Saturday, July 31, 2010

GENERAL- Hospitals in the Civil War

To care for both the sick and the wounded, regiments established hospitals (or combined with other regiments to form brigade or division hospitals). These hospitals were usually run by the regimental surgeon and his assistants. While campaigning, these hospitals were usually set up in any building available near the battlefields, usually farm houses or barns. If no buildings were available, open air tents would be used. While the surgeons and assistant surgeons were medical doctors, other hospital staff did not have any medical training. Nursing was in its infancy, relying on male nurses who had no medical experience.Other hospital staff such as ambulance drivers and cooks were regular soldiers assigned to hospital duty.

In the Civil War, two soldiers died of disease for every one killed in battle. Scurvy, dysentery, typhoid, diphtheria, and pneumonia were common. Farm boys, crowded together in camps with other men for the first time in their lives, were especially susceptible to every sort of ailment. There were epidemics of measles, mumps, and other childhood diseases. Hospitals were a dangerous place due to these diseases even for healthy men working there. A Union soldier said "If a fellow has to go to the hospital, you might as well say good-bye to him."

Amputation was the primary surgical method of the time. Eight out of ten amputees did not survive their operations. They usually died of shock or of infection. Chloroform or ether were used as anesthetics but there was no attempt at maintaining sterile conditions. Wounds routinely became infected. Surgeons would wipe their scalpels and saws off on their aprons between surgeries. Wiping down operating tables or using saw dust on the floors was an attempt to absorb blood to keep things from being slippery rather than an attempt at cleanliness. The idea of germs spreading in an un-sterile environment was unknown. Antibiotics to fight infection did not exist.


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