I want to know exactly how much people know about Civil War medicine, what they think about it, and would they be interested in learning more about it. I'm an avid scholar of Civil War medical history and I'm trying to get a feel for contemporary opinions and breadth of knowledge about Civil War medicine, particularly what people today think about the surgeons.
I know nothing. Just stereotypes of saw-bone doctors in field hospitals, using whiskey as anaesthetic and antiseptic... these are probably stereotypes that aren't supported by evidence. I have read some of Walt Whitman's work as a nurse in the Civil War, via a biography of him.
I'd love to know more. I'm sure it's a history that can be written well and in an interesting manner!
I do know that morphine was available, and plentifully used as an analgesic. In fact, it was so commonly used that morphine addiction came to be known as "Soldier's Disease". Bear in mind, it was still a very new drug, and the concept of physiological as well as psychological addiction were not really understood.
I believe that it was during the civil war that the technique of intravenous injection of drugs was first tested in the field, although not via a dedicated intravenous catheter, as is the case nowadays. Drugs were injected directly from a syringe into a punctured vein (a technique we call a "hot shot" these days). Syringes back then were glass and steel affairs, and the needles had to be sharpened periodically so that they could puncture skin. In fact, my grandmother (a nurse for 60 years) left me a set of such syringes when she passed away. I keep them in a shadow box on my wall. Quite beautiful, i think.
I could be wrong, but i believe that this was around the time when the concept of antisepsis (proposed by one Baron Von Lister, from whom listerine took it's namesake) was first beginning to take hold. In those early days, the readily available anitseptics were either alcohol (yes Vy, the whiskey antiseptic story is true), phenol, or creosote (imagine rubbing that on a fresh stump. OUCH!)
Again, check the books, but i do believe that ether was available as an anesthetic, although rarely used in the field due to its explosive nature.
I once heard a story that a doctor doing amputations in a two story building would drop the bad limb in a pile out the window. Eventually the pile became level with the window. I also saw a picture of a typical Civil War doctor's briefcase. It has a lot of saws.
I think heroin was invented during the Civil War in an attempt to create a pain killer less addictive than morphine. We see how that turned out...