Wednesday, April 13, 2011


During the American War Between the States, about 1.6 Union soldiers died of disease for every soldier who died in actual battle. For the Confederacy, the figure was 2.5 dead from disease for every one killed in battle. This includes infection and complications from amputations and major internal surgeries done on tables out in the open. Germ theory and anesthesia were in their infancy then. For example, the surgeons working at the saw tables would use the same sponges from one patient to the next, simply squeezing it out in a bucket of red water in between patients. Some surgical kits came with a new substance called chloroform, but there often really wasn't time for that in the surgical assembly line. Medical assistants simply held the patient down for the surgeon. Even after thousands of amputations and surgeries, they said later**, one never fully got used to the agonizing jerks and shrieks of the wounded men.

I haven't studied other wars of the period, such as the war in the Crimea, but I imagine the statistics were similar with regard to dying of disease.

The U.S. is currently recognizing (you can't really use the word "celebrating") the 150th anniversary of our civil war.

What have we learned in the past 150 years? Well, we know about sanitation and sterility, and we have state-of-the-art anesthetics and pain killers. But...

I suppose there is no need to show pictures of civilians, then or now.
**From "A Strange and Blighted Land" by Gregory A. Coco


  1. The Crimea was bad because of insufficient clothing for the weather and various diseases also. The lessons of the US civil war were not learned by the Great War. Generals did not wish to contemplate such a war but it happened and wounds were similar with added 'shell shock.'

  2. @Adullamite - I really need to study the Crimean War. I know next to nothing about it, and that's a shame.

    I do have an opinion that the Great War happened because of entangling alliances. If I were president, the first thing I would do would be to get out of NATO. The second thing would be to get out of the U.N. And the third thing I would do would be to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Germany. That would be in the first hour of my presidency. Then...

    Did I leave anything out? Only the U.N. would surprise you, I'm sure. I'll tell you my reasons sometime.

    Thank you for your comment. I love your knowledge of historical wars. I especially like to hear you talk about the Great War.

  3. I hate war. I believe there are times where it's necessary, I do. But it should never be assailed lightly.

    Such loss!

  4. Of course I mean when they kill opposing soldiers.

  5. I think it grossly unfair that the ones who actually start the wars, or who agree to go to war, at least -- the politicians -- do not themselves have to fight on the battlefields of those wars they declare. It was not always so; kings used to lead their armies in battle and die on the battlefield if they lost.

    I still make a distinction between intervening in other people's affairs and defending your country.

    I don't think I would want to be led into battle by Obama, though. Or Bush or any of the others before him until you finally get back to Eisenhower. Odd, thinking about, but Eisenhower, a military man, was the only President in recent history who didn't find it necessary to get the U.S. into some war while he was president. Perhaps he had seen enough already.

  6. Great info… I never knew that.
    I agree with steph, war is justified (sometimes) but usually it is full of politics and the all mighty dollar.

  7. Yes, and the sad part is it has always been going on for thousands of years, and will keep going on long after we are dead and our wars have been forgotten. War is the age old vice of humans. Men, anyway.

  8. The Crimean war was, like so many other wars, somewhat pointless. Mortality ran at about six to one for death by disease versus death from wounds received in battle.

    florence nightingale is mostremembered for her work as a nurse, but she should perhaps be better known for her work in statistical analysis.
    It was this that showed the criminal stupidity of the military leadership, this which showed just how avoidable the majority of deaths had been.

  9. I went to that website to look. The non-battle deaths in the Crimean War were unconscionable.

    So were those in the America Civil War, but the stats shown by Nightingale were horrendous.

    And, as Adullamite noted, not terribly much was learned even by the time of the Great War, although I haven't looked at non-battle loss stats on that or our war with Spain in 1898,



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