollie Magill, daughter of a Hagerstown physician, provided such tender care in Sharpsburg hospitals that the men called her “the Angel of the Confederacy.”

In Funkstown, Angela Davis and her husband organized a bipartisan relief effort, letting neighbors know they would transport to the field anything brought to their home by 9 a.m.

“So we sat up most of the night, killing and cooking chickens,” Angela wrote, “and the next morning our dining room, kitchen, and wash house were all filled with jars or crocks of mashed potatoes, fried ham, chicken and beef sandwiches, and in fact everything that was available in a small country town.”

Local historian John Schildt of Sharpsburg said in a phone interview that several diaries of Massachusetts soldiers referred to the fresh garden produce, including tomatoes, brought by a Mrs. Lee, a frequent visitor to the Hoffman Farm on Keedysville-Hagerstown Road.

Jacob Lair of the 20th New York lost an arm during the battle and was taken to the Hoffman farm. For the next several weeks, he lay among the wounded and dying in their barn, his days brightened only by “the good ladies of the Hoffman family, bringing fruits, cake, pies, etc. to the wounded,” based on an account in “Too Afraid to Cry.”

The largest field hospital was at Smoketown, a tiny settlement consisting of “three small houses and a pig pen” north of Sharpsburg. There, more than 600 men were cared for in tents, Ernst’s book relates. Mrs. Kennedy of Hagerstown was among the women who organized relief efforts for the Smoketown hospital, which was about two miles north-northeast of Dunker Church.

In addition to the regular nurses, there were three women identified at Smoketown Hospital for their “self-sacrificing benevolence” — Mrs. Husbands, Mrs. Lee and Miss Hall.

The Smoketown hospital, which had patients until May 1863, was the last Antietam hospital to close, Rosenvold said.

“Many women on the farms were the unsung heroines,” Schildt said.

They included some who provided care at the German Reformed Church in Sharpsburg, now the United Church of Christ, which served as a hospital for the 16th Connecticut regiment.

Schildt recalled a story of how Elizabeth Pry was to have prepared breakfast for President Lincoln on Oct. 4, 1862, before he took the train back to Washington, D.C. He had been visiting Gen. Israel B. Richardson, who was still a patient at the Pry hospital and died in November 1862.

Mrs. Pry received a thank-you note from President Lincoln, which was packed among the family’s possessions as they moved their belongings to Tennessee, their Sharpsburg farm so devastated by the Battle of Antietam that they decided to start over.

Pry family tradition has it that there was a wagon accident and the trunk containing their important documents, including the letter, fell out and the wind carried away some of the papers.

Families arrive
Ernst recounts in her book how Capt. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. of the 20th Massachusetts had been shot in the neck and left for dead among the corpses in the West Woods. A friend found him, bandaged the wound and sent a telegram to Holmes’ father in Boston.

Holmes was tended in a little white-washed log cabin in Keedysville by Margaret Kitzmiller and her daughters before being sent on to Hagerstown. Anna Kennedy saw him stumbling toward the train station, sent one of her sons to bring the captain inside and nursed him there for several weeks.

As time went on after the battle, concerned family members began streaming in to the area. Ernst wrote that “countless Sharpsburg women opened their homes to the desperate people searching for their loved ones — feeding them, taking them to hospitals, comforting them in their grief, making arrangements for coffins and transport. Their own losses — of crops and horses and clothes and potatoes — sometimes dulled in comparison.”

The nights grew colder as autumn set in, with disease swelling the number of patients needing care. At one farm north of Sharpsburg, 60 sick and wounded soldiers tried to stay warm in the barn.

According to Ernst’s book, when the farm wife became ill, it became the young daughter’s responsibility to feed the surgeons staying there and to tend to other domestic needs. The girl’s father, who had some medical training, administered quinine and whiskey to the patients.

When he, too, got sick, the daughter took up that duty, eventually contracting typhoid fever herself.


Image: In this enlargement of a photo taken at Smoketown Hospital, nurse Maria Hall tends to Union wounded from the Battle of Antietam

Field Medicine Case


This leather field medicine kit with compartments contained glass bottles for various medicines. The leather field kit was designed to carry smaller bottles of medicine into the field, making it easier for surgeons to move and have medicines readily available.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30634

A Dose of History

By Julie E. Greene, June 09, 2005

The mahogany case has a red velvet lining.

The instrument handles are ebony and one has a split handle with a fishtail design. The kit maker's mark is etched in the metal.

Pretty attractive tools for such a gruesome job - the amputation of Union soldiers' limbs during the Civil War.

"One of the marks of a true craftsman, in the sense of European craftsmen, is not only how useful the tool, ... but to a certain sense the aesthetic of the tool. (It) showed skill and precision with which the tool was made," said George C. Wunderlich, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md.

"We don't need the beauty of them anymore, but still today we have that idea of quality being the presentation that we're given," Wunderlich said. Today's doctors' offices are nicely decorated with art and beautiful carpet and chairs, presenting to patients the idea that this is an accomplished doctor, he said.

The amputation kit, on loan from Dr. John H. Carrill of Hagerstown, is one of many pieces on exhibit at The Miller House in downtown Hagerstown as part of "Doctors, Drugs and Disease: A History of Medicine in Washington County."

The museum was at 135 W. Washington St. The exhibit opened Saturday, June 11, and ran through Saturday, Oct. 1.

The exhibit tells the history of Washington County medicine through objects and photos, Miller House Curator Jennifer L. Dintaman said.

Many of the items have not been on public display before, she said. In addition to items Dintaman found in Miller House's attic, there are things on loan from Washington County Hospital, the Washington County chapter of the American Red Cross and private collectors like Dr. George Manger Jr.

"I have to say for a local exhibit like this, they really had quite a diverse collection of some really cool items," Wunderlich said.

Among those were the amputation kit, which is missing its identifying plaque, although Carrill remembers it as being a Union kit from a letter he obtained with the kit.

Another of those "cool" items are the doctor's saddlebags that belonged to Dr. Victor D. Miller Jr., who practiced medicine from 1900 to 1955, Dintaman said. The Miller House used to be Miller's home and office. He also rented space in an addition for doctors' offices, Dintaman said.

The leather saddlebags, which show some wear, probably date to the late 1800s, she said. Dintaman doubts Miller used them.

The German silver hinge on the two-tiered bags is rare, she said. The bags hold medicine bottles plugged with corks; a few contain medicine from the last time the bags were used.

Several of the medical kits on display hold containers and medicine from the time period in which they were used.

