Today's soldiers enjoy sophisticated medical care, from Medevac helicopters that function like flying hospitals to advanced surgical techniques and bionic limbs. Things were different for Civil War solders. There were no antibiotics, pain control was poor, and surgeons focused not on rebuilding or replacing injured limbs but on sawing them off. Want to take a peek back in time 150 years and see what that world was like? Keep clicking to see 37 images from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and the National Library of Medicine...
At left is a drawing of Private George W. Lemon, who was shot in the leg at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864. Because he was captured by Confederate soldiers, he did not receive treatment for his injuries until over a week later, and then suffered repeated infections for over a year. Finally, his leg was amputated and he received an artificial leg.
This large single-edged amputation knife was used to cut through skin and muscle in circular amputations.
After skin and muscle had been cut, this amputation saw - made with a steel blade and an ebony wooden handle - cut through bones.
Here is Private George W. Lemon after his successful amputation.
A tenaculum was used in amputations for pulling the arteries out from the stump so that they could be tied off.
In this photo, a group of medical students and professors dissect a cadaver.
About three quarters of all operations performed during the war - roughly 60,000 surgeries - were amputations. Amputations were intended to prevent deadly complications such as gangrene, and were often undertaken without anesthesia. In this July 1863 photo, an amputation is being performed in front of a hospital tent in Gettysburg.
This 1860s photo shows a hospital ward in a convalescent camp in Alexandria, Virginia. In crowded camp conditions, infectious diseases such as yellow fever, smallpox and malaria spread rampantly and took more lives than battlefield injuries, says the National Library of Medicine.
This is page from "A Manual of Military Surgery" from the Surgeon General's Office, 1863.
Surgeons carried around kits such as this one, full of an amputation saw, knives, forceps and other equipment.
Porcelain cups such as these were used in the hospitals to feed liquids to the patients.
This instrument is called a tooth key and was used for pulling teeth.
Patients with an amputated leg could use crutch/stump holders such as this one made of wood with an armrest covered with wool padding.
Chloroform was used as an anesthetic during many surgeries. Here it is in a medicine tin found in the U.S. Medical Dept. hospital knapsack.
This prosthetic leg made of wood is a full left leg, articulated at the knee, with a leather shoe covering the foot. It still retains some of the original flesh-colored paint.
This two-tier leather drug case contains medicines housed in paper envelopes as well as glass medicine bottles.
This canteen held not water but quinine, which was essential in treating malaria.
Civil War ambulances were typically equipped with two of these water kegs, issued by the U.S. Medical Dept.
Bloodletting, the withdrawal of large quantities of blood in attempt to cure disease, was practiced during the Civil War. This instrument, a fleam, aided this practice. The U-shaped blade is spring-loaded and activated by the trigger above it. The depth of the cut can be regulated by a screw at the base of the lever.
Tourniquets were used during amputations to help control bleeding. The cloth strap would be wrapped around the limb, and the metal screw would be tightened until the blood flow was reduced.
This bottle contains Dover's Powder, a mix of opium and ipecac that was used to relieve pain and induce sweating.
Opium was often used as a medication for pain, coughs, and diarrhea.
This carved wood leg splint was used to stabilize the lower leg.
A trephine was used to drill a hole in the skull to reduce pressure, or to elevate pieces of the skull. The round serrated blade was turned by the handle in a drill-like fashion.
This metacarpal saw was used for cutting through smaller bones such as those of the fingers, toes, hand, wrist, and rib.
This is a wooden monaural stethoscope - the flat end was placed on the patient's back or chest and the cupped end is the ear-piece.
How do you transport a dead body without a body bag? In coffins such as this one. The lower portion was designed to hold ice, which kept the body cool and slowed the rate of decomposition. The small door at the head of the coffin could be lifted to identify the body inside.
Ticket for medical school class
Off to school? Don't forget your ticket. This is an admission ticket to a class at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1853, for an anatomy class. These tickets were purchased by the medical students.
Some powders were carried in paper packets instead of tins or bottles. Calomel was used as a remedy for diarrhea and dysentary. Its major drawback was that it contained mercury. In 1863, William A. Hammond, who was the Union Surgeon General, tried to have calomel removed from the supply table. This caused a major outcry from the doctors and resulted in him losing his post as Surgeon General.
What does this medical tin of "Spiritus Frumenti" contain? Medicinal alcohol - whiskey, to be exact. This tin was part of a hospital knapsack made by the U.S. Medical Dept. which was carried onto the battlefield.
A tongue depressor made of ivory - while disposable today, tongue depressors were reused in the Civil War era.
This photo, taken in February 1964, shows the entrance to the field hospital at Brandy Station, Va. The white structures on each side are the hospital tents.
This illustration shows the making of prosthetics in the late 1800s. Almost 150 patents were issued for artificial limb designs between 1861 and 1873.
These illustrations are titled "Hospital Train from Chattanooga to Nashville" and "The Interior of a Hospital Car" from Harper's Weekly, Feb. 27, 1864. Many wounded soldiers were transported by trains.
This April 1862 print shows the "Interior of a Sanitary Steamer."
This print from June 7, 1862 shows the surgical ward at the general hospital in Fort Monroe, Va.
This photograph was made from an 1888 glass plate negative, which documents a Civil War veteran's wound. The subject is Sergeant George Ekert, color bearer, 74th Reg. Pa. Volunteers.