Advancement of Medical Procedures from the US Civil War


The question being answered through a wide range of sources is, “to what extent did the Civil War deaths caused by surgeries and infections advance evolution in the medical field for future generations?” A large variety of medical procedures that exist today seem to be newly introduced to the world of dedicated studies to medicine when in reality those same practices have existed previously and simply have taken on more efficient forms than its predecessors. These methods evolved through the concept of rising demands in the community and urge to be able to provide the most efficient and sanitary idea of completing procedures such as surgeries and amputations. This method and concepts were first introduced in the Civil War where firing weapons had become of mass use to the soldiers in the north and south of the country. These weapons caused tremendous number of injuries, most fatal or life threatening. The only way to save those on the edge of death was risking the introduction of surgical methods/opportunities of limb amputation. This idea seemed farfetched at the time of existence but there soldiers had no other option as it was a matter of life or death. This essay touches base on many of these procedures and puts into perspective just how dangerous they were even when trying to save the lives of so many victims. Not only were these methods used in the past but they still are to this day in much more advanced forms having evolved to become more prevalent to victims with all forms of injuries, providing the greatest benefits to them. Over time there have been changes in these procedures thanks to the growing knowledge in the medical field brought upon by these early surgeons who sparked the advancement of medical methods of practice.


Today there exists medical procedures that may have seemed impossible to achieve and yet have been created and are being used effectively. These, of course, did not appear spontaneously. Over the course of the decades, the demand for more efficient medical procedures and tools grew as deaths caused by the inefficiency were far too high. Various events and situations influenced these advancements that shaped the future to be far superior. The only question left to be answered is to what extent did the Civil War deaths caused by surgeries and infections advance evolution in the medical field for future generations?

From the stench of dead tissue drifting through the unsanitary, swarmed camps to the unglamorous sicknesses of syphilis and diarrhea, our current views towards Civil War therapeutic practices is greatly supported. While “progressed” or “sterile” may not be terms describing pharmaceutical practices in the nineteenth century, current healing center practices and treatment techniques owe much to the legacy of Civil War medication. Of the estimated 620,000 warriors who passed on in the war, 66% of these passings were not the aftermath of the actual gunfire , but rather of a injuries that the gunshots inflicted which weren’t always lethal. Treating the armies of injured officers pushed Americans to reexamine their speculations on wellbeing and create effective practices to tend to those debilitated and injured. Toward the start of the Civil War, medical equipment and learning was barely up to par with the difficulties postured by the injuries, contaminations and ailments which tormented thousands of soldiers on both sides. Diseases like diarrhea, typhoid fever, pneumonia, mumps, measles and tuberculosis spread among the inadequately sterilized camps, were brought on effectively and were debilitated by the injuries and diets. Furthermore, armed forces at first attempted to productively tend to and transport their injured, accidentally giving up more lives to insignificant disruption. For therapeutic specialists in the field during the Civil War, sterile (clean) medicinal practices, proper equipment, and composed hospitalization frameworks were essentially obscure. Medical preparation was barely developing out of the “chivalrous time,” a period where doctors upheld phlebotomy, cleansing, rankling (or a mix of every one of the three) to rebalance the humors of the body and cure the debilitated. Doctors were additionally regularly urged to treat illnesses like syphilis with mercury, a harmful treatment, no doubt. These forceful “cures” of the chivalrous time were regularly more awful than patients’ illnesses themselves; the individuals who defeated disease after the war owed their recuperations to the creativity of contemporary pharmaceuticals than to coarseness and possibility. Fortune was an irregularity in camps where poor sanitation, awful cleanliness and eating regimen reared illness, disease, and passing.


The South was the side of the nation most influenced where vast majority of the Civil War battles were fought. The country was a fiasco after the war was thought to be over. It became known as the war where a nation turned on itself. Subjection, states’ rights, sparing issues and numerous different reasons prompted the grisly war. The North consisted of the country’s industrialized businesses, such as factories with production lines, shops, and so forth. While the opposing South consisted of a horticulture based economy. The South, comprised of many slaves, made greater parts of the agriculture in the entire nation. A large portion of the North was against slavery which was a primary reason the Civil War occurred. Every side needed to developed improvements in hopes of being triumphant, yet both sides additionally knew there would only be one winning side. Evidence shows that one of the reasons of war starting was the race of President Abraham Lincoln. Both the North and South realized that with this race the North would have an upper edge politically in winning this war. In spite the reality of what appeared to be a straightforward contradiction, the war was and will dependably be one of the bloodiest in the historical downfall of the United States yielding a mind-boggling number of around six hundred twenty thousand losses bringing our country to where it stands today (“Civil War Medicine,” n.d.). Many inquiries are left unanswered like, “How might our U.S. look today if the South had won this war?” or “Would servitude and slavery still exist today?” and various others which will remain dependably open without answers since there is nothing available to come to a conclusion. The concentration of this paper is to what extent did the Civil War deaths caused by surgeries and infections advance evolution in the medical field for future generations?

