It is axiomatic that many military advances were born in the cauldron of the American Civil War, and none more so than treatment of battlefield casualties and medical care for huge armies on the march. Many of these advances are still seen today in military settings around the world.
Vice President Mark Quattrock has long-studied and participated as a living historian in Civil War medicine. A few years back, Mark discussed some surprising aspects of the Confederate medical practitioners who often had to improvise when they lacked the basic tools and supplies of the day, and his February program took an in-depth look at a Union medical department that was forced to break out of ancient, hidebound attitudes exhibited by antebellum “surgeons.”
Education, organization, technology and improvisation all came together once the shooting started. By the mid-19th century, doctors were generally better educated, and William Hammond and Jonathan Letterman would introduce new ways to treat the injured more quickly, perform triage, evacuate them to surgical stations and subsequently along to longer-term facilities for recovery.
Additionally, medical staffs more closely studied both wounds and diseases in an effort to better understand how they affected the human body and what could be done to improve outcomes. With the aid of civilian agencies such as the United States Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission, along with improvements in nursing practices, the sick or injured Union soldier’s survival chances increased dramatically.
We continue to benefit today from the advances made by the U.S. Army Medical Department between 1861-65. The National Museum of Health and Medicine remains a treasure trove of research and understanding, and organizations such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, USO and Veterans Administration can trace their lineage to America’s greatest conflict. Improvements made in Civil War medicine continue to benefit American soldiers on 21st century battlefields.