Friday, January 17, 2014

The Plight of a Civil War Soldier...

While writing HAZARDOUS UNIONS I learned a lot about the Civil War soldier. Men of all ages, some as young as 12 years old and even women enlisted. To be a Civil War soldier on either side of the coin was a horrible job. While 110,000 Union and 94,000 Confederate soldiers were killed in battle, an enormous 388,580 died from illness; diarrhea, typhoid, typhus, malarial fevers and pneumonia were all rampant during the five years of the War. 

The soldier faced more misery than his counterparts in either World War I or II. Poorly clothed, underfed and at times without shoes, these men and women still woke each day, fought on open battlefields and risked their lives. 

Field hospitals were set up within camps and were nothing to write home about. Poor medical treatment, lack of antiseptics and an unclean environment led to many painful infections often taking lives. 
After a battle, injured soldiers were strewn about the dirt floor where they waited for a surgeon to tell them their fate. 

Amputations were custom back then and soldiers watched as their limbs were hacked off with little or no anesthesia. Bloody bullet wounds were dressed and often infected by the unclean hands of physicians. Blood transfusions would’ve saved many lives, but with little understanding as to how this was done, there were only two attempts throughout the whole war.

If these conditions weren’t enough to frighten the hell out of the soldiers then battle would. Unlike later wars, the Civil War at times was no more than a bloody free-for-all slaughter with no care as to how the enemy died as long as he perished. After the battle of Cold Harbor in 1864, 7,000 Union soldiers and 1,500 Confederates were killed within eight minutes.

A Confederate soldier who witnessed the scene said, “The dead covered more than five acres of ground about as thickly as they could be laid.”

The battle at Gettysburg was worse: 51,000 men died from their wounds—more than the number of American soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.

In the end over 600,000 soldiers from both sides died, more than the Vietnam, World War I and World War II combined. It's a very sad and sobering reality and for me, a difficult number to swallow. War is the closest thing to hell, and for every soldier who has ever fought in any are a hero. 
Thank you. 



Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Kat,
Very interesting, The casualties were dreadful. How many would have been saved if Pencillin had been invented? I should imagine more would have died of wounds and disease rather than be shot dead on the battlefield.



Kathy Fischer-Brown said...

Fascinating blog! Thank you for sharing. What a coincidence that I read something just the other day about some of the conceptions and misconceptions, as well as some of the "cutting edge" (no pun intended) surgical procedures during the Civil War. One myth was the "bite the bullet" method for amputation. Check out this interesting, as well as disturbing, article about a current exhibit at Philadelphia's Mutter Museum: