Thomasville Times Enterprise

January 11, 2014

Davies discusses Civil War medicine

Staff report

— Doris Davies, a retired registered nurse, presented an informative program about medicine and treatment during the 1800s to the members of John B. Gordon 383 United Daughters of the Confederacy. She is an associate member of the UDC chapter.

Davis stated that there were two methods of popular medical practices during the earlier times. They were "heroic" medicine (bloodletting) and botanical or homeopathic medicine (using roots and herbs).

From 1861-1865, the Union and Confederate armies and navies drew weapons in hundreds of battles and skirmishes from Pennsylvania to New Mexico.

Nearly 200,000 lost their lives from enemy fire. But, more than 400,000 soldiers died from diseases. During the War Between the States, doctors received limited medical education. Most surgeons were not familiar with gunshot wounds.

The newly developed "minie" ball produced awful wounds that were difficult to treat. Both the Southern  and Northern sides were ill-prepared for removing wounded men from the battlefield and transporting them to hospitals. Systems to provide hospital care for the sick and wounded had not been developed. Blood typing, X-rays, antibiotics and modern medical tests and procedures were nonexistent.

Open latrines, decomposing food and unclean water were the rules of the camps. Diarreal disease affected nearly every soldier. Surgery was performed with unwashed hands and unclean instruments. The most effective drugs were the painkillers opium and morphine, while many of the other available drugs were useless or harmful.

Surgeons frequently treated arm and leg wounds by amputating. The wounds were caused by bullets and shrapnel were often contaminated by clothing and other debris.

The most common diseases encountered during the war were dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia and malaria. The acceptance of female nurses signicantly changed the war's medical care.

The John B. Gordon chapter announced this year's local student to receive a $200 scholarship. She is Mimi Hand, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Hand of Thomasville.

Hand is a member of the John B. Gordon 840 Children of the Confederacy.