It wasn’t the bullets themselves

In present day times it’s believed that the worst part of the war were the violent fights in which more lives were lost from injuries, contaminations, and numerous infections rather than the ammunition itself. Despite the fact that the aggregate number of passings from both sides joined was about six hundred and twenty thousand, shockingly more than four hundred thousand of them weren’t from the battles itself. However, infections and other health issues existed all throughout the Civil War. There are a wide range of factors for every one of the passings of the deceased soldiers that had nothing to do with the fights. As one probably are aware, the innovation that was accessible amid the season of the war was not as cutting edge as the world has today where one knows fundamentally every illness along with the cures. Amid the Civil War time there was no comprehension of contaminations and little done for the counteractive action of them. Before germicides and anti-toxins, a minor injury was commonly lethal (“Civil War Medicine and the Battle of Cold Harbor,” a.n.d.). As clarified in time recently, a larger number of passings were created by lethal illnesses than shots albeit a few discharges led to contaminations or maladies. Reasons for these deadly illnesses were poor cleanliness in camps of the regiments, absence of proper hospitals, absence of safe housing and legitimate attire, deficiency of sustenance and water, and swarmed camps. These made a lethal blend where infections could easily build up an illness. Regardless of the possibility that there was bare comprehension of these lethal illnesses, a group called the Sanitary Commission formed in order to instruct the Union armed force on legitimate sanitation systems with an end goal to attempt to keep these passings from occurring. A few men wouldn’t fret the alerts of the Commission and proceeded with the typical methods of their days in the unsanitary camps. This gathering additionally endeavored to change the methodology for harmed men so they would be more sterile and progressed than what they were. One specialist soon started prompting men in the armed force to avoid greasy sustenances and eating at customary time of day. Men did not focus on the doctor’s’ notices and continued with their eating regimens and propensities which comprised of overwhelming, greasy, salty meats, very few vegetables, and unpredictable planning and extent of nourishments or dishes at a wide range of times of day. A dreadfully substantial measure of men originated from fights practically consistently or different occasions with wounds of various sorts. The surges of injured got to be distinctly overpowering, and specialists could just stand to spend a predetermined number of profitable minutes per trooper. The greater part of soldiers, if not all, that had genuine wounds in the middle would just pass on from it. Amid the season of the Civil War, the notorious strategy of surgery known as amputation was essentially the last resort. It was a quick however a not extremely powerful approach to take the circumstance. Commonly, this aggravated the injury even more than it was before and it turned out to be dangerous. Numerous men trusted it to be the least demanding approach to make the harm less troublesome despite the fact that it was the most anguishing. To decrease this horrendous agony, chloroform was utilized. This fluid was connected to a material and kept over the nose of the patient until he was oblivious to diminish the torment and injury of the removal. Now and again there wasn’t sufficient for each injured man that required offer assistance. The clinics would run low on provisions since there was no chance to get of getting them rapidly. This would happen on the grounds that a considerable measure of chloroform was squandered until Dr. Julian John Chisolm created an inhaler. This worked with the utilization of tubes that trickled with chloroform which acted as successfully and just utilized one eighth of what it did some time recently.

Amputation procedures

In 1863, Stonewall Jackson’s specialist prescribed the evacuation of his left arm, which had been gravely harmed by well disposed fire. At the point when a chloroform-doused fabric was put over his nose, the Confederate general, in incredible agony, murmured, “What an infinite blessing,” before going limp. (Cellania, 2012)

Because of the immense number of injured at once, specialists got to be distinctly used to the strategy and were more capable at removal. Many could conduct a surgery in around 10 minutes. This was an extraordinary preferred standpoint for both sides since most regiments could just hold maybe a couple therapeutic experts within locations. Since there were numerous removals, some days specialists finished with heaps of appendages and other body parts up to 5 feet high (“Medicine in the Civil War,” n.d.).

