Friday, November 20, 2015

Prattville Dragoons Camp Meeting for November 2015 - Part 2

The guest speaker for the Dragoons SCV Camp 1524 November camp meeting was Alabama SCV Division Surgeon Henry Howard from Montgomery.  Henry spoke to the camp about medical annd surgical procedures and practices during the War Between the States.  This historical period was the end of the dark ages of medicine when cauterizing wounds was replaced by stitches.  Intravenous medicine was administered by applying a paste over an intentional bled area on the patients arm.  Advances in medicine were outpaced by advances in weaponry. The newest ammunition in the War was the 58 caliber soft lead mini-ball which would shatter bone upon impact.  The mini-balls were rifled and would spin as they travelled down the rifle barrel which improved the accuracy and velocity of the ammunition over the previous round musket balls.   Toe tags were first used in the War, carried by each soldieer in their haversack and provided information pertaining to the soldiers next of kin.

Doctors knew little of reconstructive surgery so cranial and brain surgery was not very successful.  In reenactments, period field surgical units were like a MASH unit and both Union and Confederate flags were usually flown and wounded soldiers from both sides were cared for until they were well enough to send to a POW camp.  Amputations were gnarly.  Anesthesia was introduced but was crude consisting of liquor and chloroform or ether which would last approximately 15 minutes so any surgical procedure had to be completed in this short timeframe. Tourniquets were used to stem the blood flow to the extremity which was to be amputated.   For an amputation they would cut the flesh back on a diagonal and peal that back so a serrated saw could be used to cut the bone to complete the removal of the limb which was usually discarded onto a pile of bones.

But infection and diseases were still very common. Typhoid and diarrhea were the primary diseases resulting in a terrible death rate among injured and combat soldiers as communicable diseases were exacerbated by the proximity in which the soldiers lived.  400,000 of the 600,000+ deaths incurred in the War were due to disease and infection.Contamination is only today becoming more fully understood especially in food handling and preparation.  Cleanliness was unheard of and instruments were often reused between patients with no sterilization.   Cotton thread was initially used for stitches but was of inferior strength.  This was replaced by horse hair which was boiled to soften and make pliable (and fortunately also served to sterilize) for use to stitch the wounds closed.  Bandages were often used on multiple patients spreading germs until nurses were introduced in the field hospitals.  Nurses helped clean and did laundry including washing the soiled bandages.  Survival rates improved with the introduction of nurses and basic cleaning practices.
Henry Howard with His Patient Buford

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