Medical Innovations

Several advancements were made in medical and surgical practices by both sides during the war. Asepsis and Germ Theory were not yet understood during the war, so hygiene was not well practiced. This poor hygienic practice resulted in the rate of mortality after an operation being 14.2%, on average.6 In trying to alleviate these high death rates, surgeons unintentionally discovered some principles of asepsis. For example, Confederate surgeons did not have access to sponges because of a blockade, so they used rags instead. Because the rags were much more easily cleaned than the sponges, the spread of disease was reduced.6 This medical improvement was noted and preserved. Surgeons also falsely attributed gangrene to the conditions of the hospital rather than the condition of the wound. However, this did result in successful attempts to make hospitals less crowded and more open.


The contribution to surgical knowledge was enormous. Surgeons recorded thousands of pages of data and information, as well as engravings. An article produced from data collected during the war and entitled “Hip-Joint Amputations” covered nearly one hundred pages.4 Surgeons developed a deeper and greater understanding of when and how to operate and do amputations.


Finally, great organizational advancements occurred during the war. The Sanitary Commission carried out inspections and made reports on the setup of military hospitals. Aspects of the hospitals deemed unsanitary or unsafe could be corrected when the next hospital was erected. Furthermore, surgeons kept meticulous organizational and administrative records that were carried over and used as prototypes and standards far into the future. This organizational knowledge, obtained by trial and error, was as valuable to future surgeons as the medical knowledge obtained.