Narcotic Use

chefman5000

Cadet
Joined
Jan 8, 2021
1.png


is there any literature relating to the after care of wounded civil war veterans. my nephew just asked me what happened after a soldier had a limb removed or survived a bad wound. did they just go home & suffer? was there a large upsurge in rural narcotics use after the war? now i'm quite curious & i dont want to let my nephews interest in the civil war.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Sgt. Tyree

Private
Joined
Apr 29, 2020
Location
Wyoming Territory
Sometimes a soldier did end up with "a monkey on his back."

"25 cents for the morphine, 15 cents for the beer, 25 cents for the old morphine, gonna carry me away from here."

That's from the old folk tune "Soldier's Joy." The soldier's joy was in getting his fix (washing morphine down with beer) and taking a trip in his mind.

I don't know how this sort of thing usually ended.
 

Michael W.

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 19, 2015
Location
The Hoosier State
I'm not sure about literature, I'm sure there is out there somewhere, but there was widespread narcotic abuse after the CW from wounded soldiers that became addicted to opiates during their treatment. Opium and Laudanum (morphine and alcohol) was able to be purchased legally in that time period at your local drug store, as the narcotics control act didn't come to play until 1914.
 

Mrs. V

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 5, 2017
I'm not sure about literature, I'm sure there is out there somewhere, but there was widespread narcotic abuse after the CW from wounded soldiers that became addicted to opiates during their treatment. Opium and Laudanum (morphine and alcohol) was able to be purchased legally in that time period at your local drug store, as the narcotics control act didn't come to play until 1914.
I have heard that quite a few herbal/vitamin prepartions that were sold commercially were really more alcohol than not. So add alcohol abuse into the mix as well. And there was cocain in Coke too.
 

1867crete

Sergeant
Joined
Feb 25, 2017
I always heard soldiers sickness referring to drug addiction and abuse. And the soldiers and sailors home was partly founded to help with addiction. I’m not sure if that’s true or not or just a story I’ve always been told. Just look at any old medicine bottle the alcohol content is amazing!? I’m sure it would Ciara cough or calm your stomach when it’s 20 to 40% alcohol!
 

Quiet1

Private
Joined
Nov 3, 2019
That's a good question, and (to me at least) a fascinating topic.

Your nephew sounds like one cool kid!

I'm sure you will eventually get better replies from the real nerds on this forum, but I've poked at this topic briefly and I've noticed that it seems to be one of those topics that doesn't give you a lot of solid answers.
I have come to the conclusion that most soldiers did just go home and try to "tough it out". Recall, most men who were wounded did heal (mostly) and got on with their lives (more or less). The ones who didn't usually tried to tough it out anyway, and then only fell by the wayside 5, 10, or 20+ years later.
There was an increase in drinking/narcotics use (which I believe only peaked years after the war) but there's a heck of a lot of misinformation out there about it. This could be for a couple of reasons:

1. Lack of easily available info. Veterans who were dependent on drugs weren't very likely to spread that information around, and even if their use was known to their neighbors, it wasn't the sort of thing that people would record in diaries, etc. Also, as Michael W. mentioned, opiates were perfectly legal to purchase without a prescription, which doesn't leave much of a paper trail.
2. Political shock value. A whole lot of stuff was written about alcohol and drug use among veterans around the turn of the last century, and I don't know how much of it was true and how much was exaggerated, how much understated, and how much otherwise twisted to fit some author's thesis. From what I understand, the drunk/drugged-out veteran became something of a poster child for the temperance movement, as well as the movement to regulate narcotics sales.

That aside, I'm sure that most books on the subject of veterans post-war have chapters on wounded vets.
With the disclaimer that I haven't read them yet (most are in my mythical TBR pile), here are a few that look promising. I've included Amazon links, just because they provide information about the books and a preview; you should be able to find them through your local library's interlibrary loan.
The real nerds can say whether these books are actually any good or not:
-- Empty Sleeves: Amputation in the Civil War South and, from the same series, Bodies in Blue: Disability in the Civil War North
-- Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America
-- Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War.

For a shorter read, here are a few online articles on the topic. Not being a fully-fledged nerd (yet), I can't say much to their accuracy, but here they are:
--National Museum of Civil War Medicine : a very fun website to poke around. Lots of (searchable!) short articles on pretty much everything to do with CW medicine, including amputees, and geared towards a newbie audience. As a bonus, each article comes with a list of sources, which you can copy/paste and search for more info. (Beware: this site is a bit of an Internet time wormhole:help:)

--Mutter Museum lesson plan: designed for middle-schoolers (I think) so it's not too gory. Covers general medical treatment for amputees, but at the end (pages 22-29 of the pdf) are two questionnaires completed by amputee veterans some years after the war. These were filled out in response to a survey conducted by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, who was studying the phenomenon of phantom pain in amputated limbs. I wish I could find more of these surveys-- some of the responses that the old guys give are pure gold.
--Jonathan S. Jones' articles etc. He's a historian attached to Penn State, I believe, who seems to have written and studied a lot about opiate addiction among Civil War vets. The link is to a page containing a list/links to his articles, some of which are free, but the best-looking of which is behind a paywall ($12), so I haven't read it yet.
I hope some of this helps.
 

Michael W.

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 19, 2015
Location
The Hoosier State
When researching my ancestors regiment, the men used the relatively new invention of a syringe for shooting opiates in them to ' dry up' chronic diarrhea.

Here is a link for someone who wrote about it your specific question.

https://www.chstm.org/news/“-mind-prostrate”-physicians-opiates-and-insanity-civil-war’s-aftermath
Actually, heavy opioid use causes severe constipation, which would "clear up" diarrhea, but should not be used for that purpose...lol
 

chefman5000

Cadet
Joined
Jan 8, 2021
What exactly was laudanum ? I hear it get mentioned in a good few westerns.
Paracelsus, a 16th-century Swiss-German alchemist, experimented with various opium concoctions, and recommended opium for reducing pain. One of his preparations, a pill which he extolled as his "archanum" or "laudanum", may have contained opium.[2] Paracelsus' laudanum was strikingly different from the standard laudanum of the 17th century and beyond, containing crushed pearls, musk, amber, and other substances.[3] One researcher[who?]​ has documented that "Laudanum, as listed in the London Pharmacopoeia (1618), was a pill made from opium, saffron, castor, ambergris, musk and nutmeg".
 

kyle.dalton

Private
Joined
Oct 3, 2019
Location
Frederick, MD
I recommend reading the 1876 Opium Eating: An Autobiographical Sketch by An Habituate. It's a piece by a U.S. veteran of the Civil War who became addicted after being prescribed opiates for pain relief from wounds. A very helpful perspective to round out the various overviews out there (secondary and primary) that deal with addiction and prescription during the war.
 
Top