Civil War Medicine Quiz: The People and Innovations That Changed Medicine

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


May 21, 2015

Image courtesy of Library of Congress

Contrary to popular belief, whiskey wasn't the only anesthetic agent available to relieve the pain associated with surgical procedures. Both ether and chloroform were available and occasionally used prior to 1860 but came into much more extensive use by surgeons faced with an unprecedented volume of war-related injuries. Chloroform, administered by allowing the patient to breathe through a cloth saturated with the substance, was more popular than ether because it was less volatile and less explosive. Union forces had access to both agents manufactured by E. R. Squibb in Brooklyn, who had been a former naval medical officer. Confederate troops had more limited supplies because the production of anesthetic agents was minimal in the south, and transport was often blocked by the Union Army. Opium was also available for patients requiring lower levels of sedation.[1,2]


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