This includes a civilian physician's buggy chest from the mid-19th century with some unopened bottles whose tops are covered with onion skin wrappers, Dintaman said.

This item also is part of The Miller House's collection and once belonged to Dr. Herbert Lee Kneisley, Dintaman said. Kneisley had a pharmacy at Washington Square, where Canine Cuttery sits today.

A receipt from the pharmacy, dated from April 17, 1920, to 1922, shows what appears to be a running tab kept for customer Rena Bester.

Purchases included cotton for 10 cents, three tubes of bromide tablets for $2.50, Johnson Baby P. for 25 cents, Easter eggs for $2.30 and Coca-Cola for 10 cents.

At the bottom is a note reading, "You have overbilled your account 35 which amount I have credited you with."

Other medical kits include an English-made one from the mid-19th century on loan from Manger.

The wooden, cabinet-style kit has a door on the back that can be slid open after pulling a brass lever in the front.

A pill kit containing medications used in the 1920s and early 1930s belonged to the late Dr. Edward W. Ditto Jr.

Among the colorful collection are pink powder alkamints, tiny white phenobarbital pills and shiny, red, ammonium chloride pills.

Dr. Edward W. Ditto III said his father practiced medicine from around 1921 to the 1970s, changing his methods as the medical field developed.

When his father started practicing medicine, he would test for diabetes by dipping his finger in a urine specimen and putting it on his tongue, Ditto said.

"If sweet, that meant sugar and they were diabetic," Ditto said.

The exhibit also features older uniforms of American Red Cross workers, pictures, letters and a timeline showing the history of disease in the county, including the cholera epidemic in the 1830s and the smallpox epidemic in the 1860s, Dintaman said.

Carrill also loaned the museum two Union medical staff dress swords.

One of the more unsightly displays shows pictures of people with skin diseases, including a woman dressed in a high lace collar and jewelry, but whose face is marred by syphilis ulcero serpiginosa.

Near the amputation kit a small item that was used in the early half of the 19th century to cure whatever ailed people, Dintaman said.

The metal object, a scarificator, was used for bloodletting.

With the metal cube against the skin, a trigger was pressed that released 10 tiny razor blades into the skin, Dintaman said.

The exhibit is a fairly unique collection of items that gives insight into the development of medicine in Washington County, Dintaman said.

"I think it's well worth people's time to take a look at," Wunderlich said.




These are examples of lancets and scarificator used to puncture veins to promote bleeding; once the desired amount of blood was drawn, the incision was closed with a suture of wire or silk.

Images Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30572, 30575, & 30601

Civil War's Carnage Led to Medical Advances

By Dan Dearth, April 09, 2011

The carnage that was caused by weapons introduced during the American Civil War forced doctors to make advances in medicine that might have taken another 25 years to develop had the conflict not been fought.

"In many ways, the battlefield was the birthplace of modern emergency medicine," said George Wunderlich, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., who also oversees the Pry House Field Hospital Museum on Antietam National Battlefield.

The 600,000 deaths attributed to the Civil War likely would have paled in comparison to the millions of people who would have died had doctors not been given the opportunity to hone their skills on diseased and wounded soldiers.

"Medicine might have waited another 25 years to catch up had it not been for the Civil War," Wunderlich said. "Large numbers of men fighting with these improved weapons caused the medical department to find new ways."

The advances in weaponry, such as grooved barrels that allowed cannons and rifles to fire farther and with more precision than their smooth-bore predecessors, permitted soldiers to hit their targets with greater effectiveness, Wunderlich said.

"Anything upward of 125 yards, a rifle was much more accurate than a smooth bore," he said.

The Minie ball, the state-of-the-art bullet of its day, was smaller than the circumference of the rifle barrel and made loading faster. When fired, the Minie ball expanded and engaged the grooving on the inside of the barrel, which made the projectile spin for greater accuracy and distance.

Sniper rifles with scopes made killing with small arms even more effective.

"You're seeing incredible shots being made during the Civil War," Wunderlich said. "Those things could reach out and touch you from 700 to 800 to 900 meters ... Entire regiments of sharpshooters were formed."

The bullets, which typically ranged in size from .54- to .58-caliber during the Civil War, were much smaller than the .69- to .75-caliber musket balls that were used in the Revolutionary War, Wunderlich said. A smaller bullet that didn't hit a vital organ or artery was more likely to wound than to kill, and that resulted in more patients for doctors to work on and enhance their skills.

The side with the most modern artillery also had the advantage, Wunderlich said. A good example was the Battle of Antietam, in which union guns firing from the area of the Pry House on the south end of the battlefield took a toll on Confederate guns that were deployed near the site of the current Visitors Center

He said the Confederate cannons had a shorter range, and as a result, many shells fell short of their targets, while the rifled Union guns fired with deadly accuracy. After the battle, Wunderlich said, dozens of Confederate shells were found at the bottom of a ledge in front of the house.

"(Union soldiers) fired at will without danger to themselves — at least in that case," Wunderlich said.

About 23,110 casualties were recorded at the Battle of Antietam, where, for the first time, Dr. Jonathan Letterman was able to enact his system of emergency medicine that is still used on the battlefield and in the civilian world today.

Saving lives
Letterman, a surgeon in the Union army, invented a system to rapidly remove wounded soldiers from the battlefield. The first step was to take the soldier to an aid station about 75 yards from the fighting. The aid stations were staffed by surgeons who stabilized the patients. A horse-drawn ambulance then took the soldier to a field hospital, where he received more advanced care before he was taken to a hospital away from the fighting.

"It saved a boatload of lives," Wunderlich said. "We still use these principles today ... They brought the ambulance system and the emergency room system back to civilian life. They were the ones who pushed technology in the civilian world."

Wunderlich said the wounds that soldiers suffered during the Civil War spurred doctors to specialize in areas of medicine such as plastic surgery, orthopedics, neurology and the treatment of gunshot wounds.

Doctors found cures for infections as well, even though they didn't understand germs. Wunderlich said experiments with bromine and iodine to treat gangrene, for example, led from an abysmal cure rate before the war began in 1861 to a 96 percent cure rate by the time the war ended in 1865.

"They were shooting in the dark with a lot of it," he said.

Medical professionals discovered that cleanliness also produced positive results.

"They learned that people lived longer in clean hospitals and clean camps," Wunderlich said. "Hospitals became immaculately clean. They didn't know why, but when they did, people lived longer."

William Hammond, the U.S. surgeon general at the beginning of the war, ordered doctors to perform case studies to describe how wounds and diseases were treated in an effort to identify ways to save lives. In addition to recording the types of medicines and procedures that were used, doctors recorded such things as the soldier's race. The case studies that were found to be effective were compiled and published in "The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865," a six volume reference with thousands of pages.