“In the operating tent, the amputation of a very bad looking leg was witnessed. The surgeons had been laboring since the battle to save the leg, but it was impossible. The patient, a delicate looking man, was put under the influence of chloroform, and the amputation was performed with great skill by a surgeon who appeared to be quite accustomed to the use of his instruments. After the arteries were tied, the amputator scraped the end and edge of the bone until they were quite smooth. While the scraping was going on, an attendant asked: ‘How do you feel, Thompson?’ ‘Awful!’ was the distinct and emphatic reply. This answer was returned, although the man was far more sensible of the effects of the chloroform than he was of the amputation.” (Coco,1995)

In spite of the fact that officers trusted that removal was for the better of their lives, it was extremely perilous. They were correct on the grounds that removal spared a larger number of lives than whatever other techniques by transforming confused wounds into littler and more straightforward ones. Absence of water implied there was no hand washing for specialists between methods expanding the likelihood of diseases. Disregarding these odds, a sum of an expected seventy five percent of amputees recovered. Considerably higher rank fighters needed to experience an indistinguishable agony and surgeries from lower class men did. There was no sort of individual treatment for officers, corporals or other higher positions. Removal caused various passings making contaminations or simply insufferable torment, yet it was not by any means the only motivation of ailment and demise of the men in both sides of the war (“Civil War Medicine and the Battle of Cold Harbor,” n.d.).

Wounds and diseases weren’t the main ones bringing on the hopeless existences of the men in regiment camps. Nature participated in taking lives (“Amputations in Military Surgery,” a.n.d.). Amid practice penetrates and walks, men were presented to the brutal climate amid long frosty winters or searing summers. There was no reason to not be in condition for the fight to come. The biting icy of the long winters brought about many troopers to end up distinctly wiped out. The tents they remained in were situated outside and were thin expanding the possibility of disorder among the vast gatherings of individuals in regiments. In the Union Army, for each one man executed in battle, four hundred kicked the bucket of infection and illnesses. Numerous things made deadly illnesses from materials that did not appear to be fatal all alone like microbes, for instance. Microscopic organisms can bring about contamination, malady, and affliction, all with the utilization of germs. Numerous things amid the season of war conveyed germs. Earth was a quite unsuspected transporter alongside mosquitoes in bogs. On the off chance that an injury is not treated accurately or left untreated by and large, microorganisms and germs may enter which can prompt to discharge. This is an exceptionally unpalatable looking substance that is made in an injury when white cells fight against the germs entering. Ordinarily this could be treated with typical germicide. Earth wasn’t the main thing bearing germs and illness. Some living beings additionally contained indications of destructive infections. Flying creatures, domesticated animals, and even little bugs like mosquitoes had the likelihood of being sullied. These deadly mosquitoes conveyed intestinal sickness. Jungle fever wasn’t the main dangerous malady transmitted through different creatures. Known illnesses amid the season of taking up arms were measles, mumps, pneumonia, utilization, intestinal sickness, typhoo, loose bowels, the runs, yellow fever, scurvy, and venereal infections (King, n.d.). Without the correct medicines or solution, none of these lethal illnesses could be cured and ordinarily, even with prescription, wiped out individuals couldn’t be cured. These drugs utilized on occasion did not contain the perfect measure of something or a lot of something else and the specialist or specialist would not know or have the capacity to discover. Different circumstances it simply was not sufficiently solid to battle against the illnesses. Medication amid this event was totally unique in relation to how we see it today. Things were obscure that could have spared many lives amid that time. Reports from specialists, specialists, or whatever other sort of right hand in doctor’s facilities demonstrated numerous setbacks because of the reason for not knowing how to treat a patient the right way. Bourbon, barony, and strychnine, were utilized as stimulants for revues and circulatory framework. For nourishing backing, meat extricate, espresso, consolidated drain, dark tea, ferrous, mixes, were utilized as cures for iron deficiency. Solutions appeared like ordinary officer counts calories various circumstances for various medications. On account of venereal infection, calomel was utilized for mouth as salve and connected to injuries or different alternatives would be infusions of silver nitrate, zinc, or chloride of potash, otherwise called potassium chloride. Patients with intestinal sickness were treated with quinine alone with spirits of nitre and potassium iodine. For skin issues a straightforward fragrance was utilized and bromine as an alleviating operator. Chloride was put in wounds for purging or stimulants. In spite of the fact that men would shout in torment, it showed advance in the disease rates now that they were bringing down. Kidney issues were a noteworthy occasion in the war with all the slug wounds in the middle region of men furthermore shots in the stomach. These were treated with spirits of alkali, and potassium. Regardless of the possibility that officers did not have a sickness, specialists and specialists did what they could to avert them (King, n.d.).

