Field Medicine

  • American Civil War
  • 3 mins

By Crusader1307

During The American Civil War, it has been said that more men died of disease and wounds that actual battlefield deaths. Another true statement is that Medical Science greatly advanced as a result of the many mistakes and techniques used by Doctors and Surgeons on both sides of The War. A common problem at the beginning of The Civil War was numbers. Many past wars tended to field much smaller Armies. Coupled with the vast inaccuracies of early firearms, many casualties were keep low. With the advent of rifled weapons (both long arms and artillery) – more intense and specific injuries developed. Similarly, the issue of many thousands of men – brought together for the first time in mass, proved to be a breeding ground for many diseases. Poor living conditions in the field, lack of potable water, poorly stored and cooked foods,- all these factors contributed to vast numbers of casualties. Both sides recruited both Doctors and Surgeons into their Armies. Many of these men (while highly trained and skilled in their own 19th Century right) – simply had little experience in treating many thousands of men at one time. Often, the best “treatment” for a bullet injury was to simply amputate the victims leg or arm. Poorly sealed stumps, lack of proper drainage techniques – lead to infection and sure death. Modern antibiotic simply did not exist yet. In fact, the theory of Penicillin (while known among Native Americans) – was frowned upon by most “learned” Physicians. Most Armies had a form of Hospital established near enemy lines. Corpsmen (when used), often were busy assisting the Doctor (and unable to go and physically retrieve the wounded). Many soldiers felt going to “The Rear” to see the Doctor was a death sentence. Still, many soldier were saved by Surgeons and Doctors on both sides. Many treatments and techniques used in the field would bear better fruit on future battlefields.

No self respecting Doctor would go out into the field without his Kit. Not as detailed as a Surgeons Set, the Doctor still was able to perform most field work. Bullet Probes (long metal rods of varying lengths), were used to “probe” a soldiers bullet wound, to determine depth and extent of injuries. Blood Letting Knives too, served their purpose (as was thought). Bullet Retractors (a must) – were needed to exploit the bullet wound (or rather, once located – to grasp and pull out same). Hopefully, the victim passed out (which he often did). A good Field Doctor also had his collection of Scalpel's (for various degrees of cutting) and the requisite “Cat Gut Twine” and needles for sewing up wounds. Often, all of our good Doctors equipment was transported in wooden cases with removable compartments. Sterilization was done by washing off the implements (usually).






Handy for when one could not carry his heavy Kit, the Pocket Set had just about everything the Doctor needed (other than amputation devices). Mostly used to probe bullet injuries or for sewing up gashes and cuts, most Doctors leaned on (and used these Kits) -more than their actual larger Sets.




Everything the Doctor's Set had PLUS plenty of amputation saws, knives and Cat Gut Twine. These Sets were often too heavy to carry, and would be set up at a Field Hospital. Some “innovative” Surgeons would also have Medicine Tincures of “different” and “known” powders and medicines for “curative effects”. In later War years – Ether Sets were often included. Ether - (A liquid which when exposed to air generates a “euphoric” state followed by sleep) – it was a first attempt at anestetics. Very effective, unfortunately overdoes would result in more deaths than the procedure the injured soldier was being treated for.