Friday, July 17, 2015

Amputees in the Civil War: Book Details the War's Gruesome Aftermath

The Civil War wreaked havoc across the North and the South. Families were torn apart, fortunes were lost, national morale was at an all-time low - and even seemingly minor gunshot wounds could have devastating consequences. Often, surgeons had to amputate relatively intact limbs because the patients were at risk for infection from the shrapnel and unsterilized conditions.

A page from The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (1861-65) depicting "Amputations at the Ankle Joint." Library Collection. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives' holdings include Empty Sleeves: Amputation in the Civil War South, a book by Brian Craig Miller that details how both individuals and the unstable state governments in the Confederacy handled amputations during and after the Civil War. With so many amputations near the beginning of the war, surgeons were sometimes referred to as “butchers.” By the end of the war, regulations and surgical practices had improved, which considerably lowered the number of amputations performed. Nonetheless, thousands of men and their families were left with losses that impacted their finances and their emotional states.

View of the front and side of Crutchfield House, located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This building served as a post headquarters and hospital during the Civil War. Library Photograph Collection.

Empty Sleeves is just one of several resources held at the Tennessee State Library and Archives that cover medical practices during the Civil War. Other sources include:

  • Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (published in six parts) U.S. Surgeon General, (Washington: Govt. Printing Office 1870-1888.) Index published 1992. Case studies written by military surgeons detailing treatment of wounds and sickness. The majority are for Union soldiers, with a fair complement of Confederates. The three-volume index is a recent publication and can be searched by soldier's name or unit.
  • Samuel Hollingsworth Stout Papers, 1819-1963. Stout served as the Director of Hospitals for the Army of Tennessee, CSA from 1863 to 1865. The correspondence and documents within this manuscript collection reveal hospital administration techniques and military field conditions of the Confederacy in the western theater of the Civil War. There are many other manuscript collections which describe medical conditions in the Civil War just waiting to be discovered at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

To learn more, we invite you to explore these titles and other collections held in our collection. The State Library and Archives is open to the public Tuesdays to Saturdays, 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. CT.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

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