The Civil War in Missouri

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USA Hospital Department Surgical Set

ca. 1860-1870
MHM Collections

Regimental surgeons were issued a field surgical kit like this one. This example is from Horatio G. Kern of Philadelphia, one of the major producers of surgical equipment during the war. Contained inside the mahogany case are the tools that a Civil War surgeon would have used to perform amputations, neurosurgery, and orthopedics. It includes such instruments as bone cutting forceps, several amputation knives, various saws for cutting bone, and discs of bone wax to stop bleeding. A few essential items, such as a tourniquet, are missing. Chloroform and ether were used as anesthetics during the war, with good success.The biggest challenge doctors faced was treating illness, not battle casualties. Of the more than 600,000 soldiers who died during the war, almost two-thirds of the deaths resulted from diseases such as malaria and dysentery. Inadequate diets and unsanitary living conditions contributed to soldiers’ poor health.