Reminder Of A Serious Wound

Confederate Major D. C. Merwin was an artilleryman who was wounded in battle. Doctors amputated his right arm. This is the jacket he wore that day. Merwin saved it as a souvenir, along with a pair of left-handed gloves given to him by his sympathetic men. Like many other soldiers, he fought on through the war despite his disability.

The sick and wounded

If a civil war soldier became sick or was hurt in battle, he was in serious trouble. In the 1860s, there were no medicines to fight infections — no one had heard of germs. The bullets fired by Civil War rifles were very heavy and powerful. They often smashed the arm or leg bones of gunshot victims. Doctors could not repair those bone injuries, so they usually cut off a damaged limb to save the patient. The only painkillers available for this surgery were chloroform, ether, or whiskey. If a wound became infected, hospital workers encouraged flies to lay their eggs in it. They hoped the creatures that came out of the newly hatched fly eggs — maggots — would eat the diseased flesh. Miraculously, this cure sometimes worked. But more soldiers were killed by camp illnesses than by battle wounds. Polluted drinking water gave troops diphtheria and cholera. In those days, the only treatment for these diseases was doses of the narcotic opium. This drug eased the victim's intestinal distress and kept him from dying of dehydration. Just the same, tens of thousands of men died of these diseases as well as of measles, mumps, malaria, and yellow fever. The causes of and cures for these illnesses would not be discovered for several decades.

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