The brutal realities of Gettysburg

July 1st – 3rd marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  The conflict, considered a turning point in the Civil War, involved the largest number of casualties during the conflict between the states.

The wounded were carried to field hospitals that were often the sites of infection, amputation and death.

Physician and historian Frank R. Freemon sets the brutal scene of the field hospital in Gangrene and Glory: Medical Care during the American Civil War:

Operations were performed in the open air, with those about to undergo amputation watching those ahead of them in the line.  Surgery was quick, bloody, and brutal.  The unfortunate person being operated on was anesthetized, but those waiting for surgery were awake.  They could see in others what would soon happen to them.

The surgeon wore an apron covered with blood.  He held the knife between his teeth as he sutured the wound.  Taking the knife in his bloody hands, he called out, “Next.” (pg,109)

Over 27,000 were wounded at Gettysburg; and not all were even fortunate enough to make it to even the most makeshift of medical care. 

Top photo: Casey Fleser, Flickr Creative Commons

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