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Fredericksburg as a Hospital

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Ammunition: Minie Balls

During a majority of the nineteenth century, physicians did not know about germ theory, and they practiced bloodletting and prescribed cocaine or opium to soothe ailments. On the battlefield, doctors had access to fewer supplies than normal and were forced to deal with situations they were not accustomed to seeing, such as wounds from the new minie ball (see image). Doctors did not wash their hands with regularity and used ether or chloroform to sedate their patients. Diseases spread in hospitals and often times would kill more men than were wounded. The biggest disease spreaders were open latrines, unclean water and decomposing food.[1]

A popular myth of the Civil War doctor was that he was a butcher, hacking away at limbs for the slightest wound with no anesthesia. However, this simply was not true, and popular images of surgeons operating with a pile of legs nearby are exaggerated. Amputation was used as a last resort in the field of battle as this was an extremely life threatening procedure. [2] When the patient did require amputation, surgeons could use anesthesia to sedate the patient and perform what was generally a six minute surgery.[3],

The biggest factor doctors had to account for was infection. If a soldier survived the initial wounding, the travel to where the surgeons and workers were set up, and the treatment of the wound, he next had to contend with the wound becoming infected. Typically, if the wound was left open for any amount of time it would become infected and gangrenous. This could also result from doctors using tools on multiple patients without washing them. The result often times was fatal. [4]


[1] "To Bind Up The Nation's Wounds: Medicine During The Civil War," National Museum Of Health and Medicine, [http://nmhm.washingtondc.museum/exhibits/nationswounds/index.html], accessed March 8, 2010.

[2] "Weapons," The Smithsonian Institution, [http://www.civilwar.si.edu/weapons_minieball.html], accessed March 8, 2010.

[3] "Early Practices: Bloodletting," 2002, The Educational Broadcasting Corporation, [http://www.pbs.org/wnet/redgold/basics/bloodletting.html], accesed March 8, 2010.

[4] Marc Kusinitz,"Germ Theory," Science and Philosophy Encyclopaedia, [http://science.jrank.org/pages/3035/Germ-Theory.html], accessed March 8, 2010.