The Gruesome Reality Of Civil War Medicine
During the Civil War, battlefield injuries often meant infection, amputation, and surgeries performed by inexperienced doctors.
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. Most physicians had little surgical experience. Many had never performed a major operation or even participated in a dissection.
Military surgeons learned to amputate and perform a wide variety of procedures as they were actively engaged in conflicts. Of the 114 surgeons in the U.S. Army in January 1861, 24 resigned to join the Confederacy and establish the Confederate Medical Service. Few were mentally or physically prepared, on either side, for what was to come. The horrendous numbers of casualties, thousands in each major encounter dictated that proper triage be established for amputation, the most commonly performed major surgical necessity. The large numbers of injured created an opportunity to hone one’s skills and become an expert.