Medicine in the 13th Maine Infantry
Medical Wagon
Army Hospital
Asst. Surgeon Seth C. Gordon
(Courtesy of Tom MacDonald, Eustis, Maine)
Asst. Surgeon James R. Files
(Courtesy of Tom MacDonald, Eustis, Maine)
Surgeon James M. Bates
(Courtesy of Tom MacDonald, Eustis, Maine)
Surgeons and Hospital Stewards
(The following is quoted from the "Home of the American Civil War" website.)

"For the Unfortunate Civil War soldier, whether he came from the North or from the South, not only got into the army just when the killing power of weapons was being brought to a brand-new peak of efficiency; he enlisted in the closing years of an era when the science of medicine was woefully, incredibly imperfect, so that he got the worst of it in two ways. When he fought, he was likely to be hurt pretty badly; when he stayed in camp, he lived under conditions that were very likely to make him sick; and in either case he had almost no chance to get the kind of medical treatment which a generation or so later would be routine.

Both the Federal and Confederate governments did their best to provide proper medical care for their soldiers, but even the best was not very good. This was nobody's fault. There simply was no such thing as good medical care in that age -- at least as the modern era understands the expression."


Two principle anaesthetics were generally available and widely used in field and military hospitals - ether and chloroform. Chloroform was preferred in many instances, especially in field hospitals because if took effect very quickly. However, many surgeons preferred to use ether when they had the time because it was safer to use. It was easy to give an overdose of chloroform that would contribute to a fatal shock. For this and other reasons as many as a third of the major surgical operations, including amputations, were performed without the benefit of anaesthetics.

Although many efforts were made and significant advances resulted, the science and knowledge of disease causes/vectors was quite limited and the soldiers suffered greatly from diseases. The primary causes of disease were contaminated water and food, insect vectors, and contagious diseases spread through close contact. The 13th Maine Infantry suffered an epidemic of measles that claimed the lives of eleven soldiers soon after they started to form at the US Arsenal in Augusta, Maine. Several soldiers died and many were discharged for disability at that time. Also, wounds and surgeries often resulted in fatal infections due to unsanitary conditions.

For many years after, as indicated on the 1890 Veteran Census, veterans suffered from the results of disease and infection. Common complaints were "chronic diarrhea", "fever", "ague", etc. Some men had still festering wounds years after the war.

The Sanitary Commission was a non-government organization that supported the military through camp inspections, research and education.
(Music is "Sick Call" by the US Army Bands bugles)