We have all seen the movies and television shows that depict Civil War amputations performed by bloody, dirty and sweaty men in a tent or on the back of a wagon. Most times the men being operated on are provided a shot or two of whiskey and then given a stick or strap of leather to bite down on before the surgeon begins to remove the afflicted limb. Hollywood has shown time after time that field medicine during the Civil War was crude by today’s standards. Or was it?
According to Dr. Matt Farina, a retired pediatric cardiologist and Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Albany Medical College in Albany, N.Y., “Civil War medicine has been described as the three Bs; butchery, barbaric and brutal. The Civil War was really a home to medical advancement. Widespread use of anesthesia, the ambulance corps and emergency triage all come out of the Civil War. The field of American nursing was also greatly impacted by the Civil War. Effective pharmacology, orthopedics, prosthetics and clinical cardiology all come out of the American Civil War.”
Farina is an authority on the Civil War and how it has shaped modern medicine. His perspective and expertise are the result of a love of military history coupled with his training as a physician and years of independent research. His passion for the Civil War came from a series of battlefield tours that he went on with his wife during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Since that time, he has researched and learned all that he can about the Civil War’s impact on modern medicine. He has joined and spoken at Civil War Round tables locally and in the northeast.
On Sunday, April 27, at 2 p.m., Dr. Farina will present Civil War Medicine: Myth and Reality at the Museum of the Cape Fear. The program is hosted in conjunction with the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of North Carolina in the Civil War. This event is sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources and is free and open to the public.
Farina’s presentation will be a visually interactive discussion complete with period medical items and an amputation kit that he has recreated to demonstrate the tools of the day. His talk will be about many of the commonly held myths regarding Civil War medicine. One of those myths is that surgeries of the time were done without any anesthetic on men who were in screaming pain. According to Dr. Farina, “most were performed after the patient was given chloroform or ether.”
The discussion also includes how the change in weaponry from the smooth bore musket to the rifled musket resulted in an increase in battlefield amputations and the development of vascular surgical techniques. Notable individuals from the medical community during the time period will be discussed, namely Dr. Samuel Preston Moore who served as the Confederate Surgeon General throughout most of the war and is responsible for many of the advancements in medicine.
More information about the presentation is available online at www.NCDCR.gov/NCMCF/Events or call the Museum of the Cape Fear at 486-1330.
Photo: Medical practices during the Civil War were often different than most people would expect.