War Medical History

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On September 16, 1862, Daniel M. Holt M.D. wrote to his wife, “Shortly [we encountered] a rebel with his brains blown out, arms extended, and eyes protruding from their sockets, some not yet dead but grasping the few remaining breaths away in utter unconsciousness, others mortally wounded calling for water knowing that eternity was separated only by a hair’s breadth…I have seen what I never once expected I should see.” Dr. Holt of the 121st New York Army further describes the carnage and horror that he and countless other Civil War surgeons encountered in letters and journals written during his experience in the war. While working during a time described by Surgeon General William Hammond as “the end of the Medical Middle Ages,” it was inevitable…show more content…
They worked assiduously to uncover new methods of treatment in order to provide the best care for heroic soldiers. The catastrophe of the Civil War propelled medicine because it demanded that unprepared doctors adapt to face exceptional challenges. Advancements in the basic principles of medical technology during the American Civil War triggered a scientific movement that transformed medical practices from traditional methods into a modern discipline. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, most people restored to conventional approaches to medicine, which were all far from true science. When the Civil War began, educated doctors were in high demand but none of them could have anticipated the extent of tragedy occurring on the battlefields. The need for experienced medical personnel expanded rapidly so the courageous doctors who volunteered were forced to create organized systems and develop new techniques for their own…show more content…
A lack of government regulation, formally educated doctors and overall specialized knowledge contributed to insufficient medical care (Breslaw). Common treatments were aggressive and designed to achieve balance within one’s body. Popular techniques encouraged physicians to induce bleeding, vomiting, and other conditions in hopes of curing a patient (Jones). Although most practices were horrific by today’s standards, progress was slowly taking place in the medical field. On October 16, 1846, Harvard Professor of Surgery John Collin prompted a patient to inhale an anesthetic substance prior to an operation. Students and spectators from the narrow medical field were amazed that Collins had performed the surgery “without any screaming or thrashing from his patient”(Hansen, 1998). The results of this breakthrough saved thousands of lives during the Civil War, despite common misconceptions about war surgery. For contemporary Americans, it’s hard to imagine a time before anesthetics and antibiotics, but for soldiers in the Civil War disease and infection were more contagious than the revolutionary ideas that initiated the
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