Military strategy shifted in This change in command resulted in some of the bloodiest battles of the Eastern Theater. Siege operations cut off Confederate forces and supplies from the capital of Richmond. Meanwhile out west, Union armies under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman implemented hard war strategies and slowly made their way through central Tennessee and northern Georgia, capturing the vital rail hub of Atlanta in September Action in both theaters during caused even more casualties and furthered the devastation of disease.
Disease haunted both armies, and accounted for over half of all Civil War casualties. Sometimes as many as half of the men in a company could be sick.
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The overwhelming majority of Civil War soldiers came from rural areas, where less exposure to diseases meant soldiers lacked immunities. Vaccines for diseases such as smallpox were largely unavailable to those outside cities or towns. Despite the common nineteenth-century tendency to see city men as weak or soft, soldiers from urban environments tended to succumb to fewer diseases than their rural counterparts.
Tuberculosis, measles, rheumatism, typhoid, malaria, and smallpox spread almost unchecked among the armies. Photograph by Timothy H.
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The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Civil War medicine focused almost exclusively on curing the patient rather than preventing disease. Many soldiers attempted to cure themselves by concocting elixirs and medicines themselves. These ineffective home remedies were often made from various plants the men found in woods or fields. There was no understanding of germ theory, so many soldiers did things that we would consider unsanitary today. They did not take appropriate steps to ensure that drinking water was free from bacteria. Diarrhea and dysentery were common. These diseases were especially dangerous, as Civil War soldiers did not understand the value of replacing fluids as they were lost.
As such, men affected by these conditions would weaken and become unable to fight or march, and as they became dehydrated their immune system became less effective, inviting other infections to attack the body. Through trial and error soldiers began to protect themselves from some of the more preventable sources of infection. Around both armies began to dig latrines rather than rely on the local waterways.
Army of Northern Virginia
Burying human and animal waste also cut down on exposure to diseases considerably. Medical surgery was limited and brutal. If a soldier was wounded in the torso, throat, or head, there was little surgeons could do. Invasive procedures to repair damaged organs or stem blood loss invariably resulted in death.
14. The Civil War
Luckily for soldiers, only approximately one in six combat wounds were to one of those parts. The remaining were to limbs, which was treatable by amputation. Soldiers had the highest chance of survival if the limb was removed within forty-eight hours of injury. A skilled surgeon could amputate a limb in three to five minutes from start to finish. While the lack of germ theory again caused several unsafe practices, such as using the same tools on multiple patients, wiping hands on filthy gowns, or placing hands in communal buckets of water, there is evidence that amputation offered the best chance of survival.
Amputations were a common form of treatment during the war. While it saved the lives of some soldiers, it was extremely painful and resulted in death in many cases. It also produced the first community of war veterans without limbs in American history. National Archives and Records Administration. Since the s, Americans understood the benefits of nitrous oxide and ether in easing pain. Chloroform and opium were also used to either render patients unconscious or dull pain during the procedure.
In the Union army alone, 2. He sought to regulate dosages and manage supplies of available medicines, both to prevent overdosing and to ensure that an ample supply remained for the next engagement. However, his guidelines tended to apply only to the regular federal army. Most Union soldiers were in volunteer units and organized at the state level.
Their surgeons often ignored posted limits on medicines, or worse, experimented with their own concoctions made from local flora. In the North, the conditions in hospitals were somewhat superior. Additionally, many women were members of the United States Sanitary Commission and helped to staff and supply hospitals in the North. Women took on key roles within hospitals both North and South. I sit thinking, shut my eyes, and see it all. Kate Cumming volunteered as a nurse shortly after the war began. She, and other volunteers, traveled with the Army of Tennessee.
However, all but one of the women who volunteered with Cumming quit within a week. Death came in many forms; disease, prisons, bullets, even lightning and bee stings took men slowly or suddenly. Their deaths, however, affected more than their regiments.
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That mournful word. Little the world think of the agony it contains! The death of a husband and loss of financial, physical, and emotional support could shatter lives. It also had the perverse power to free women from bad marriages and open doors to financial and psychological independence. Widows had an important role to play in the conflict. Many tried, but not all widows were able to live up to the ideal. Many were unable to purchase proper mourning garb.
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Black silk dresses, heavy veils, and other features of antebellum mourning were expensive and in short supply. Because most of these women were in their childbearing years, the war created an unprecedented number of widows who were pregnant or still nursing infants. In a time when the average woman gave birth to eight to ten children in her lifetime, it is perhaps not surprising that the Civil War created so many widows who were also young mothers with little free time for formal mourning. Widowhood permeated American society. But in the end, it was up to each widow to navigate her own mourning.
She joined the ranks of sisters, mothers, cousins, girlfriends, and communities in mourning men. By the fall of , military and social events played against the backdrop of the presidential election of While the war raged on, the presidential contest featured a transformed electorate. Three new states West Virginia, Nevada, and Kansas had been added since , while the eleven states of the Confederacy did not participate.
The main competition came from his former commander, General George B. Pendleton of Ohio—a well-known Peace Democrat. On Election Day—November 8, —Lincoln and McClellan each needed electoral votes out of a possible to win the presidency. For much of the campaign season, Lincoln downplayed his chances of reelection and McClellan assumed that large numbers of Union soldiers would grant him support. Additionally, Lincoln received support from more radical Republican factions and members of the Radical Democracy Party that demanded the end of slavery.
In the popular vote, Lincoln defeated McClellan, With crowds of people filling every inch of ground around the U. Capitol, President Lincoln delivered his inaugural address on March 4, In the wake of his reelection, Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address on March 4, , in which he concluded:. The years and were the very definition of hard war. Following up on the successful capture of Atlanta, William Sherman conducted his March to the Sea in the fall of , arriving in Savannah with time to capture it and deliver it as a Christmas present for Abraham Lincoln.
The burning of Columbia, South Carolina, and subsequent capture of Charleston brought the hard hand of war to the birthplace of secession. To ensure the permanent legal end of slavery, Republicans drafted the Thirteenth Amendment during the war. Yet the end of legal slavery did not mean the end of racial injustice. During the war, ex-slaves were often segregated into disease-ridden contraband camps. After the war, the Republican Reconstruction program of guaranteeing black rights succumbed to persistent racism and southern white violence.
Long after , most black southerners continued to labor on plantations, albeit as nominally free tenants or sharecroppers, while facing public segregation and voting discrimination. The effects of slavery endured long after emancipation. As battlefields fell silent in , the question of secession had been answered, slavery had been eradicated, and America was once again territorially united. But in many ways, the conclusion of the Civil War created more questions than answers. How would the nation become one again?
Who was responsible for rebuilding the South? What role would African Americans occupy in this society? Northern and southern soldiers returned home with broken bodies, broken spirits, and broken minds.