One of the biggest concerns for soldiers in the Civil War is the type medical care they could expect to receive should they be injured on the battlefield or become sick while in the military. Medical care during the Civil War was minimal by any standards, and in some cases it almost seems to be cruel and inhumane when looking back. Typically most doctors in the military were called surgeons, although they definitely did not have the training that is associated with that term today. Medical care during the Civil War that involved any type of surgical procedure typically resulted in infections and other health related conditions caused by contamination and the poor conditions under which the wounded were left to recover.
Medical care during the Civil War was provided by surgeons or doctors that really had, for the most part, no formal training. Often these men had worked for another surgeon and simply learned as they went along. Since there were some trained doctors, some units or regiments had professionally trained doctors, but these were relatively rare and were typically in very high demand. Nurses were often women that volunteers and they often performed many duties that would now be considered to be doctor’s roles. Most surgery was performed in the open air away from the battleground. The reason that the surgery was done outside of the tents was because there was more light available. Some soldiers had to wait days until the conditions were right before they could be operated on. In addition during this time the there was no understanding of the spread of germs and bacteria, so medical care during the Civil War often transferred bacteria from one soldier to the other through infected doctor’s knives and surgical tools. It is reported that more men actually died from infections than were killed by bullets in battle.
Surgeons providing medical care during the Civil War did the very best they could to save the injured men, despite the deplorable conditions they had to work under. Most of the surgeons worked tirelessly to treat the hundreds of wounded that they were responsible for. In cases where limbs could not be saved the surgeon would have to perform an amputation, and despite the potential for death these amputations were usually successful in saving the soldier’s life. Accounts of surgeons at work in the Civil War provide an important reminder of the severity of war of any type and the efforts of the medical community to save lives at all costs.