At the time of the Civil War, as a result of lax laws, obtaining a medical degree was very easy; one only had to apprentice with a local physician and take a few courses at a proprietary medical college.
Gathered around him, surgeons discussed the possibility of amputating his wounded leg. Like many Civil War medical workers, Keen learned his trade on the job, under extreme duress, as Civil War battles churned out thousands of wounded men.
In his Reminiscenceshe commented on the persistent practice of blaming Civil War surgeons for performing unnecessary amputations.
Many other Civil War surgeons made the same point: True, more than 30, amputations were done on Union soldiers, and probably a similar number on Confederates, but most were necessary.
British and American civilian surgeons who visited battlefield hospitals as observers and committed their opinions to paper agreed with Keen that Civil War surgeons were often too hesitant about amputating.
Those experts felt that too few amputations were done, and that the accusations that surgeons were too quick too amputate led them to second-guess themselves, often incorrectly.
The introduction of anaesthesia in October allowed surgeons to operate more deliberately. But because infection almost always followed, very little surgery was done. Then came the Civil War and the need for an astounding number of operations to be performed by doctors without any prior surgical experience.
Statistics for the Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the premier hospitals of the era, illustrate the state of surgery in the first half of the 19th century. Between anda total of 39 surgical procedures were performed at that hospital annually. In the first 10 years after the introduction of anaesthesia, throughthe annual average was procedures, about 60 percent of which were amputations.
Opening the abdomen or chest was rare. About two decades after the Civil War, the volume of surgery in civilian hospitals increased enormously with the introduction of antiseptic and, later, aseptic techniques.
Between andfor example, an average of 2, procedures were done annually at the Massachusetts General Hospital and, bymore than 4, Many Civil War surgeons lived to see these developments and, reminiscing long after the war, lamented their own lack of preparation for the difficulties of treating large numbers of severely wounded men.
Less complete Confederate records show that fewer surgeons treated a similar number of patients. As would be expected, the numbers of surgeons grew exponentially as the war raged on. When the war began, there were surgeons in the U.
Army, of which 24 joined the Confederate army and 3 were dismissed for disloyalty. During the course of the war, formal and informal surgical training programs were begun for newly enlisted surgeons, and special courses on treating gunshot wounds were given.
Surgeons on both sides rapidly developed skills and knowledge that improved the treatment of wounds, and they devised many new surgical procedures in desperate attempts to save lives.
At the start of the war, and especially during both Battles of Manassas and the Peninsula Campaign in andcare of the wounded was chaotic and criticism of surgeons was valid.
Regular Army personnel in all departments expected a short war fought by professionals and tried to follow rules created for the 15,man prewar army scattered here and there at small frontier posts.
But the Civil War involved large volunteer forces fighting huge battles and sustaining enormous numbers of casualties.Many people have construed the Civil War surgeon to be a heartless indivdual or who was somehow incompetent and that was the reason for the great number of amputations performed.
This is false. The medical director of the Army of the Potomac, Dr. Jonathan Letterman, wrote in his report after the battle of Antietam.
Amputations became widespread during the Civil War and the removal of a limb was the most common surgical procedure in battlefield hospitals. It's often assumed that amputations were performed so often because surgeons at the time were unskilled and simply resorted to procedures bordering on.
"The Civil War Surgeon at Work in the Field," Winslow Homer's heroic image of medical care in the chaos of the battlefield, 12 July Courtesy National Library of Medicine A Manual of Military Surgery, Confederate States of America.
War is brutal. War is just. The American Civil War (–) was no exception. For many men that bloody war meant giving a limb for the cause.
Amputations were the order of the day: Amputation was the most common Civil War surgical procedure. Union surgeons performed approximately 30, The discovery of a Virginia battlefield’s “limb pit,” full of amputated legs and an arm from the Civil War, is further revealing the horror of 19th century warfare.
Many people have construed the Civil War surgeon to be a heartless indivdual or someone who was somehow incompetent and that was the reason for the great number of amputations performed. This is false. The medical director of the Army of the Potomac, Dr.
Jonathan Letterman, wrote in his report after the battle of Antietam: The surgery of .