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Free «Medicine in the American Civil War» Essay Sample

The American Civil War was the initial major war in the history of America, and it claimed the lives of many people. According to history, more than 600,000 people lost their lives or sustained serious wounds due to Civil War. It was estimated that among those people who lost their lives or sustained grievous injuries included approximately 360,000 people from North and about 260,000 from the Southern part. The American Civil War affected almost every family in both North and South regions and the casualties surpassed those of all other wars that have ever been experienced in the American history (Wilbur, 1998).

Historically, it is believed that the leading medical advancements in America were realized as a result of American Civil War. Various medical advancements were aimed at addressing the medical needs of many people who were injured during civil wars particularly soldiers who comprised of the greatest number of all those people affected. This paper studies the history of medicine during the American Civil War, and its adverse effects on those affected. In addition, this paper will provide comprehensive information on the efforts of medical practitioners, as well as medical advancements that cropped up as a result of American Civil War. Finally, this paper will analyze various milestones that have been achieved in the current medical fraternity as a result of medical developments from American Civil War.



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During the American Civil War, surgeons worked 24/7 treating soldiers who sustained serious injuries, while nurses were assigned in all tents to attend on patients. Many nurses at military camps were members of the U.S. Christian Commission and the U.S. Sanitary Commission (Schultz, 2004). These were organizations formed for the benefit of union soldiers who were injured during the Civil War. Women played an extremely crutial role during the American Civil War, and they worked daily and nightly in hospital wards attending to the injured and sick soldiers, both union soldiers as well as Confederate soldiers (Schultz, 2004).

At the start of Civil War, medical knowledge was perceived as primitive, and medical practitioners including physicians did not have any knowledge regarding infections or methods to prevent further infections. Moreover, during that period, there were no antiseptics used in the treatment. As a result of lack of knowledge on infections, physicians used same medical equipment in treating various casualties. In other words, equipment that was used to treat a wounded soldier was used to treat another soldier without sterilization (Wilbur, 1998). It increased the possibility of further infections of bacteria and germs. As a result, some treatments provided by medical practitioners complicated the illness of those affected and even contributed to the death.

Furthermore, during Civil War period, antibiotics were not available and this increased infections in cramped conditions. Although physician endeavored to save the lives of soldiers, it was unfortunate that a substantial number of soldiers were in a bigger risk of dying under the care of a medical practitioner than in the battlefield. Therefore, many deaths were experienced during the American Civil War as a result of inexperience of medical professionals. According to statistics, more than 600,000 Americans got killed or were wounded on the battle field, many of them being soldiers (Wilbur, 1998). As a result, there was a need for conducting extensive researches with the aim of coming up with the most appropriate methods of treatment to avoid the occurrence of such deaths.

During this period, some treatments that were given to the casualties did more harm than good to those affected, for instance, physicians used mercury regularly in the treatment of many health problems (Adams, 1952). In other words, patients were given a substance that was referred as Calomel, which comprised of a mixture of chalk with mercury and honey. However, physicians at that time were not aware that the substance was poisonous and harmful to the patients. Some of the dangers of using that mixture included digestive complications, tooth loss, and brain damage. Moreover, during the American Civil War, bone saw was one of the most common and recognizable medical equipment. This tool was used in amputation since 75% of surgeries that were performed on the battlefield included amputations (Adams, 1952).

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During the American Civil War, one of the most beneficial medical technologies invented was the chloroform. It was an anesthetic or painkiller introduced in the early 1840’s, and it served as a major relief to patients. Chloroform played a vital role in reducing pain during surgery, and it enabled surgeons to execute their operations without much pain on the side of patients. Chloroform was used in both North and South parts, which were significantly affected by the Civil War (Adams, 1952).

According to Harvey Cushing, a person who introduced modern neurosurgery just a year before America entered the World War I; constant wars played a key role in encouraging surgeons, researchers, and physicians to major in extensive researches with the aim of advancing their medical knowledge. In support of this, American Civil War equally resulted in further medical advancements. It was mainly experienced in the development of many field hospitals, and advancement of medical knowledge among surgeons, physicians, and nurses. In addition, American Civil War contributed to the establishment of hospital-related programs for nurses.