"It was a treasure trove," Wunderlich said. "It documented diseases and wounds. It became a real textbook for future generations of military surgeons."

In a way, the Civil War was to medicine what Elvis Presley was to rock 'n' roll.

"He didn't invent it," Wunderlich said. "But he changed it a little and went wild."


Image: Illustration of a Gatling gun. (Illustrated London News/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Irrigation Syringe


This metal irrigation syringe was used to cleanse penetrating wounds and aspirate wounds. Irrigation syringes were also made of blown glass and hard rubber; blown glass syringes were not practical for battlefield use as they could break.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30581

Dr. Caleb Winfrey


Dr. Caleb Winfrey graduated from the Medical Department of St. Louis University in 1847 and settled in Lone Jack, Missouri, where he set up his medical practice. In 1861 he enlisted as a surgeon in the Missouri State Guard, and accompanied Colonel Gideon Thompson to Cowskin Prairie. He was present at the battles of Wilson’s Creek and Lexington. Returning to Lone Jack in 1862, he helped organize a Confederate company and commanded it at the Battle of Lone Jack, quite literally fighting in his own backyard.

After Lone Jack he was the senior surgeon for Joseph Shelby’s Brigade, and was present at the battles of Cane Hill, Prairie Grove, Newtonia and Springfield.

In the autumn of 1864 he accompanied General Sterling Price on his Missouri raid. At the Battle of Westport, Dr. Winfrey, at the request of Price, remained behind to care for the wounded and dying.

After the war Dr. Winfrey returned to a private medical practice at Pleasant Hill, Missouri.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 31591

Ferdinand Brother Frock Coat


This surgeon’s frock coat was worn by Lieutenant Ferdinand Brother, 8th Missouri State Militia Cavalry, and is complete with belt, buckle, shoulder straps and sash. The green sash indicates that the wearer was an officer in the medical department. A red sash was worn by company and field grade officers of the Union infantry, cavalry and artillery branches, and a buff sash designated general officers.

Brother, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1833, graduated from McDowell Medical College in St. Louis in 1862. He was mustered into the regiment as an assistant surgeon in May 1862. He was the post surgeon at Lebanon, Missouri, for a time in 1863, and was mustered out in May 1865. After the war, he moved to Beatrice, Nebraska and continued to practice medicine. He was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, and died on December 7, 1920 in Beatrice.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30624

Women's Changing Roles During the Civil War

By Kate Coleman, September 16, 2002

There were 23,110 casualties at the battle of Antietam.

The Civil War - skirmishes, battles and disease - took the lives of more than 610,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.

Beyond the mind-numbing numbers are the personal stories of families and communities affected by the fighting. What effect did the war have on women - the wives, the mothers, the sisters, the friends of those soldiers?

The war's impact on some women of the period is well-known.

Clara Barton was called the "angel of the battlefield" by a surgeon at Antietam.

The Massachusetts native had become a teacher at the age of 18, in an era when most teachers were male. In 1852, she established the first free public school in New Jersey and moved to Washington, D.C., in 1854. She was one of very few women who worked for the federal government, earning $1,400 a year as a clerk - the same salary as the men in her office. Because the Secretary of the Interior was opposed to women working in government offices, her job was reduced to copyist; her pay to 10 cents per 100 words copied, according to information on the Clara Barton National Historic Site Web site at Clara Barton National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service)


Medical Hat and Shoulder Straps


This medical hat and shoulder straps are identified as belonging to Lieutenant Henry Augustus Dubois. The hat is a forage cap with a “McDowell” brim; the inside of the shoulder straps are green, denoting the medical department, and trimmed in gold piping with gold lieutenant’s bars and “M S” in the center.

Officers assigned to the medical service often wore green shoulder straps and sashes, while enlisted men wore green chevrons to denote the medical service.

Henry Augustus Dubois served with the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War, but was transferred to the District of New Mexico, Department of the Missouri in May 1866 and served at Forts Union and Sumner, New Mexico. He resigned from the army in 1868 and died in 1897 in San Rafael, Colorado.

Images Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30615 & 30616

Medical Saddle Bags


Medical saddle bags were carried by surgeons in the field to hold a variety of medicines for the treatment of the sick and wounded. The saddle bags were made of leather and designed to carry smaller quantities than apothecary chests, making it easier for the surgeons to move about.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30614

Learn more about Civil War medical instruments and supplies at

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Pocket Surgical Kit


This is an example of a double-fold, leather-wrapped pocket surgical kit carried by surgeons during the Civil War. Generally, each surgeon’s kit contained items the individual surgeon found most useful based on his experience in the field.

A standard issue kit usually contained 1 scalpel, 3 bistouries (long narrow knives for minor incisions), 1 tenotome, 1 gum lancet, 2 thumb lancets, 1 razor (small), 1 artery forceps, 1 dressing catheter, 6 yards of suture wire, ¼ ounce of ligature silk, ½ ounce of wax, and small scissors.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30446



Wooden leg splints like this one were used to set fractured legs; carved out of wood, the splint contained padding and an opening to protect the knee and knee cap to make the leg more stable. A variety of splints were also designed for use on arms.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30576

Surgeon Bowie Knife


This Bowie knife with ivory handle and handmade leather scabbard belonged to Surgeon F. G. Porter.

The typical Bowie knife was 9-10 inches long, made from high carbon steel and extremely flexible, strong and razor sharp, the result of a tempering process developed by New Orleans blacksmiths in the early 1800s.

Dr. Frank Gibson Porter of St. Louis was born in New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1829. He graduated from the Cleveland (OH) Medical College (Hudson University) in 1851, and moved to St. Louis in 1854. When the Civil War began, Porter served as a volunteer surgeon, then was in charge of the U.S. Marine Hospital in St. Louis. In April 1862 he was commissioned a brigade surgeon in the Missouri State Militia, and that summer became medical director of the South West Division of Missouri. As medical director, Second Division, Army of the Frontier, Porter took part in the battles of Prairie Grove and Hartville. He also served as medical director of the St. Louis District and District of North Missouri. In October 1864 Porter was captured during the Battle of Glasgow, Missouri, but was paroled by the Confederates. He was discharged at Fort Leavenworth with the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel in November 1865.

Following the war, Porter became a pension examiner and medical examiner for the Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Traveler’s Life and Accident Insurance Company. He died in 1879.

