Event spotlights Civil War medicine, and the challenges doctors faced

By DAVE SUTOR | The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa. | Published: July 23, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — From the morning of July 1, 1863, until the end of that month, doctors and soldiers fought what Fran Feyock called “the battle for another sunrise” in Gettysburg.

The actual combat took place during the first three days of July, concluding with a victory for the Union in one of the most pivotal engagements of the American Civil War

But then, around the clock for weeks, medical personnel cared for the wounded, performing amputations, dealing with infections and, in many cases, providing comfort for the dying in their final minutes.

“For those soldiers — Union and Confederate — once they are wounded, they are no longer fighting for Jefferson Davis or Abraham Lincoln,” Feyock said. “They’re fighting to see the sun come up tomorrow. And taking care of them are Union surgeons and Confederate surgeons who no longer wear their colors. And they start to take care of them as Americans in those terrible times.”

Feyock spoke about the work done by the doctors when he and Richard Schroeder — both officially licensed battlefield guides at Gettysburg — gave a presentation about Civil War medicine at the Cambria County Library in downtown Johnstown on Monday, an event sponsored by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Mary R. Campbell Camp No. 16 Auxiliary.

Schroeder, an orthopedic surgeon at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, and Feyock, a retired anesthesiologist, provided information about triage, surgical tools, care for wounds, amputations, statistics and the way the war changed medicine.

At the start of the conflict, the U.S. Army had 113 surgeons, one 40-bed military hospital and 20 thermometers. By the end, there were 11,000 surgeons in the Union Army and 3,200 physicians for the Confederate Army. Those doctors worked in environments where there were no trauma surgeons, surgical gowns, gloves, masks, clean or sterile operating rooms, antibiotics or safe blood transfusions.

As a result, approximately 80% of amputations involved the patient getting an infection and the wounded dying at a rate of 20%.

“You can’t blame Civil War medicine for what they didn’t know,” Schroeder said.

About 100 individuals attended the event and learned about medicine during the war that raged from 1861 to 1865.

“It’s just neat for me to go back because it’s a part of our military history,” said Corey McDaniel, who served in the Air Force during the Iraq war.

“And just to learn their practices and the way they did things, the way they fought, the way they took care of wounded on the battlefield, it’s very intriguing. It’s very neat to see how far we’ve come in 156 years.”

The event was the first in a series of Civil War presentations scheduled to take place at the library.

Ron Flick, a Westmont resident, enthusiastically looked forward to other presentations, saying, “I have no problem going to them. We sat here for an hour. I could have sat here for six hours and listened. It was great.”

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