Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Health of The Civil War Soldier

The place you never wanted to be....On the amputation table!

Immediately following the departure of Schuylkill's Washington Artillery and The National Light Infantry On April 18, 1861 two of the famed First Defender Companies. More men were rushed to the defense of the Union and were mustered in at Camp Curtain in Harrisburg. They became part of the 5th and 6th three month regiments.
I have a copy of the “Pennsylvania Fifth “ a Regimental Newspaper issued from Camp M. Dowell, Alexandria Virginia, June 10, 1861. The newspaper is A fascinating look at an early war regiment.
The local pre war units that were mustered into the 5th were the Columbian Infantry, as Company C; Minersville Artillerists, Company E; the Scott Artillery of Schuylkill Haven, as company F and the Ringgold Rifles of Minersville, Company I.
The regiment went to Annapolis on the 23rd and to Washington on the 27th. It was at Alexandria when the Battle of Bull Run was fought, and did not participate in any engagement during its term of service. The 5th was discharged on July 25th, 1861.
Many of the men in these companies would enlist for three years in different regiments, such as the 50th , 48th , 96th , 129th and 150th regiments, many will die during their time spent in these fighting regiments over the next three years.
In this Newspaper there were many interesting articles. One I found very interesting was an article written about the soldiers health. Telling the soldier how to take care of himself in the field. It is almost ridiculous when you think of what the actual soldier had to endure in the up coming campaigns for the next four years. I just wonder how many of them ever remembered this bit of advise?


In ordinary campaign sickness disables or destroys three times as many as the sword. On a march, from April to November, the entire clothing should be a colored flannel shirt, with loosely buttoned collar, cotton drawers, woolen pantaloons, shoes and stockings, and a light colored felt hat, with a broad brim to protect the eyes and face from the glare of the sun and from the rain, and a substantial but not heavy coat when off duty.
Sun stroke is most effectually prevented by wearing a silk handkerchief in the crown of the hat. Colored blankets are best and if lined with brown drilling the warmth and durability are doubled, while the protection against dampness from lying on the ground is almost complete.
Never lie or sit down on the grass or bare earth for a moment; rather use your hat, a handkerchief, even, is a great protection. The warmer you are the greater need for this protection, as damp vapor is immediately generated to be absorbed by the clothing and to cool you off too rapidly.
While marching on active duty the more thirsty you are the more essential is it to safety of life itself, to rinse out the mouth two or three times, and then take a swallow of water at a time, with short intervals. A brave French General, on a forced march fell dead on the instantly, by drinking largely cold water, when snow was on the ground.
Abundant sleep is essential to bodily efficiency, and to the alertness of mind which is all important in an engagement; and few things more certainly and more effectually prevent sound sleep than eating heartily after sun down, especially after a heavy march or desperate battle.

Imagine having to sleep here!

Nothing is more certain to secure endurance and capability of long continued effort, than the avoidance of everything as a drink except cold water, not excluding coffee at breakfast. Drink as little as possible, of even cold water.
After any sort of exhausting effort a cup of coffee, hot or cold, is an admirable sustainer of the strength, until nature begins to recover herself.
Never eat heartily just before a great undertaking; because the nervous power is irresistibly drawn to the stomach to mange the food eaten, thus drawing off that supply which the brains and muscle so much need.
Persons will drink brandy, it is incomparably safer to do so after an effort than before; for it can give it only a transient strength, lasting only a few minutes; but as it can never be known how long any given effort is to be kept in continuance, and if longer than a few minutes, the body becomes more feeble than it would be without the stimulus, it is clear that its use before an effort is always hazardous, and always unwise.
Never go to sleep, especially after a great effort, even in hot weather, without some covering over you. Under all circumstances, rather than lie down on the bare ground, lie in the hollow of two logs placed together or across several smaller pieces of wood, laid side by side; or sit on your hat, leaning against a tree. A nap of ten or fifteen minutes in that position will refresh you more than an hour on the bare earth, with the additional advantage of perfect safety.
A cut is less dangerous than a bullet wound, heals more rapidly.
If from any wound the blood spurts out in jets, instead of a steady stream, you will die in a few minutes, unless remedied; because an artery has been divided, and that takes blood direct from the fountain of life. To stop this instantly, tie a handkerchief or other cloth very loosely between the wound and the heart; put a stick, bayonet, or ramrod between the skin and the handkerchief, and twist it around until the bleeding ceases, and keep it thus until the surgeon arrives.
The greatest physical kindness you can show a severely wounded comrade is first to place him on his back, and then run with all your might for some water to drink, not a second to be lost. If no vessel is at hand, take your hat; if no hat, off with your shirt, wring it out once, tie the arms in a knot, as also the lower end, thus making a bag, open at the neck only. A fleet person can convey a bucketful half a mile in this way. I’ve seen a dying man clutch at a single drop of water from the fingers end, with the voraciousness of a famished tiger.
If wet to the skin by rain or by swimming rivers, keep in motion until all the clothes are dried, and no harm will result.
Whenever it is possible, do by all means, when you have to use water for cooking or drinking from ponds or sluggish streams, boil it as well, and when cool, shake it or stir it so that the oxygen of the air shall get to it which greatly improves it for drinking. This boiling arrests the process of fermentation which arises from the presences of organic an inorganic impurities thus tending to prevent cholera and all bowel diseases. If there is no time for boiling, at least strain it through a cloth, even if you have to use a shirt or trouser leg.
Twelve men are hit in battle dressed in red where there are only five dressed in a blusih gray- a difference of more than two to one, green, seven , brown, six.
Water can be made almost ice cool in the hottest weather by closely enveloping a filled canteen, or other vessel, with a woolen cloth, kept plentifully wetted and exposed.
While on the march lie down the moment you halt for a rest. Every minute spent in that position refreshes more than five minutes standing or loitering about.
A daily evacuation of the bowels is indispensible to bodily health, vigor and endurance; this is promoted ion many cases by stirring a tablespoonful of corn, (Indian) meal in a glass of water, and drinking it on rising in the morning.
Loose bowels, namely, acting more than once a day, with a feeling of debility afterwards, is the first step towards cholera. The best remedy is instant and perfect quietude of body, eating nothing but boiled rice, with or without boiled milk; in more decided cases a woolen flannel, with tow thicknesses in front, should be bound tightly around the abdomen, especially if marching.

Wow, wonderful advise for the Civil War soldier.

Well, if you have to be in a Civil War Hospital at least this one looks clean!

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