The Civil War was during a time period that saw many new methods and inventions being used for the first time. The inventions were used to help quickly advance the war being over which caused more complex injuries. Therefore, medical practices had to evolve to treat these injuries and the diseases caused by poor medical practices. Most of the inventions used were in the weaponry category, however, some of the others included the railroads and the telegraph. Medical advances could include hospitals, the U.S. Sanitation Commission, and the use of chemical anesthetics for amputations. The most devastating part of the war was the weaponry.
Weaponry saw many advancements. The minié ball was developed. This is a bullet-like projectile fired out of a rifle. It is better than the previous ammunition for the rifle because the ball not only made reloading a bit easier but also the minié ball improved range and accuracy. This was a devastating development because of the damage it could cause. “The soft lead caused it to smash or splinter bones. It would cut through internal organs without exiting the body.” It could even “cut down riders and their mounts.” The next development in weaponry was the breechloader. This type of gun allowed the person to be prone on the ground while they loaded the gun thus making them a smaller target. This was an improvement from having to stand up straight while one shoved ammunition down the barrel of the gun. This gun also used “tighter-fitting bullets” which helped increase accuracy and range. Breechloaders load ammunition at the breech of the gun. The location of the loading site also allowed for a quicker loading time. This allowed for more shots to be fired when compared to the fire rate of muzzleloaders. Next came the invention of machine guns. These were guns that could fire off a high number of shots and in a short amount of time. The two most commonly known are the “Coffee Mill Gun” and the “Gatlin Gun.” “The Gatlin Gun could fire 150-200 shots per minute.” Musket Shells were also used during the civil war. They were usually intended to blow up artillery cartridges; however, sometimes people would be caught in the crossfire. Essentially, these Musket Shells were bombs. They were “rifle cartridges designed to explode once it contacted with a target.” Someone in the Union improved the design to allow for a time delay thus making a time bomb. This improvement on these musket shells allowed them to be used from afar. If a musket shell were to be detonated near a person, the injuries could include “flesh being ripped apart, mangling or tearing the victim to pieces.” Landmines were briefly used in the Civil War particularly by the South. Their use was frowned upon as barbaric. All these weapons were used to try to bring the war to an end. Most of the weapons didn’t instantly kill the victim. In fact, most of the weapons just caused severe bodily harm. If the initial shot didn’t kill them then the soldiers were more than likely to die from the complications of their wounds.
Other inventions included the Telegraph and Railroads. The telegraph system allowed commanding officers to give the command to distant troops. It made communication easier and for battle plans to be given out over long distances. It also allowed for the reporting of advances and retreats up until the last minute. It did not come without its risks though. Civilians were often the people to translate the messages and if they died their families would not get a pension. Railroads were also heavily used. “Railroads were the arteries of the war.” They “transported goods such as ammunition, artillery, horses, mules, cattle, wagons, tents, blankets, food, water, etc.” Most of the battles in the war were over control of railroads. Railroads allowed supplies to be transported over long distances. It was imperative to have control over these systems because you can blockade a region and wait for them to run out of supplies. If they run out of supplies, they will have to surrender. This blockading tactic was devastating. It would stop them from receiving food, medicine, and other goods essential to survival. Weapons were also transported on the railways. It was very beneficial to stop the transporting of goods to a region because without weapons there is no war. The “garrison at Chattanooga” would have been lost if reinforcements were not sent by train.
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The other major development that happened in the war was the advancement of medical practices. Letterman made a bunch of advances in how medical practices could be improved. One advancement was in the requirements of physicians. He required all physicians “to carry a standardized medical kit.” This kit included the material needed to treat wounds like bandages. The next advancement was the system of medical evacuations. He made it where the wounded soldiers would have a slightly better trip by organizing a chain of command for the makeshift ambulances. The U.S Sanitation Commission was the next major development. It was made up and run by civilians. Their purpose was “prevention of diseases.” They went from camp to camp and “noted” the different conditions of various things like water and rations. If they saw something was not up to standard then, they would give advice on what needed to be done to bring them back up to code. Hospitals were also advanced during the war. Before the war, there were not a lot of hospitals in general. The severe number of injuries caused many different places to be “converted into makeshift hospitals.” When new hospitals were constructed, they were done in the “pavilion style.” This style spread the patients out therefore they were no longer on top of each other. The hospitals were also constructed with good ventilation in mind. These two allowances helped stop the spread of disease.
The physicians of the Civil War did not have a lot of medical knowledge. This caused the “trade-mark” medical practice on the battlefield to be amputated. Amputations were the most common option because of the severity of injuries and the complications that followed suit. The type of bullets used in the civil war shattered bones on impact, and typically the bullets did not leave the body. The complications from the injuries arose in the form of disease and infection. “Gangrene, septicemia, or osteomyelitis” were the most common infections that happened after a soldier was shot. During this time period, there was no other effective treatment besides amputations. Another reason amputation was widely used was because “surgery knowledge was rudimentary.” The “only surgical procedure that could be done successfully was amputation.” This practice of amputation comes with the question of what type of pain reducer does surgery comes with. Before anesthesia, the patients didn’t have anything to numb the pain except alcohol. In this situation, “speed was emphasized to limit the amount of pain the patient had to endure.” “Anesthesia was widely adopted” a little later in the war, however, patients were “only lightly anesthetized to improve the safety of the patient.” The typical anesthetic on the battlefield was “Chloroform.” “Ether was more common in a hospital setting.” Amputations were not perfect and complications could still arise from this surgery. Infection was a common occurrence after surgery. In most cases, the solution was to just give the infection time to resolve itself. For a majority of cases, this worked; however, there were times when the infection didn’t go away and turned into “blood poisoning” which would often lead to death. “Amputation was also used to treat compound fractures.” If the fractures were left to heal on their own, then they would often never heal correctly and would cause future complications. There was a big controversy on the use of amputations. A lot of people during the war claimed that amputations were overly used when it was not called for. This criticism left surgeons “hesitant to perform them even when necessary.” Other people in looking back claimed that they were not used enough. For example, William W. Keen said, “taking the army as a whole, I have no hesitation in saying that far more lives were lost from refusal to amputate than amputation.”
Overall, the major development that occurred in the civil war was weaponry. It advanced quickly and was improved in such a way that injuries were higher. The increase in range and accuracy as well as the loading time made it to where more shots could be fired thus injuring more people. Railroads were heavily used as well. It aided the devastation of the war by transporting weapons and other material over long stretches of land in a shorter period of time than what was capable of wagons and horses. Medical practices were eventually advanced to accommodate for germs, however, this mostly occurred toward the end of the war and the damage had already been done. In conclusion, the technological advances and advancements of medical practices during the civil war impacted the outcome of the war.