Civil War Medicine

This website is an overview of Medicine during the Civil War. You will find information about Military Hospitals, Clara Barton & the Red Cross, Anesthesia and Civil War Burial. Military hospitals discusses the hospitals, Dorthea Dix and the Us Sanitary commission. Clara Barton and the Red Cross talks about Barton’s life and how/why  she created the Red Cross. Anesthesia discusses the history and use of Nitrous Oxide,Ether, and Chloroform. Finally, Civil War burial talks about the process of handling the massive quantities of dead bodies.


Time Line:

1821 December 25- Clara Barton born

1840s- Development of Ether and chloroform

1842- Ether first used in Surgery

1844- Nitrous oxide first used as anesthetic

1846- term Anesthesia used

1847-Chloroform used for the first time for surgery

1861 April 12- Civil War breaks out

1861 May 24- Elmer E. Ellsworth Death

1861 June 10- Dorothea Dix was appointed to Superintendent of Army Nurses by the Union Army

1861 June 18- United States Sanitary Commission was created

1861 July 16- First military hospital founded

1864- Ambulance Corp started

1865- Missing Soldiers Office established

1865 May 13- Civil War ends

1868 May 30- Memorial day

1881 May 21- First US Red Cross Started

1930- Veterans Administration


Biography of Key Players:

Dorthea Lynde Dix

Born in Hampden, Maine, in 1802, Dorothea Dix was a social reformer whose devotion to the welfare of the mentally ill led to widespread international reforms. After seeing horrific conditions in a Massachusetts prison, she spent the next 40 years lobbying U.S. and Canadian legislators to establish state hospitals for the mentally ill. Her efforts directly affected the building of 32 institutions in the United States.


Clara Barton

Clara Barton a woman known for her courageous work in the battlefields and for starting the red cross has helped this country in more ways than we may know. She never had any formal training but worked all her life to help others. First she joined the union army to help men on the front lines of the civil war but she soon realized that was not enough so she travelled overseas to bring back the ideas of the Red Cross. In the United States the Red Cross not only helped with war efforts but natural disasters and anything of the sort that caused mass destruction to human kind. She was a caregiver all her life and worked for everyone but herself. Barton lived to be 90 and for at least 70 years of that she helped to change America for the better.


Sir Thomas Young Simpson

“Sir James Simpson, full-length portrait, facing front, seated at a table with inkwell, pen, and paper, as if about to write” Library of Congress

Surgeon and obstetrician Sir Thomas Young Simpson was a great supporter of Ether and the use of anesthesia. He would use Ether for his patients in labor to take away their pain. While he did agree with the use of anesthesia, he wanted to find an alternative that did not have the same disadvantages as Ether. Simpson searched for another anesthetic and in November of 1847 he found what he was looking for, Chloroform. Simpson began using this anesthetic on his patients instead of Ether and it soon gained widespread support because it had a sweet smell, was not flammable like Ether, and did not have the same negative effects on the patient as Ether. Simpson’s discovery went on to play an important role in the Civil War because it was the most often used anesthetic. Click here to see how Chloroform was administered.

“Object at Hand Elmer E. Ellsworth”

Elmer E. Ellsworth was New York law clerk before the war.  He served in the National Guard and attended school in Chicago. He joined the Union Army when the war broke out. He worked with President Lincoln in Springfield and they became close friends. His death on May 5,1861 was the first recorded of  Civil War. He was 24.