Memoir Offers Gruesome Glimpse at Civil War Surgery


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CMWinkler

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Memoir Offers Gruesome Glimpse at Civil War Surgery
Gen. Ewell's story a reminder of how far O&P care has come.
O&P News, September 2015
Berry Craig


 
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I must say if I was laying on the table and about to have my leg amputated without narcotics or at least being insuffienctly anaesthecised ("only appearing to feel conscious of pain when the doctor (surgeon Hunter McGuire) began to saw the bone—at which he stretched both arms upward [and] said: ‘Oh! My God!"), I could very well do without any of my relatives arguing with the doctor and having him multiply my pain and horror by cutting the whole length of my shattered limb to show proof of his right decision!!!
As Dr. Hunter McGuire was a very good surgeon he sure could have performed surgery within minutes ... hadn't he have to talk with that smart a--rm of a step-son!
 

jackt62

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With today's hindsight and understanding of surgical procedures, we tend to think of CW amputations as being ghastly and medieval. However, after doing some reading on CW medical treatment and viewing surgical artifacts and instruments in museums, my understanding is that in the hands of a capable surgeon, CW amputations were actually skilled operations given the medical knowledge of their time. Sawing the shattered bone was just the most publicized part of an amputation. A surgeon needed to carefully cut and cauterize blood vessels and muscle, determine the most appropriate position for the amputation, place remaining skin and tissue in such a way as to provide suitable support for a prosethic, and suture the limb.

With medical science being what it was in the 1860's (before the discovery of micro-organisms), we should commend the efforts of battlefield surgeons, north and south, to preserve life using the most effective means that were known to them.
 
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You are right, the surgeons performed admirably and I have read that an amputation was only a matter of minutes in the hands of an able surgeon. But I think these minutes would have seemed like eons for the poor guys who were lying there, being held by their comrades and enduring excruciating pain. I am no particular fan of Ewell, but reading about his lifting his arms and crying Oh God! makes my heart ache for him. As for all others, too, of course.
 

jackt62

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You are right, the surgeons performed admirably and I have read that an amputation was only a matter of minutes in the hands of an able surgeon. But I think these minutes would have seemed like eons for the poor guys who were lying there, being held by their comrades and enduring excruciating pain. I am no particular fan of Ewell, but reading about his lifting his arms and crying Oh God! makes my heart ache for him. As for all others, too, of course.
Absolutely. No matter how skilled the surgeon, patients still had to feel some sensation, even if they were chloroformed.
 

rhettbutler1865

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With today's hindsight and understanding of surgical procedures, we tend to think of CW amputations as being ghastly and medieval. However, after doing some reading on CW medical treatment and viewing surgical artifacts and instruments in museums, my understanding is that in the hands of a capable surgeon, CW amputations were actually skilled operations given the medical knowledge of their time. Sawing the shattered bone was just the most publicized part of an amputation. A surgeon needed to carefully cut and cauterize blood vessels and muscle, determine the most appropriate position for the amputation, place remaining skin and tissue in such a way as to provide suitable support for a prosethic, and suture the limb.

With medical science being what it was in the 1860's (before the discovery of micro-organisms), we should commend the efforts of battlefield surgeons, north and south, to preserve life using the most effective means that were known to them.
Bravo! Well said!:thumbsup:
 

rpkennedy

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Ewell wasn't ever the same after the amputation though
Sure he was. He did very well on the way to Gettysburg and, in my opinion, made the right call on July 1 at Gettysburg. He also did very well at the Wilderness. It really wasn't until he fell apart with the collapse of the Mule Shoe that he became a shadow of himself.

R
 

jackt62

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Sure he was. He did very well on the way to Gettysburg and, in my opinion, made the right call on July 1 at Gettysburg. He also did very well at the Wilderness. It really wasn't until he fell apart with the collapse of the Mule Shoe that he became a shadow of himself.

R
The following quotation is by an unnamed officer in General Ewell's Second Corps, commenting on Ewell's marraige to Lizinka Campbell Brown:

"From a military point of view the addition of the wife did not compensate for the loss of the leg. We were of the opinion that Ewell was not the same soldier he had been when he was a whole man- and a single one."
 

Northern Light

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The following quotation is by an unnamed officer in General Ewell's Second Corps, commenting on Ewell's marraige to Lizinka Campbell Brown:

"From a military point of view the addition of the wife did not compensate for the loss of the leg. We were of the opinion that Ewell was not the same soldier he had been when he was a whole man- and a single one."
An opinion...does not make it true!
 

rpkennedy

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I don't remember who the officer was or where the quote is from. I copied it down at the time because it seemed interesting.
I think a lot of that goes back to the fact that Ewell's wife was fairly unpopular with a lot of the Second Corps officers. Not to mention how he openly doted on her and she seemed to dominate him.

It really wasn't until the breakthrough at the Salient and Ewell's reaction to it on May 12th that Lee's confidence in Ewell ended.

R
 
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The following quotation is by an unnamed officer in General Ewell's Second Corps, commenting on Ewell's marraige to Lizinka Campbell Brown:

"From a military point of view the addition of the wife did not compensate for the loss of the leg. We were of the opinion that Ewell was not the same soldier he had been when he was a whole man- and a single one."
An opinion...does not make it true!
Sure it's an opinion, but seemingly a well based one. I can recommend to read pages 87 - 102 (there would be more, but Google Books doesn't provide more) of the book linked below. The chapter dealing with Richard S. Ewell and Lizinka Brown Ewell is titled "All say they are under petticoat government". Despite this title the book is a serious one, with lots of footnotes. The above quoted remark of the Confederate officer is also quoted there. On the other hand, had Lizinka lived 150 years later, her behaviour would have been rated quite differently. She seems to have been a pretty "modern" woman, just uncommon for the mid 19th century male dominated society.
https://books.google.de/books?id=I1NTDMsmgtsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=secret+strategies+civil+war&hl=de&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=lizinka&f=false

Nevertheless do I think that losing a limb is a trauma which is not easily overcome. Even today, with all that amazing prosthetics that might substitute the physical/mechanical abilities to a certain point, the mental effect of having a limb removed must be heavy. So I think it is not a lack of respect to say that the effects of the amputation had an influence on Ewell, "obtrusive" wife or not.
 

jackt62

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Sure it's an opinion, but seemingly a well based one. I can recommend to read pages 87 - 102 (there would be more, but Google Books doesn't provide more) of the book linked below. The chapter dealing with Richard S. Ewell and Lizinka Brown Ewell is titled "All say they are under petticoat government". Despite this title the book is a serious one, with lots of footnotes. The above quoted remark of the Confederate officer is also quoted there. On the other hand, had Lizinka lived 150 years later, her behaviour would have been rated quite differently. She seems to have been a pretty "modern" woman, just uncommon for the mid 19th century male dominated society.
https://books.google.de/books?id=I1NTDMsmgtsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=secret+strategies+civil+war&hl=de&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=lizinka&f=false

Nevertheless do I think that losing a limb is a trauma which is not easily overcome. Even today, with all that amazing prosthetics that might substitute the physical/mechanical abilities to a certain point, the mental effect of having a limb removed must be heavy. So I think it is not a lack of respect to say that the effects of the amputation had an influence on Ewell, "obtrusive" wife or not.
Well said.
 

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