ChesterCountyMedicineSummer2019 - 28

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Reflections on

Civil War
Medicine
BY JOHN P. MAHER, MD, MPH

T

he weeks between late Spring and early of all those "wounded warriors" who served,
Summer seem to be an appropriate suffered, bled and were injured, maimed or
time to give consideration to some died for this nation's security and survival.
of our military/patriotic history. Starting in One popular phrase sums that up: "All gave
mid-May, the nation gets interested again some; some gave all!"
(even if for only a short time) in America's
This particular author then, being a Vietmilitary history and the heroic service of nam Veteran and a retired physician, recently
our service men and women who helped in experienced a mild sort of "flashback" (not
the nation's creation, its survival, its defeat the major, pathological kind seen in patients
of crucial enemies (both foreign and home- with PTSD) but one related to my own
grown), "kept the world safe for democracy," experience many years ago of two Civil War
and with the help of God and our Allies, memorial items. I recently received a copy of
struggled to victory against global Axis the June issue of the Gettysburg Foundation's
Powers in the 1940s. Starting with Armed "Preservation & Programs" publication, which
Forces Day on May 18, we move to Memorial contained an article by Barbara Finfrock,
Day (May 27th this year), then to D-Day titled " A Tale of Two Cycloramas," - the
(June 6), Flag Day (June 14), and lead into one in Atlanta, GA, and the one here in
Independence Day (July 4).
Gettysburg National Military Park Museum
For many people these dates mean little & Visitors Center, which vividly depict the
more than another holiday, a day off from drama and pathos of our Civil War (CW) in
school, or the start of the beach season, which brother fought against brother, father
barbecues, pool parties, etc. Unless reminded against son, etc., and which turned out to
specifically (by the media, or by our Veterans' be the bloodiest war ever for Americans.
organizations, or a family member who dons The latter one will soon celebrate its 75th
his/her uniform for the parade, etc.) we anniversary of being designated a National
could easily forget the real meaning behind Historic Object by the U.S. Congress on
those important dates, namely the sacrifices October 4, 1944. I had actually visited the

28 CHESTER COUNT Y Medicine | SUMMER 2019

Atlanta one in early 1963 while stationed
at Fort Gordon, GA, prior to deploying to
Okinawa and Viet Nam. And I accidentally
got to see the PA one in the mid 70s when
I accompanied my son and his Cub Scout
Troop on a field trip to Gettysburg. Both of
them should really be "must see" items for
every American as they realistically portray
much of the reality, drama and pathos of our
nation's Civil War experience.
With all that as background, one could not
help but begin to think about the hardships
and sacrifices involved in military service back
then, and also to start mentally comparing
what medical care was like at that time, and
how that might have affected the health
and survival rates of the soldiers, especially
the injured, under the actual conditions of
combat in the 1860s.
The American Civil War (1861-1865)
consisted of nearly 10,500 battles or engagements ranging over 23 different states.
It lasted about the same length of time as our
participation in WW II (1941-1945), yet a
comparison of casualty figures shows that
our losses in the Civil War were half again
greater than in WW II. The usual figure seen


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