It is believed that there were 620,000 plus deaths in the American Civil War, although recently scholars have argued that number is even higher. Today we look at the ones who were wounded.
The task is made more difficult as procedures of the time listed dead, wounded and missing in action as one aggregate number as “casualties” for each battle. That astounding number of war casualties for all categories is believed to be around 1.5 million.
The largest number of casualties obviously came from the largest battles. At Gettysburg, for instance, twenty three federal units lost at least half their men who entered the field of battle.
Often the Confederate casualties totals for certain battles were not listed at all.
According to informed sources, there were 194,026 Confederate soldiers who were wounded and treated by the Confederate Army medical Corps which included 834 surgeons and 1,668 assistant surgeons. Although the record is an estimate for Union wounded, it can be estimated to have been nearly 280,000 treated by approximately 10,000 surgeons. Of those, Union wounded had a slightly better chance of survival due to better trained medical personnel.
Over thirty-five thousand on both sides received some sort of amputation.
Many of those surgeons were learning as they were doing. It is estimated that prior to the war, only about 500 of the Union’s 10,000 surgeons and twenty-seven of the Confederates 2,500 surgeons had ever performed surgery. There was criticism of Civil War medicine coming from many fronts.
Dr. Johnathon Letterman, medical director of the Army of the Potomac defended his surgeons in a memo following the battle at Sharpsburg, Maryland by saying “The surgery of these battlefields has been pronounced butchery. Gross misrepresentations of the conduct of medical officers have been made and scattered broadcast over the country, causing deep and heart-rending anxiety to those who had friends or relatives in the army, who might at any moment require the services of a surgeon. It is not to be supposed that there were no incompetent surgeons in the army. It is certainly true that there were; but these sweeping denunciations against a class of men who will favorably compare with the military surgeons of any country, because of the incompetency and short-comings of a few, are wrong, and do injustice to a body of men who have labored faithfully and well.”
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