Tuesday, August 31, 2010


XX. Diseases Most Commonly Contracted by Civil War Soldiers

Six million cases of disease were reported to or discovered by Union medical officers during the Civil War. These 15 diseases account for 3,966,828 (66%) of those cases:

Listings provide Disease; Number of Cases; Number of Deaths; and Death Rate.

1. Diarrhea or dysentery---1,585,196---37,794---(2.38 %)
2. Malaria---1,213,685---12,199---(1.01 %)
3. Pneumonia/diseases of respiratory tract---448,923---17,902---(3.99 %)
4. Catarrh/Bronchitis---281,294---1,185---(0.42 %)
5. Gonorrhea---95,833---6---(0.01 %)
6. Typhoid fever---75,368---27,056---(35.90 %)
7. Syphilis---73,382---123---(0.17 %)
8. Measles---67,763---4,246---(6.27 %)
9. Mumps---48,128---72---(0.15 %)
10. Scurvy---30,714---383---(1.25 %)
11. Tuberculosis---13,499---5,286---(39.16 %)
12. Smallpox---12,236---4,717---(38.55 %)
13. Chronic Alcoholism/Delirium tremens---10,253---605---(5.90 %)
14. Diptheria---8,053---777---(9.65 %)
15. Typhus---2,501---850---(33.99 %)

XXI. Anesthesia

Two main forms of anesthesia were used during the Civil War: chloroform and ether. In the 8,900 surgeries reported to the Union Surgeon General in which type of anesthesia was specified, chloroform was used in 76% of cases, ether in 15% of cases, and some combination of chloroform and ether in 9% of cases. Of the 6,784 cases using chloroform that were reported, death attributable to the anesthetic was involved in 37 cases, or 0.5%. 254 surgeries were reported in which no anesthetic was used (3%).

Tom Pearson, Reference Librarian
Special Collections Department
St. Louis Public Library
1301 Olive Street
St. Louis, MO 63103

Friday, August 27, 2010


XVII. Confederate Medical Shortages- The Blockade

The blockade of the Confederate states by the Union Navy meant that surgical supplies and medications were soon in short supply in the South. New items could be acquired in one of three ways:

1. From smugglers who managed to slip through the Union blockade. But prices soon became exorbitant: quinine in late 1863 was selling in the South for $400-$600 per ounce!
2. Capture of Union medical supplies. But this method was of course unreliable.
3. Manufacture medicines in the south from available ingredients. Labs were set up in Atlanta, Charlotte, Montgomery, and Knoxville, to name just a few of the cities selected.

XVIII. Confederate Medical Shortages- "Indigenous Remedies"

The Confederate Medical Service in 1864 issued a “Standard Supply Table of Indigenous Remedies for Field Service and Sick in General Hospitals.” Among the listed herbs, plants, and trees which could be used medicinally were:

Calamus, Virginia Snakeroot, Sassafras, Lavender, Bearberry, Sumac, Sage, Blackberry, and Dewberry, plus the leaves and sometimes the bark of these trees:

Dogwood, Persimmon, White Oak, Wild Cherry, and Tulip (to name only some of the listed herbs, plants, and trees).

XIX. Confederate Medical Shortages- Medical Instruments

The South was never able to set up factories to manufacture precision medical instruments, so surgeons sometimes had to improvise. These substitutions were necessary on occasion:

1. Surgical saws- Carpenter’s saws
2. Scalpels- Penknives
3. Surgical hooks- Forks
4. Tenaculum- Knitting needles
5. Splints- Fence rails

Tom Pearson, Reference Librarian
Special Collections Department
St. Louis Public Library
1301 Olive Street
St. Louis, MO 63103

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


XV. Medicines in Common Use During the Civil War- Union Army

These items were among those carried with the Army of the Potomac during the May 1864 Wilderness Campaign:

1. Acacia
2. Alcohol
3. Alum
4. Ammonia water
5. Ammonium carbonate
6. Brandy
7. Camphor
8. Cantharides
9. Castor oil
10. Chloroform
11. Collodion
12. Ether
13. Ferric chloride
14. Lead acetate
15. Liquid soap
16. Mercury pills
17. Morphine
18. Opium
19. Quinine
20. Potassium iodide
21. Silver nitrate
22. Spirits of ammonia
23. Sulfuric acid
24. Tannic acid
25. Tartaric acid
26. Turpentine

XVI. Medicines in Common Usage During the Civil War- C.S. Army

These items were commonly found in Confederate Army medicine wagons:

1. Acetic acid
2. Adhesive plaster
3. Alcohol
4. Ammonia water
5. Arsenic oxide
6. Creosote
7. Digitalis
8. Ether
9. Hydrochloric acid
10. Morphine sulfate
11. Opium
12. Quinine sulfate
13. Rhubarb
14. Senna
15. Sugar
16. Sulfuric acid

Tom Pearson, Reference Librarian
Special Collections Department
St. Louis Public Library
1301 Olive Street
St. Louis, MO 63103

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


XI. Nuns as Nurses

One female volunteer nurse noted that the plain, unornamented dresses she was required to wear “caused most people to mistake me for a nun.” Some of the women who volunteered to serve as nurses actually were nuns, including 300 Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (1/3 of the order’s total membership at the time).

XII. Employment Status of Female Nurses

By war’s end, at least 5,000 women had volunteered to serve as nurses in Union Army hospitals. Nurses served in one of these ways:

1. As paid volunteers arranged on the local level.
2. As unpaid volunteers arranged on the local level.
3. Wives and daughters of medical personnel sometimes served as nurses, without pay but drawing daily rations from the Union Army.
4. Female relatives of wounded men sometimes stayed on after their relative recovered or passed on, having no formal assignment but helping out as needed.
5. As employees of State agencies or aid societies like the U.S. Sanitary Commission.
6. As nurses specifically assigned to a hospital by the Superintendent of Female Nurses.

XIII. Famous Civil War Nurses

Two of the most famous Civil War nurses, Clara Barton and Mary “Mother” Bickerdyke, began their service as volunteer nurses without official government appointments. When someone asked Mother Bickerdyke by whose authority she served, she replied that she had “received my commission from Almighty God.” Since nobody chose to question His authority, she was allowed to continue her work. During the war she was formally commended by General Sherman for her tireless efforts to aid injured soldiers. Miss Barton became famous for her post-war efforts to help people find missing soldiers.

XIV. Civil War Nurses- Postwar Experiences

Much is made of the liberating effect employment in World War II industries had on American women, but little is made of the liberating effect that employment as Civil War nurses had on women North and South. Women who worked as nurses experienced freedoms and responsibilities many had never encountered in their pre-war occupations. Once the war ended, their brushes with the outside world were not easily forgotten. Many such women later played important parts in the women’s suffrage movement.

Tom Pearson, Reference Librarian
Special Collections Department
St. Louis Public Library
1301 Olive Street
St. Louis, MO 63103

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