Civil War Medicine and Surgery

Civil War Medicine and Surgery

Presenter:   Edgar Archer

Tuition:  $5   Prepay Lisa at the Welcome Center

Course Time and Date:   1 pm – 3 pm,  Wednesday October 2, 2019

Location:  Chota Rec Center, Room D


The misery of battlefield hospitals during the Civil War is nearly indescribable. The soldier with fragments of bone sticking out of his shattered arm watches the rapid and brutal amputation performed on another soldier who might or might have been administered an anesthetic — if it was available — or might just have been given a bullet to clench between his teeth. The surgeon sipes the bloody knife on his smock, looks up, and shouts “Next!”

The American Civil War took place during a period of transition between two medical viewpoints. The old view emphasized the patient, who could be restored to health by “correcting an imbalance in his system.” The new worldview emphasized the entity that caused the ailment: a disease was something that existed externally to a person, and spread from one individual to another.

In early 1861, the U.S. Army had just over 100 doctors. Almost 30 of them resigned when their states joined the Confederacy. As the Union and Confederate armies began to form, many new doctors put on the blue or the gray uniform. Although they bore the official rank of surgeon or assistant surgeon, a large number had never done any surgery more complicated than lancing a boil.

Join Ed Archer as he explores the vivid and complex subject of medicine in the Civil War era.

A Tennessee native, Edgar Archer earned a BA in history at the University of Kentucky and did graduate work at UT in Forensic Sciences. After serving 12 years in the Navy, he worked as park director at White Hall State historical site in Kentucky, at the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Harrogate, Tennessee, and then as Director of the Valley Forge Historical Society. In 1987, he started his own bookshop, publishing, and appraisal business, then founded the E.G. Archer and Son Surgical Instrument Company, the only manufacturer of authentic repoductions of Civil War period surgical equipment. Scenes of surgeries in television’s Dr. Quinn, Medicine Womanand films including Gettysburg, Gods and Generals, and Glory featured his medical instruments. A few years ago, Archer served as the medical adviser for the BBC television series Copper.

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