Civil War exhibit ‘Life and Limb’ on display at library till Jan. 2Written by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A traveling exhibit from the National Library of Medicine called “Life and Limb: The Toll of the American Civil War” remains on display until Jan. 2 at the Toledo-Lucas County Main Library, 325 Michigan St., in The Gallery on the second floor.
The six-panel, freestanding exhibit documents the medical equipment used in the Civil War, and the experience of the common soldier.
A glass case is filled with medical instruments on loan from Dr. Dale Derick, a Toledo obstetrician and member of the Civil War Surgeons Association, who recently gave a talk at the library on medicine in the Civil War.
The instruments — a pocket instrument, chloroform can, glass flytrap, traveling pharmacy beaker and several saws — will probably be unfamiliar to modern visitors, but they once played a very important role, Derick said.
Derick began collecting Civil War items 14 years ago after he became involved in re-enactments at the urging of his son. He needed items to set up his faux field hospital. He has traveled the country, from Gettysburg to New Orleans, visiting antique stores to form his collection.
Ninety-five percent of his collection is original to the time. Most of his items are from the North because he portrays a Union doctor, but he does have some Confederate items. He and his wife attend about eight events a year, including performing re-enactments of amputations at Gettysburg.
Contrary to popular belief, most amputations were performed with chloroform, Derick said. Of the 80,000 surgeries performed during the Civil War, only 254 were done without anesthesia, he said.
Prior to amputations, patients were given just enough chloroform to render them unconscious so they could still breathe on their own, he said. But the procedure — meant to prevent gangrene — often left the soldier with what is called a “ghost limb,” in which he could still feel the sensation of the missing limb. Many of the soldiers thus believed they had not gotten any anesthesia because of the pain they felt.
The scene at a typical field hospital was “chaos,” Derick said. Doctors were evaluated on how fast they could perform a surgical procedure. Amputations were done in 10 minutes. Toward the end of the war, doctors performed fewer amputations and saved more limbs.
“This was an era where a pregnant woman was not encouraged to walk around the street,” Derick said. “If a man did not have a leg, how is he going to plow a field or support a wife? Women took up as shopkeepers and made a success of it. It was the beginning of the suffrage movement.”
Soldiers as young as 18 reported for duty without training and miles from home. Many suffered from diseases such as small pox, malaria and diarrheal disease, which took more lives than battefield injuries, according to the exhibition.
New weapon technology increased the risk of injury to the soldier. Rifled muskets fired further and were more accurate than previous weapons. They could also quickly reload and used the Minié ball, a soft-leaded bullet invented in the 1840s. The Minié ball caused severe damage because it changed shape on impact, shattering bone and dragging clothing and skin in to the wound, according to the exhibition.
In 1862, the federal government began allocating to veterans $75 to buy an artificial leg and $50 for an arm. By 1864, the Confederacy was providing such assistance. The money covered the cost of the devices and travel to a showroom to be fitted. There were 150 patents for artificial limb designs issued between 1861-1873, , according to the exhibition.
Thousands of veterans who were wounded during the war did not wear artificial limbs because they looked upon their “empty sleeve” as an “honorable scar,” a reminder of their honorable sacrifice to the nation, according to the exhibition. Many also did not accept charity because of attitudes of the time.