Medicine in the Civil War

Essay by kacecanraceJunior High, 8th gradeA+, January 2005

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Medicine In The Civil War

Those medical professionals who look back now at the techniques of Civil War doctors and hospitals are often found to be appalled. In our current eyes, medical professionals were untrained, uneducated, and frankly, stupid. The common medicines of the Civil War are now viewed by medical professionals as poisonous, lethal, and definitely dangerous. It is a statistical fact that more soldiers in the Civil War died from diarrhea than from battle wounds and injuries. Those deaths from diarrhea are known not to have usually been caused by the disease itself, but by the treatments administered for the illnesses.

One young soldier who checked into a hospital during the war was diagnosed with something he had heard soldiers refer to as the "Tennessee Trots," "Virginia Quick Steps," or the "Bowel Complaint." Doctors, however, diagnosed him with something we now refer to as diarrhea, they, however, called it "debilities," dysentery," or also diarrhea.

This poor young soldier was recorded to have been treated with several dangerous chemicals as a way to stop the infection. These treatments included, but were not limited to, lead acetate, opium, aromatic sulfuric acid, tincture of opium, silver nitrate, belladonna, calomel, and ipecac. Of course, this poor young man being force-fed so much poison died less than two weeks later.

Statistics like this are the reason many soldiers during the Civil War regarded checking into a hospital as a death sentence. Many soldiers would go through a great deal of pain before checking into a hospital. It is no wonder with the treatments that were administered. The compound that was most commonly found in medical chests was called blue mass. This mercury and chalk compound was thought to be a good treatment for ailments from a toothache to constipation. Doctors did not...