The Bowie knife could be used as a surgical instrument, although it is unlikely that Dr. Porter was called upon to use his Bowie either in his treatment of the sick and wounded or as a weapon for personal defense.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30632

Surgeon's Chest


This wooden surgeon’s chest, complete with lock, was used to transport supplies, including medicines and surgical instruments. This chest contained a removable tray with several compartments for smaller items.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30610


By Dr. Michael Echols

Trepanning is the medical process of drilling or cutting a hole into the skull in order to relieve pressure on the brain tissue, lift a compression fracture of the skull, or remove a blood clot on the brain.  If a person had a concussion with depression of the skull bone, that depressed area would need to be lifted or removed and then the clot under the concussion removed to alleviate trauma induced symptoms.

The process is documented to have been performed as far back as 4000 years ago by the Inca Indians of Peru.  If you would like more information on this procedure and the history, please do a search for the words: trephine, Inca, neurosurgery, trepanning, trepan on

Trepanning (pronounced: tree-panning), as was frequently practiced in America during the 1800's, was performed with an instrument called a trephine (pronounced: tray-feene or tree-fine) which actually is a saw that cuts a circular hole in the scull.

The scalp over the skull is first incised with a scalpel, a flap laid back, and the hole bored or saw cut by a twisting motion of the trephine.  In some types of trephines, there is a center drill which holds and guides the outer cutting edge of the saw.  There are two main types of trephine saws, the earlier crown type and the later Galt type.

Image: Drawings from Bourgery & Jacob


Civil War Ambulance


A recent exhibit addition at Fort Scott National Historic Site is truly one of a kind and will enhance visitor understanding of Fort Scott's role in the Civil War. In April 2012, the Fort received a hand crafted reproduction ambulance wagon which historically was used to transport wounded soldiers to hospitals. The ambulance, designed by Charles Tripler, who became the first medical director for the Army of the Potomac, accommodates four patients on stretchers and up to six seated in front and back. On exhibit alongside a reproduction freight wagon in one of FOSC's stone carriage houses, an informational sign will provide visitors insight on Civil War transportation.

During the Civil War, the town of Fort Scott housed one of five US Army General Hospitals west of the Mississippi River. Contemporary local newspapers referenced the sick and wounded being conveyed to the Fort Scott military hospital by ambulance wagon. Since there was not a standardized Civil War era US Army ambulance wagon design, park staff chose the Tripler Wagon. The Tripler, a type used at Fort Leavenworth as early as 1859, was very likely the typical ambulance variant used at Fort Scott during the war.

Werner Wagonworks of Horton, Kansas, was awarded the contract to construct the ambulance. A nationwide search failed to locate an existing original or reproduction Tripler, or even measured drawings, to guide construction. Hence, the contractor relied on limited photographic evidence, written references, and his decades of experience building other period wagons in order to craft the ambulance. Fort Scott National Historic Site therefore has the honor of providing the visiting public with the nation's only example of a Tripler ambulance. It will offer a unique interpretive display that coincides with the Civil War sesquicentennial.

Image: Civil War Ambulance at Fort Scott NHS, NPS Photo

The Army of the Potomac's Ambulance Corp Organization Order of 1862

General Orders 147 - Organization of the Ambulance Corps

Camp near Harrison's Landing, Va., August 2,1862.

The following regulations for the organization of the ambulance corps and the management of ambulance trains are published for the information and government of all concerned. Commanders of army corps will see that they are carried into effect without delay:

1. The ambulance corps will be organized on the basis of a captain to each army corps as the commandant of the ambulance corps, a first lieutenant for a division, second lieutenant for a brigade, and a sergeant for each regiment.

2. The allowance of ambulances and transport carts will be 1 transport cart, 1 four-horse and 2 two-horse ambulances for a regiment; 1 two-horse ambulance for each battery of artillery, and 2 two-horse ambulances for the headquarters of each army corps. Each ambulance will be provided with two stretchers.

3. The privates of the ambulance corps will consist of two men and a driver to each ambulance and one driver to each transport cart.

4. The captain is the commander of all the ambulances and transport carts in the army corps, under the direction of the medical director. He will pay special attention to the condition of the ambulances, horses, harness, &c., requiring daily inspections to be made by the commanders of division ambulances, and reports thereof to be made to him by these officers. He will make a personal inspection once a week of all the ambulances, transport carts, horses, harness, &c., whether they have been used for any other purpose than the transportation of the sick and wounded and medical supplies; reports of which will be transmitted through the medical director of the army corps to the medical director of the army every Sunday morning. He will institute a drill in his corps, instructing his men in the most easy and expeditious method of putting men in and taking them out of the ambulance, taking men from the ground and placing and carrying them on stretchers, observing that the front man steps off with the left, foot and the rear man with the right, &c. He will be especially careful that the ambulance and transport carts are at all times in order, provided with attendants, drivers, horses, &c., and the kegs rinsed and filled daily with fresh water, that he may be able to move at any moment. Previous to and in time of action he will receive from the medical director of the army corps his orders for the distribution of the ambulances and the points to which he will carry the wounded, using the light two-horse ambulances for bringing men from the field and the four-horse ones for carrying those already attended to farther to the rear, if the medical director considers it necessary. He will give his personal attention to the removal of the sick and wounded from the field and to and from the hospitals, going from point to point to ascertain what may be wanted, and to see that his subordinates (for whose conduct he will be responsible) at tend to their duties in taking care of the wounded, treating them with gentleness and care, and removing them as quickly as possible to the places pointed out, and that the ambulances reach their destination. He will make a full and detailed report after every action and march of the operations of the ambulance corps.

5. The first lieutenant assigned to the ambulance corps of a division will have complete control, under the commander of the whole corps and the medical director, of all the ambulances, transport carts, ambulance horses, &c., in the division. He will be the acting assistant quartermaster for the division ambulance corps, and will receipt and be responsible for the property belonging to it, and be held responsible for any deficiency in ambulances, transport carts, horses, harness, &c., pertaining to the ambulance corps of the division. He will have a traveling cavalry forge, a blacksmith, and a saddler, who will be under his orders, to enable him to keep his train in order. He will receive a daily inspection report of all the ambulances, horses, &c., under his charge from the officers in charge of brigade ambulance corps, will see that the subordinates attend strictly to their duties at all times, and will inspect the corps under his charge once a week; a report of which inspection he will transmit to the commander of the ambulance corps.

6. The second lieutenant in command of the ambulances of a brigade will be under the immediate orders of the commander of the ambulance corps for the division and have superintendence of the ambulance corps for the brigade.