Unsanitary Sanitation

At the point when an officer was gotten the camp with ordinary injuries, they were fixed with mortars with different specialists like mustard or belladonna which was then spread on material or consistent paper to be connected to the skin close by the injury. This came to show that it was so compelling to seal the injuries as opposed to leave the wounds open with the high danger of contaminations prompting to illnesses much nearly took after by death. This could happen quickly with the condition or the unpleasant camps where there was not one thing hinting at a rational soundness. Swarms of flies could be seen bugging in each settlement and doctor’s facility. The flies were thought to be lethal or simply unsanitary, however it was demonstrated off-base. Flies would store their eggs in open injuries of the officers or different patients. Before long the eggs developed and larvae were conceived. These hatchlings did not bring about torment but rather did in actuality clean injuries of the troopers by eating dead or contaminated skin. The specialists soon began imagining that these hatchlings could have great advantages in averting contaminations of wounds. Rats additionally worked similarly hatchlings did by consuming the dead tissue left. Before long, many medical attendants and other individuals got to be distinctly sickened in this strategy utilized despite the fact that it was viable as a part of most cases (Bollet, 2002).

Who was in charge?

Surgeons, doctors, nurses, and even assistants played great roles in the Civil War. These were the people who made these procedures possible. Many lives were spared with their insight, strategies, and disclosures. Individuals in the present say that this was a time where numerous medicines and solutions were found that can and are utilized even today. Warriors were enlivened by these lifelines, as they were known for what they did. Some even accepted the open door when they could and got to be specialists or specialists themselves. Union colonel, Thomas Reynolds, was harmed in fight, which lead to having to go through amputation.. Reynolds survived removal and later turned into an educator of surgery and afterward remarked on the act of pointing the finger at specialists for performing numerous superfluous removals which individuals accepted brought on more loss of lives than there ought to have been while others concur it was ideal to endeavor of sparing lives (Bollet, 2001). Specialists who concurred said that they spared lives and inability to perform important removal made potential outcomes of deadly disease. There was truly no other decision for the men in both sides of the armed force or the specialists themselves since removal was the main surgery accessible.

In the North, over a sum of thirty thousand removals were finished with an expected same sum for the Confederates situated in the South. Real surgery was uncommon in light of the fact that disease was all the time a case trailing it. Accordingly, somewhere around 1836 and 1846, a sum of thirty nine surgical strategies were performed at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In the initial 10 years after the introduction of anesthesia, 1847 through 1857, the yearly normal was around one hundred and eighty five, of which 60% were removals. Indeed, even with innovation and medication advancing, surgery was still occasionally utilized or performed. Regardless of the possibility that surgery was important, never was the belly or mid-section of a man opened amid the system. “Many of the surgeons in the Civil War had never witnessed a major amputation when they joined the regiments and very few of them had treated gunshot wounds.” (Bollet, 2006)


A normal of two thousand four hundred twenty seven methods was done every year at the doctor’s facility somewhere around 1894 and 1904, yet by 1914 this expanded to more than four thousand. Numerous Civil War specialists that partook in therapeutic techniques on men in the armed forces lived to see improvements and progressions long after the war. These individuals saw and saw the absence of arrangement for treating vast quantities of injured men that they got after fights. Numerous more lives could have been spared considering the way that there were more progressions in restorative methods before long. Around a quarter century of patients were lost altogether from not having the capacity to recuperate after their surgery.

