beboots: (Civil war lithograph)
[personal profile] beboots
Here's a picture of cross-dressing/dress reformer Dr. Mary Walker (the only female military surgeon in the Union Army!) for you:

Hey guys, who else here has studied Hamlet? Well, even if you haven't, if you're familiar with the famed "To be or not to be, that is the question" soliloquy, and/or you have a dark sense of humour, listen to what I've just run across in my Civil War research...

(cut for mentions of gore)
First of all, you guys should know that Civil War surgeons had a reputation for a lot of amputations for a reason (the popular image of piles of severed limbs littering camps, while not as widespread as you may get the impression of from certain texts, was still true enough to foster rumours). Anyway, because of high rates of infections, and difficulty healing, if a bullet struck the bone of a limb and shattered it, it was much easier to treat it by simply cutting the offending limb off. You still had horrible infection rates and stuff, but if you didn't amputate, you were much, much more likely to die of a nastier infection. And even if you lived, you probably had a useless limb. So off it goes!

Of course, that's in ideal conditions. Because of a lack of training (or even a lack of time), it was often easier and quicker for a surgeon to just chop of any injured limb... and there were horror stories of surgeons chopping of limbs even with mere tissue damage, not ones in which a bullet had struck the bone. But seriously, if you are the only surgeon and you're confronted with 200 screaming men, with more pouring in because the battle is still going on... you can't spend five hours on each patient carefully fixing up everything - sadly, it's easier to just chop and move on. 

But I digress... I found this really interesting passage in a book by Ira M. Ruktow, called Bleeding Blue and Gray (page 219):
"The soldiers' amputation quandary was voiced in this campfire ditty:
To amputate, or not to amputate? That is the question.
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
Th’ unsymmetry of one-armed men, and draw
A pension, thereby shuffling off a part
Of mortal coil; or, trusting unhinged nature,
Take arms against a cruel surgeon’s knife,
And, by opposing rusty theories,
Risk a return to dust in the full shape of a man.

Perhaps I'm just morbidly amused. There are anecdotal tales of wounded men who kept guns beneath their pillows so if a surgeon with a knife came by, he could threaten him into keeping his limb.


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