7. The sergeant in charge of the ambulance corps for a regiment will conduct the drills, inspection, &c., under the orders of the commander of the brigade ambulance corps, and will be particular in enforcing rigidly all orders he may receive from his superior officers. The officers and non-commissioned officers of this corps will be mounted.

8. The detail for this corps will be made with care by commanders of army corps, and no officer or man will be selected for this duty except those known to be active and efficient, and no man will be relieved except by orders from these headquarters. Should any officer or man detailed for this duty be found not fitted for it, representations of the fact will be made by the medical director of the army corps to the medical director of this army.

9. Two medical officers from the reserve corps of surgeons of each division, and a hospital steward, who will be with the medicine wagon, will be detailed by the medical director of the army corps to accompany the ambulance train when on the march, the train of each division being kept together, and will see that the sick and wounded are properly attended to. A medicine wagon will accompany each train.

10. The officers connected with the corps must be with the trains on a march, observing that no one rides in the ambulances without the authority of the medical officers, except in urgent cases; but men must not be allowed to suffer, and the officers will, when the medical officers cannot be found, use a sound discretion in this matter, and be especially careful that the men and drivers are in their proper places. The place for the ambulances is in front of all wagon trains.

11. When in camp, the ambulances, transport carts, and ambulance corps will be parked with the brigade, under the supervision of the commander of the corps for the brigade. They will he used, on the requisition of the regimental medical officers, transmitted to the commander of the brigade ambulance corps, for transporting the sick to various points and procuring medical supplies, and for nothing else. The noncommissioned officer in charge will always accompany the ambulances or transport carts when on this or any other duty, and he will be held responsible that they are used for none other than their legitimate purposes. Should any officer infringe upon this order regarding the uses of ambulances, &c., he will be reported by the officer in charge to the commander of the train, all the particulars being given.

12. The officer in charge of a train will at once remove anything not legitimate, and if there be not room for it in the baggage wagons of the regiment will leave it on the road. Any attempt by a superior officer to prevent him from doing his duty in this or any other instance he will promptly report to the medical director of the army corps, who will lay the matter before the commander of that corps. The latter will at the earliest possible moment place the officer offending in arrest for trial for disobedience of orders.

13. Good serviceable horses will be used for the ambulances and transport carts, and will not be taken for any other purpose except by orders from these headquarters.

14. The uniform for this corps is: For privates, a green band 2 inches broad around the cap, a green half chevron 2 inches broad on each arm above the elbow, and to be armed with revolvers; non-commissioned officers to wear the same band around the cap as a private, chevrons 2 inches broad and green, with the point toward the shoulder, on each arm above the elbow.

15. No person will be allowed to carry from the field any wounded or sick except this corps.

16. The commanders of the ambulance corps on being detailed will report without delay to the medical director at these headquarters for instructions. All division, brigade, or regimental quartermasters having any ambulances, transport carts, ambulance horses, or harness, &c., in their possession will turn them in at once to the commander of the division ambulance corps. By command of Major-General McClellan:

Assistant Adjutant-General.

American Civil War Ambulances


Immediately prior to the break out of hostilities between the National Government and the Confederate States, the U.S. Army had developed and built a quantity of ambulances.  Up to that time, there was no purpose built ambulance in government service.  In previous wars, various wagons were pressed into service for the transporting the sick and wounded.  Most were found unsuitable.  The commission that developed the specifications for the first U.S. Army ambulances examined European designs and those submitted by American sources.  It was decided that a light, single horse, two-wheeled cart and a heavier, two (sometimes four) horse, four-wheeled wagon be built.   A Battalion of Infantry was to receive an allotment of one two-wheeled cart per company plus one more two-wheeled cart and a four-wheeled wagon per battalion.  Later, men were drafted from regiments to form an Ambulance Corps.  An innovation of Jonathan Letterman, the Ambulance Corps first officially appears in the Army of the Potomac (1862).  Congress would later make the institution a mandated part of the establishment (1864).

The two photographs on this page illustrate the usage of the three most common ambulances used during the war.  The first photograph shows the 2 wheeled ("Coolidge") and 4 wheeled ("Tripler") approved for use in  1859.  The second photograph shows the lighter 4 wheel pattern ("Roscrans/Wheeling") that begins to appear in numbers about the time of Fredericksburg and will generally replace the earlier models by the end of 1863.

Medical Inspector Frank Hamilton noted that the two wheeled variety continued in use through the end of the war where the roads were smooth.

Near the end of the war, an improved 4 wheeled ambulance ("Rucker") was adopted and was the standard Army pattern ambulance for the post war Indian campaigns.



This photograph depicts an ambulance and medical orderlies removing causalities from the battlefield to a field hospital; similar ambulances were used throughout the war.

Ambulance wagons or wagons especially designed for the transport of the sick or wounded had not been in use in the armies of the United States until just before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Common wagons contained seats for eighteen persons, fourteen inside and four on the front seat. By raising the flaps of the inside seats and removing the cushions a bed for two persons or, in case of an emergency three could be arranged inside the wagon.

Image: Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 31380

Civil War Helped Shape Today's Medical Practices

By Body and Mind Staff, November 13, 2012

The words "butcher" and "barbaric" may often be used to describe medical practices during the Civil War, but today's soldiers owe a lot to the forefathers who tended to the sick and wounded in Gettysburg and elsewhere.

"There were definitely medical advances that came out of the Civil War that are benefiting soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan today," said Peter J. D'Onofrio, president of the Society of Civil War Surgeons, based in Ohio. "When I give talks, I say 'if you get nothing else out of tonight's talk, remember we can't look back at the surgeons of the Civil War and judge them in the context of today's medicine.'"

Our ambulatory and evacuation systems that carry wounded soldiers to help, our understanding of sanitization and even our respect for female nurses all trace their roots to the Civil War, historians say.

“One of our slogans here is ‘Civil War medicine — it’s not what you think,’” said George Wunderlich, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md. “Much of our modern neurology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, even occupational therapy — these people were inventing it and what’s amazing to me is how well they were doing, considering they were inventing it as they went along.”

As the battle unfolded around them, major players in the Civil War realized they were woefully unprepared.

“They never anticipated the war lasting that long or that kind of carnage,” D’Onofrio said.
As a result, they were writing medical procedure manuals as they went, inventing protocol and demanding better, more expedient care than was ever seen on the battlefield prior to 1862.

“By today’s standards, people think it was pretty primitive, but there was a lot of progress made during the Civil War,” said John Heiser, historian at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Today’s soldier’s well-executed journey from battlefield to life-saving medical attention began with a war surgeon named Jonathan Letterman from Washington, Pa., who was medical director of the Army of the Potomac, the major northern army.