In spite of the absence of arrangement for therapeutic strategies amid the war, Union specialists treated more than four hundred thousand injured men of whom an expected two hundred forty five thousand of them were injured from firearm shots or other cannons wounds. Specialists depicted the scenes of them men pouring in as awful where bones were standing out, tissue was gone, or possibly the damage was inner and everything looked typical on the outside of the fighter. Operations were performed in no less than four hundred thousand of all harmed cases. As the war seethed on, more specialists started joining both sides of the armed forces in fight for employments. Toward the begin of the Civil War, the Union Army comprised of one hundred thirteen specialists of which twenty four were rejected and joined the Confederate Army. Throughout the war, formal and casual surgical preparing projects were created for new specialists joining either side. These specialists quickly created abilities and information that enhanced techniques. Before the end of the war, more than twelve thousand specialists had served the Union and around three thousand in the Confederacy.

Considering the 66% of the entire passing number of infection or disorder, genuinely a huge sum still passed on from the fight shots discharged from both sides. An assortment of weapons were utilized amid the war, which additionally incorporated an assortment of ammo for every weapon filling various needs. A well known ammo sort was the minie all which was a round discharged from rifles and were generally moderate moving. Indeed, even little shots like that could deliver destructive harm. At the point when the body was struck at the bone the speed of the shot did not permit a perfect leave leaving expansive injuries ordinarily. Comminuted breaks were a dangerous kind of harm. This sort of damage happens when the bone is either, broken, fragmented or smashed into many pieces. Ordinarily this would happen when a shot was discharged and infiltrated joints, for example, the knee, elbow, bear, wrist, lower leg, and hip. Be that as it may, shots were likewise discharged and hit in the face zone leaving a change forever. Facial recreation additionally started amid the Civil War. It started when a private was surviving pneumonia however it decimated his face and specialists took a stab at making it look ordinary utilizing plastic surgery. The methodology helped however it didn’t look 100% the same, nor was it conceivable to do as such.


These procedures exist with much greater value and purpose to this day as there exists professions focusing on these specific jobs to be able to focus on the enhancement of the methods of practice to provide the most efficient management of work for the those in need of help. This new procedures have provided faster healing rates, greater chances of survival, decreased blood loss, and most importantly, increased life expectancy.

A sum of more than 66% of the passing tally were from malady and infection which is interesting knowing the Civil War was one of the bloodiest wars in U.S. history. The lives of many overcome officers that left homes, families, dreams, and numerous more things, were relinquished keeping in mind the end goal was the attempt of setting the nation straight. These men battled with respect with the idea in their mind that they were doing it for the country, their country. They battled dauntlessly. Tragically, most of the men experienced a long and agonizing injury prompting to a demise they didn’t merit. The war finished in 1865 and subjection was at long last nullified however the cost was high. Abraham Lincoln was killed days after by a man by the name of Booth, who was irritated. The Civil War was the most expensive war in American History, and it has remained an important piece of our history, with the goal that we may recollect dependably that fighting within itself, a country is set to fail.

Going from wounds and ailment was an additional weight of the war that brought about noteworthy harm on the hearts, brains, and gatherings of all Americans, yet it in like manner quickened the development of arrangement and affected practices the equipped drive and surgeons still use today. While the Union emphatically had the upside of better remedial supplies and work, both sides attempted to fight disorder and improve helpful tend to their officers in the midst of the war. Tremendous quantities of America’s available day restorative accomplishments have their hidden establishments in the legacy of America’s describing war.

Work Cited

“Amputations in Military Surgery” Civil War Medical Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.

Bollet, Alfred JAY. “Civil War Medicine Alfred J. Bollet, M.D.” Civil War Medicine Alfred J.

Bollet, M.D. Galen Press, 2001. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.

Bollet, Alfred J. ” Medical Book Extras Maggots and Rats: Nature’s Surgeons During

the Civil War.” Galen Press, 2002. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.

Bollet, Alfred J. “The Truth About Civil War Surgery.” History Net Where History Comes Alive

World US History Online The Truth About Civil War Surgery Comments. Weider History Group, 12 June 2006. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.


Cellania, Miss. “Neatorama.” Neatorama. N.p., 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 14 Dec. 2012.

“Civil War Medicine and the Battle of Cold Harbor.” N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. harbor>.

“Civil War Medicine.” Civil War Medicine. N.p., 2003-2008. Web. 23 Nov. 2012.


Coco, Gregory A. A Strange and Blighted Land: Gettysburg : The Aftermath of a Battle.

Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1995. Print. King, Janet. “Vermont Civil War.” Vermont Civil War. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.


“Medicine in the Civil War.” American Civil War Medical and Surgical History. N.p., n.d. Web.


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