Civil War Medical Care: Medicine Basics

Although the Civil War medical care options were certainly nothing like is seen today, these doctors and medics managed to save and treat literally tens of thousands of seriously injured soldiers, many with amazing recoveries. It is estimated that a soldier in the Civil War only had a one in four chance of recovering from a battle injury, even something that was relatively minor. It is well documented that the doctors were often poorly trained and provided with little in the way of equipment or help but they still did the very best they could with what little they had to try to heal the soldiers that were often very serious wounded in battle.

At the time there was little information on how germs and infection were spread, or even how to keep equipment sterile and free from contamination. The Civil War medical care was anything but advanced, but surprisingly these doctors, nurses and medics did learn how to deal with the wounds and injuries and also advanced many medical practices in the terrible conditions they worked under.

One of the biggest problems for facing the doctors and nurses involved in Civil War medical care was the severity of the injuries. The musket ammunition, which was actually small round lead projectiles known as minnie balls, literally tore through the flesh and shattered bones wherever they struck. There were huge amounts of blood loss and this was further compounded by the rough wagons that were used to transport the injured to the field hospitals. Often the only option in Civil War medical care was to amputate the injured limb, a horrible and often very barbaric option based on the type of medical treatments available today.

In addition to the battle injuries, Civil War medical care focused on controlling outbreaks of diseases such as typhoid fever, dysentery, measles, chicken pox and mumps which accounted for almost half the deaths recorded as non-battle related injuries during the war. This combination of viral contagious diseases as well as the filthy conditions and poor health of the soldiers posed a huge problem in Civil War medical care.

Despite all the hardships there were advancements in the treatment of the health of soldiers on both the Confederate as well as the Union side of the Civil War. The use of anesthetic became more common during the last stages of the war, providing some help to doctors and patients alike. Increasing understanding of disease spread and infections also occurred during the war, although the conditions themselves often prevented appropriate use of the best treatment methods.