Archive for the ‘Myth Busters’ Category

White middle and upper class women were the majority component of the hospital relief workforce North and South.

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Patriotism aside the majority of women serving in union and confederate hospitals were working classes, and they were paid for their work as cooks, laundresses, matrons, waitresses, seamstresses, chambermaids, and the occasional nurse.  In Southern hospitals alone at least 20% (if not more) of the hospital personnel were slaves hired out by their owners to care for the wounded.  Typically in the North and South literate, well-connected women who entered service were referred to as nurses while working class women lacking literacy were given less impressive job tittles.  Certainly, working class women felt compassion for the ill and wounded, but…

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Anesthesia did not exist during the Civil War

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Gaseous ether and chloroform were both widely available and there therapeutic impact was well known in Union and Confederate medical services.  Major surgery was carried out using these anesthetics if they were available.  It is estimated that greater than 90% of all major surgery was carried out with anesthetics.

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Biting the bullet

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Early anesthesia techniques required patient restraint because the agents available affected the excitement phase of anesthesia causing the observed motor movements and patient vocalizations.  Patient’s only appeared to be awake based on their vocalizations and movements.  Effectively administered anesthesia provided a safer intra-operative and post-operative surgical experience.

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19th Century doctors were poorly trained

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While it is true 19th Century medical education was simplistic compared to our standards today medicine then was one of the few professions requiring a student to complete a formal medical curriculum dealing with specific elements of medical knowledge.  Many 19th Century physicians also completed an apprenticeship with a skilled physician, and if time and finances permitted the student would travel to Europe to study in their more advanced clinical environment.

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Most military surgeons were political appointees or worse

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FACT:  By late 1862, early 1863 Union and Confederate medical services went to great lengths to examine (oral and written) their previously commissioned and new surgeon candidates.  Higher standards were set for surgeon and assistant surgeon and by early 1863 most of the men practicing as military surgeons or contract civilian doctors were suitably skilled for their roles. The others who were political appointees or worse with no measurable medical skills were discharged from their respective armies.

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Women to the front!

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Northern and Southern records indicate several hundred women served in the ranks, but they were far outnumbered by the thousands of women who served as domestic laborers providing hospital relief services in urban centers, military camps, and the field.  Far more women served directly in nursing or matron roles during the war than as soldiers.  Add to that number the tens of thousands of women who kept their homes, farms and businesses running while the men were off to war.  Women contributed mightily to the northern and southern war efforts without bearing arms directly.

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