“Letterman is considered the father of battlefield medicine. He put all the parts of modern emergency medicine as we know it today into a chain,” Wunderlich said. “The movement of troops from injury to a medic to a field hospital to a general hospital to a bigger hospital is exactly how troops are moved today.”

Prior to this, when a soldier was injured, he would be helped off the field by several fellow soldiers who were not trained to give aid.

Letterman introduced the four-wheeled, horse-drawn wooden ambulance, piloted by trained drivers and carrying stretchers and medical supplies to the field, D’Onofrio said.
“Letterman also set up aid stations about 50 to 100 yards behind the firing line, hopefully in a wooded area or ravine, where basic first aid could be given. Then the soldier could be taken by ambulance to a field hospital, which might be a half mile to a mile away,” he said.

The improvements were readily apparent — at the battle of Antietam, there were only one or two first aid stations whereas at Gettysburg, there were more than 271 such stations, Wunderlich said.

Our triage system — a quick assessment to determine priority for treatment based on severity of injury — also came out of the Civil War.

During the Battle of Gettysburg, nearly every barn, building and home was turned into a makeshift field hospital to care for the more than 23,000 wounded soldiers left behind. Letterman’s new administrative plan assured good communication among field hospitals, and his insistence upon a surgical team composed of the most experienced surgeons in the military division meant better care, Wunderlich said.

“We’re still following Letterman’s plan,” D’Onofrio said. “You usually have a medic with a unit who will patch up the wounded soldiers as best they can and they will be helicoptered out to one of the permanent bases in, say, Afghanistan, or later transported to Germany or to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] in Washing-
ton. That helicopter is the equivalent of that wooden ambulance and that tiered system of evacuation is from Letterman.”

“The concept of moving someone swiftly to a place where they could be better cared for came from the Civil War,” agreed G. Craig Caba, Civil War author and member of the Harrisburg Civil War Round Table.

At the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, which specializes in training military medical professionals, Letterman’s principles of 150 years ago are still taught as best practices, Wunderlich said. “You can have all the technology in the world, but if you
can’t get the patient there while he’s still alive, it’s no good,” he said.

Sanitary conditions are standard protocol in medical facilities today, but in Civil War times, scientists Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur had yet to link bacteria with infection.

“For every one soldier killed outright, two died from disease and infection,” D’Onofrio said. “Doctors knew about these things; they just didn’t know what caused them.”

Consequently, army surgeons amputating limbs — the preferred remedy of the day especially when bone was shattered — in a makeshift field hospital didn’t give a thought to bacteria, Heiser said. They might even use the same instrument on multiple patients.

“The amputation might be successful, but could he survive the possibility of gangrene or infection that might set in?” Heiser said.

An understanding of the correlation between sanitization and diseases and infection came out of the Civil War, historians said.

Some of the advances were stumbled upon, Heiser said. For example, some hospitals that had washed bandages in hot soapy water, out of desperation to reuse them, noted their infection rates were lower than most and realized they had unwittingly been sanitizing bandages, he said.

The medical realities of the Civil War led to a greater interest in the field of medicine, Caba said. He owns an 1864 edition of Samuel D. Gross’s “System of Surgery,” a thick, yellowed directory on everything from gangrene to amputation. Who knows but a Civil War doctor might have referred to this very volume even as shells exploded around his field tent, Caba said.

“You began to see greater numbers at medical schools and greater numbers of females going into nursing,” he said. “This was really the first time that you began to see women respected for the medical care they offered. They were called angels of mercy. Fifty years later, at reunions, men would still be giving them three cheers.”

At the time of the Civil War, there were only 600 trained nurses in the nation and all of them were Catholic nuns, D’Onofrio said. During the war, some 5,000 to 6,000 women came forward to serve as nurses for the North; records for the South were lost in a later fire in Richmond, he said.

“Few of them were formally trained, but remember back then, women took care of the family when they were sick or injured so they had that experience,” he said.
All Americans, soldier or civilian, are benefiting from the medical services introduced during the Civil War, historians said.

“We didn’t have ambulance services and emergency rooms in hospitals until well after the Civil War. Why not? The answer is because of the war,” Wunderlich said. “The Civil War changed the expectations of hundreds of thousands of men who went through a medical system that was changing, and they are ones who instigated these improvements in major cities across the country.”


Civil War Surgeon Set The Standard For Battlefield Medicine

NPR Staff, July 7, 2013

July 1 marked 150 years since the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg, a crucial victory for the Union and a turning point in the Civil War. But it came at an enormous cost to both sides — thousands of soldiers were killed and tens of thousands more were wounded.

However, it might have been even worse had it not been for a surgeon named Jonathan Letterman, who served as the chief medical officer of the Union's Army of the Potomac. He presided over some of the bloodiest battles in U.S. history and, over the course of a single year, revolutionized military medicine.

Scott McGaugh has just released his biography of Letterman, called "Surgeon in Blue". He joins NPR's Rachel Martin to discuss the father of battlefield medicine, what conditions were like before he came along and the legacy he left behind.

Interview Highlights

On the state of medicine in the United States at the start of the Civil War:

"In a word, horrific. Military doctors were poorly qualified from a medical standpoint. They didn't know what caused infections, bacteria, anything of that sort. There was no ambulance system, so the early battles, such as Bull Run, left thousands of men wounded on the battlefield for days, some of them dying of dehydration and thirst. They were weakened to begin the battle because [the] Army diet was horrible, in the sense of salt pork, weevil-filled biscuits and alcohol as the daily ration. And their odds of survival, if they were wounded, were not very good in the early battles."

"They had very little place to go. They were dependent upon a few slackers, derelicts and Army band members who were typically assigned as ambulance crews. The ambulances were not nearly enough in number. No one expected to see the kinds of casualty numbers of Bull Run, which obviously became a harbinger of battles to come. If you were lucky enough to be ambulatory, you might have walked or hitched a ride back to Washington, and then walked the streets for several days looking for a hospital bed because there weren't nearly enough hospitals or hospital capacity in the early days of the Civil War."

On how Letterman improved Civil War medicine:

"He stood in a remarkably fortuitous position in time. The commanding general, George McClellan, was something of a reformer; the surgeon general was a very deep-thinking reformer by the name of William Hammond, a young man. And that gave Letterman the opportunity to apply a very keen, analytical, holistic mind to health care, not just on the battlefield but before ever reaching the battlefield. And he was able to very quickly issue new regulations, make them mandatory with real authority, that defined and codified new standards in nutrition, camp hygiene, how and when latrines were dug and when they were covered, the disposal of lice-ridden uniforms. Because at the time when he took over, he was faced with a disease rate of nearly 40 percent."

On what it was like before Letterman developed the modern ambulance corps:

"Prior to that, military officers routinely commandeered wagons intended as ambulances for their personal use and for their baggage with no repercussions. ... Luggage, personal belongings, even their servants in some cases. So one of the very first things Letterman did was acquire the authority from Gen. McClellan to hold military officers and medical officers accountable. [He] developed a corps of trained ambulance drivers and stretcher bearers, so he added a level, or created a level, of professionalism that had not been in existence."

On how keeping soldiers healthy wasn't just about compassion:

"He believed that a healthier Army — wounded men who were kept with their units and treated in hospitals near the Army — were much more likely to return to battle [and] gave Gen. McClellan a stronger, more viable fighting force. And if that made him more effective, that might lead to a faster end to the war and the ability for everyone to go home."

Scott McGaugh writes nonfiction novels about military history, including Battlefield Angels. He is also the marketing director of the USS Midway Museum.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Jennie Wade


Jennie Wade holds the unfortunate distinction of being the only civilian killed during the Battle at Gettysburg. Known as Ginnie or Gin to friends, her name was reported incorrectly in the newspapers following her death and she would thereafter be known as Jennie. She is sometimes thought to be named Jenny Wade, but that spelling of her name is incorrect.

Wade was born May 21, 1843 and shared a home with her family in the town of Gettysburg PA. She worked as a seamstress with her mother to make enough money to live after her father was committed to a mental asylum.

On the morning of July 1, 1863, the first day of battle, she fled her central Gettysburg home with her mother and two younger brothers to the home of her sister. Georgia McClellan and her newborn son resided at 528 Baltimore Street and over the course of the battle, the house was struck by many bullets.

Jennie helped the Union soldiers by baking bread and refilling their canteens. The situation became particularly dangerous after the Union troops retreated through town amidst the onrush of the pursuing Confederates.

On the second day of battle Jennie and her mother were running low on bread to distribute. They retired that evening allowing the yeast to rise for the next day. In the early morning hours of July 3, 1863 as Jennie labored alone in the kitchen making biscuits for the soldiers, a bullet passed through the kitchen door, struck her in the left shoulder blade and ended up in her chest.

She was killed instantly and was later discovered by Union soldiers who notified her family. It is not clear which side killed Jennie Wade but many say it was by the bullet of an unidentified Confederate sharpshooter.

Ironically, Wade was engaged to Gettysburg Pennsylvania native Johnston Hastings "Jack" Skelly, a Union corporal in the 87th Pennsylvania. He had been seriously wounded weeks earlier in the Battle of Winchester and died from his wounds on July 12. Jennie had not been aware he was wounded, and he unaware that she died before him.

Confederate private Wesley Culp, also a Gettysburg native and friends with Wade and Skelly, had run across him in a field hospital and held a note he addressed to Jennie. Tragically, Culp was killed the same day as Jennie on his family farm on Culp's Hill, and she never received the note. Jennie and Jack are buried near each other in Gettysburg's Evergreen Cemetery.

In 1900, The Jennie Wade Monument was erected and today, it is one of the most visited sites in Gettysburg. An executive order was issued to fly the American Flag at the site 24 hours a day. The only other American woman to be bestowed this honor is Betsy Ross at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, PA.

Today, the Jennie Wade house is a Gettysburg bed and breakfast and some believe the house is visited by spirits. It is a common stop for those on a tour of haunted Gettysburg.

Civil War Food


There is much curiosity about Civil War food - in particular what the soldiers consumed each day as part of their rations. Both armies struggled to keep their armies fed over the course of the war as supply lines were stretched thin with tens of thousands of men needing nourishment.

The Confederates in particular were hit hard by the Union naval blockade and general lack of resources for a constant supply of food. Considering the amount of marching by both armies, and the daily rigors of living out in the elements, the average Civil War soldier was malnourished and at times close to starvation.

The Civil War quartermaster had a crucial yet difficult task - keep entire armies fed regardless of terrain, weather, transportation options and in the heat of battle. Without food the army would starve and without an army the cause would be lost. Often some of the most promising young officers would be given this responsibility as is evidenced by the role of General Ulysses S. Grant as a quartermaster before he ever commanded an army.

Hardtack and salt pork were the two most common consumables provided to Civil War soldiers in the field. Both could withstand the elements and would not deteriorate in the rough conditions the soldiers faced.

Hardtack or hard tack was a very hard cracker that could be made cheaply and consisted of roughly 4 parts flour, 2 parts water and 4 teaspoons of salt and would be baked to completion. It was square or rectangular in shape with holes in it much like a large soda cracker.

It would often take months before the hardtack reached the soldiers and by that time it was hard as a rock. It was often soaked in coffee to soften it up before ingesting. Soldiers often referred to it as “sheet iron crackers” or “teeth dullers”.

Salt pork was another common Civil War food item as there was no way to preserve meat and salt did the trick in this case. It was basically salt-cured pork and was form one of three cuts. It resembles uncut bacon slabs with more salt added for preservation.

The pork would be placed in barrels filled with salt and water and shipped by wagon to the soldiers. By the time it reached them it would be ready as the salt water mixture and the sloshing movement in the barrel did an excellent job of curing the pork.

Tobacco was readily available in Confederate camps as it was a commonly grown crop in the south. Often during a lull in action, Southern soldiers would trade their tobacco to northerners for coffee beans.

Coffee was hard to come by for both armies and they often used chicory root or burnt wheat as a substitute. When the soldiers did get coffee beans they were green and needed to be roasted over a fire without burning them. Finally they would be crushed under a rifle butt before they could be used for brewing.

Soldiers would forage for food, steal it, purchase food from sutlers or were often fed by the local population. During the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union soldiers were fed by the women of Gettysburg who labored in their kitchens cooking bread and whatever they had available to help feed the hungry soldiers. In fact, the only civilian killed during the battle was Jennie Wade while in her kitchen preparing to make bread for Union soldiers.

Civil War recipes still endure today as keepsakes of the past, and have become commonplace with Civil War reenactors looking for complete authenticity. Civil War food kept the common soldier moving and fighting and without it, the war would have been over in a heartbeat.

Civil War 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.

It is hard to believe but over 400,000 men died in the war from disease alone. Diarrhea and dysentery were the worst two killers and along with typhoid, smallpox, measles, pneumonia, camp itch and malaria, the population of fighting men was decimated.

