Medical Advances of the Civil War

Innovations that Influenced Today's Society

Life Saving Amputations

Amputations in the Civil War saved more lives than any other wartime medical procedure. Battle time surgeons perfected the practice so well, it took no more than 6 minutes to complete an amputation. The techniques invented, including cutting far from the heart and never cutting through joints, are still the standard today.

The Anesthesia Inhaler

During the civil war, a chloroform-soaked cloth that was placed over someones nose, was the only way to put someone to sleep before surgery. However, during the war, the Confederate army's supply of anesthesia was short because of Northern blockades. Soon, Dr. Julian John Chisolm invented a 2.5-inch inhaler, the first of its type. This new method required only one-eighth of an ounce of chloroform, compared to the old 2-ounce dose. So rebels could treat the same number of patients while using only a fraction of the supplies.

Plastic Surgery and Facial Reconstruction

Gurdon Buck, now considered to be the father of plastic surgery, was a surgeon at the city hospital in New York. Buck was known for repairing many soldier's facial structures after they had been disfigured in the war. He and other union surgeons completed nearly 32 revolutionary facial reconstructions. Gurdon Buck was the first to photograph the progress of his repairs and his goal in operating was to bring back a sense or normalcy to the soldiers who were desperate for any kind of treatment.
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Chest Wounds

At the beginning of the war, Benjamin Howard was just a young assistant surgeon. Top surgeons had decided that there was no use in trying to save people with chest wounds, because only 8% survived who were shot in the chest. Howard experimented, and discovered that when there was an opening in the chest cavity, pressure in the lungs caused them to collapse. The doctor found that if he closed the wound with metal structures and added a few drops of adhesive solution, he could create an airtight seal. Survival rates quadrupled, and this innovation is still the standard treatment today.
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Ambulance to ER System

After 1,011 Union soldiers were at the First Battle of Bull Run, empty ambulances led the retreat to Washington, D.C. At the time, most of the civilian drivers of these ambulances were inexperienced and drunkards. Realizing the need for a change, medical director Jonathan Letterman, created the ambulance system which evacuated and cared for the wounded soldiers quickly and effectively. This became the model for the ambulance to ER system we know today.
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