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On the other hand, surgeons during the American Civil War initiated a similar program immediately after peace. It led to the establishment of hospital-based training programs for surgeons with hospitals opened in key cities such as Boston, New Haven, and New York in early 1873. Moreover, American Civil War resulted in increased appreciation of relationship between prevention of infection and sanitation. Eventually, this contributed to the establishment of Sanitary Science, which was another legacy of American Civil War.

Another key medical advancement from the American Civil War included technological and surgical advances in amputation. It included the application of a more flexible chain saw, which was mainly used in sparing muscles, nerves, and in comminuted fracture. Moreover, this warfare resulted to the development of modern vascular ligation, which was to be applied in the battlefield in tying the main arteries that extend from the stumps of injured limbs. It was another crucial and vital achievement of American Civil War with regard to surgery.

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In reality, surgeons during this period rediscovered ligation process, since the Amboise Pare, a French military surgeon applied it in the battlefield amputation during the middle of 16th century. Also, Amboise Pare was reviving an amputation practice that was initially applied in the Alexandrian Era in 14th century B.C.

Further advancements in the medicine were also experienced in 1900 when Karl Landsteiner, a renowned Viennese immunologist and pathologist, introduced the system of blood groups, which was referred as ABO. This initiative provided enough blood banks, which made blood transfusion possible particularly to help the wounded soldiers in the military Medical Corps in France. In addition, World War II resulted in further advancements to modern wound management. It did not only involve treatment of wounds, but it also included the most appropriate methods of preventing possible cellulitic infections such as bacterial skin infections.

During this time, the traditional methods of treatments that were initially used in the treatment of casualties were improved. Also, surgeons in the battlefield were quick to comprehend the urgent need for intensive wound debridement, as well as the delayed closure in the treatment of contaminated wounds from injuries in the battlefield. It played a crucial role in reducing the number of deaths among casualties after treatment.

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Additionally, American Civil War led to the introduction of Sanitary Commission, which was initiated in 1861. This commission played a significant role in reducing the spread of infectious diseases by encouraging relevant parties to improve sanitation in the military camps. This Commission was to provide a proper guide to the establishment of American Red Cross, which is currently serving many people across the globe mainly during calamities.

During American Civil War, Dorothea Dix who was working in the Army Nursing Corp initiated proper medical care to both confederate and union soldiers. She played a critical role in the development of medicine in the sense that she established a system that would ensure proper record keeping for patients. In addition, this initiative included the record keeping of deaths, which played a vital role in reporting the possible deaths to the relevant family. This initiative provided the first and the most effective medical attention in the history of America. The effort and dedication of Dorothea Dix was not only experienced during the American Civil War, but her effort led to massive advancement in the nursing profession with regard to the devotion to patients care. This initiative is still applied in the current nursing profession.

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In conclusion, American Civil War contributed significantly to the development of medicine in many ways. The comparison between the current medical care and the American medical care during Civil War provides credible evidence that numerous advancements have been experienced in medicine. Although medical practices were poor due to medical practitioners’ inexperience, many changes in the current medical fraternity have developed from American Civil War.

According to a research study from University of California, other significant medical advancements contributed by the American Civil War included the publication of surgical and medical History of War, which emerged as the first medical accomplishment in America, and it was based on records and reports of patient care. In addition, American Civil War contributed to the establishment of hospitals with proper sanitary conditions, as well as appropriate wound management to cater for casualties from the Civil War. It ensured that all casualties received proper treatment. Moreover, the report also revealed that female nurses became very prominent figures during American Civil War, and this continued to the medical care in America (Schultz, 2004).

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Finally, during the American Civil War, there was a major development in patient care, for instance, the seriously wounded patients were treated through effective surgical practices for the first time during American Civil War. Also, American Civil War played a critical role in expanding physician training to include proper infections prevention methods, anesthetic treatments, and quality medical care.


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