Men from all walks of life around the country were thrust together in crowded camps with poor sanitary conditions and this was a recipe for disaster. These men often had no prior exposure to certain diseases in their section of the country and they were highly-vulnerable to bouts of various diseases.

The strategies for fighting battles were clearly outdated in comparison with the devastatingly accurate weapons of the 1860’s. Men would march in neat columns to face the enemy and would suffer incredible loss of life due to outdated tactics vs modern weaponry.

The Minie Ball was a terrible advance in warfare that lead to many lost lives and countless shattered limbs. When the ball hit bone it would not only break, but shatter the bone into fragments often leaving surgeons no options beyond amputation.

Little was known about the spread of infection through blood and unsterilized instruments and it was not uncommon for doctors to work hours at a time using the same instrument on countless patients without once cleaning the device.

Battle of Gettysburg
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.

Gettysburg Casualties


The Gettysburg casualties over 3 days made it the bloodiest battle in the American Civil War. The two armies suffered combined casualties of between 45,000 and 51,000.

Union casualties numbered 23,040 (3,155 killed, 14,530 wounded and 5,365 missing).

Confederate casualties are tougher to measure and estimates have ranged as high as 28,000. However recent studies have the number at 23,231 (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded, 5,830 missing).

Union casualties can be broken down by Corps as follows:

I Corps = 6,060 (666 killed, 3,231 wounded, 2,162 missing)

II Corps = 4,369 (797 killed, 3,194 wounded, 378 missing)

III Corps = 4,211 (593 killed, 3,029 wounded, 589 missing)

V Corps = 2,187 (365 killed, 1,611 wounded, 211 missing)

VI Corps = 242 (27 Killed, 185 wounded, 30 missing)

XI Corps = 3,807 (369 killed, 1,924 wounded, 1,514 missing)

XII Corps = 1,082 (204 killed, 812 wounded, 66 missing)

Cavalry Corps = 852 (91 killed, 354 wounded, 407 missing)

Artillery Corps = 242 (43 killed, 187 wounded, 12 missing)

Confederate casualties can be broken down by Corps as follows:

First Corps = 7,665 (1,167 killed, 4,205 wounded, 1,843 missing)

Second Corps = 6,686 (1,301 killed, 3,629 wounded, 1,756 missing)

Third Corps = 8,495 (1,724 killed, 4,683 wounded, 2,088 missing)

Cavalry Corps = 380 (66 killed, 174 wounded, 140 missing)

Image: Confederate Dead in the Rose Woods at Gettysburg

Civil War Doctors


Civil War doctors did the best they could with the knowledge, medicines and training available to them but nothing could prepare them for the horrors of the American Civil War.

It was generally required that a doctor have at least 2 years experience before being accepted into service yet many had less. The Battle of Gettysburg in particular was the bloodiest conflict of the war and doctors were simply overwhelmed by the 51,000 casualties from the 3 days of fighting.

There were over 14,000 doctors total who served in the Civil War, 10,000 for the Union and 4,000 for the Confederates. Often referred to as “butchers” by the soldiers and press, they were generally good hard-working men who did the best they could for all their patients under less than ideal circumstances.

Civil War Doctors and Civil War nurses cared for the sick and wounded at the Battle at Gettysburg.

Thousands of Civil War nurses served in Union hospitals with many women serving the Confederacy as well. Clara Barton was perhaps the most famous of the nurses of the Civil War and in 1881 founded the American Red Cross.

They were forced to treat patients out of homes, churches, barns or whatever was available to them in the field. It is generally estimated that doctors treated close to 10,000,000 individual cases over the Civil War.

By far the biggest challenge the doctors faced was disease. Soldiers were more likely to succumb to disease then to suffer death on the battlefield. Of the 620,000 or so of the men who died during the Civil War, roughly 205,000 died from battle wounds while the rest succumbed to disease.

Doctors used Civil War medicine such as opium, quinine, chloroform and even whiskey to treat everything from dysentery, diarrhea, smallpox, malaria, typhoid & measles to pneumonia and camp itch.

Perhaps the most gruesome task to be performed by Civil War doctors was amputations. Doctors needed to be quick and decisive in extracting limbs from solders who might otherwise succumb to gangrene or infection.

Amputations were typically performed without antiseptic or sterilization and death by post-operation infection was a serious threat. With all the challenges faced with amputations, the soldiers had a 75% survival rate - not bad considering the lack of sterilization, and the conditions under which a typical Civil War surgery was performed.

All-in-all the conflict tested Civil War doctors to the limits of their capabilities, and the things they learned would advance Western medicine to new levels to meet the need for medical knowledge in the face of industrialized warfare.

Civil War Hospitals


Civil War Hospitals were typically requisitioned homes, barns and any serviceable buildings on battlefields. Tents were also used as Civil War field hospitals on rural battlefields or when all other available buildings were being used.

Of the roughly 620,000 killed in the American Civil War, 240,000 died of disease. It was a soldiers worst enemy and even when the fighting subsided, you could find Civil War doctors tending to scores of men fighting deadly diseases that would rapidly spread through the ranks if untreated.

Civil War hospitals, particularly those in the field were anything but sanitary. Not much was known at that time about the need to sterilize equipment, change linens and keep the hospital clean to minimize the chance of diseases lingering within its walls and spreading to others.

During the course of a battle, Civil War nurses and doctors would make their way to the field of battle and establish hospitals in building in and around the battlefield. They would use anything available to them at the time including beds, chairs, carpets, linens, and curtains to create makeshift accommodations for the wounded coming in from the battle.

Civil War surgeons would often use tables from private residences to treat the wounded and dying as a raised surface was necessary. Civil War surgery could be a grisly task and amputations would be performed with disturbing rapidity often near a window so that the severed limbs could be tossed out into a pile.

There was also a need for hospitals for soldiers requiring long-term care and hundreds sprouted up around the Confederacy. Richmond was a bustling center for hospitals as the railroad converged on the capital city from every direction making it easy to get soldiers there by rail quickly. Chimborazzo Hospital in Richmond was the one of the largest and most well-organized in the Confederacy. Over 75,000 patients passed through its doors and received some of the best medical care available in the south at the time.

Satterlee U.S.A. General Hospital in Philadelphia, PA was one of the largest hospitals on the Union side. It was a series of tents that covered 16 acres of ground and had 4,500 beds. Over the course of the war, they treated close to 12,000 soldiers with only 260 deaths. This was an amazing feat at a time where unsanitary conditions in Civil War hospitals were the norm.


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