Maimed Fighters And The Horrors Of Surgery Before Bacteriology
This photograph was made from an 1888 glass plate negative and shows a Civil War veteran’s wound. The subject is Sergeant George Ekert, color bearer, 74th Reg. Pa. Volunteers
In 1918, a Federal surgeon, who had lived through the horrors of the Civil War, wrote:
"We operated in old blood-stained and often pus-stained coats, the veterans of a hundred fights…We used undisinfected instruments from undisinfected plush-lined cases, and still worse, used marine sponges which had been used in prior pus cases and had been only washed in tap water. If a sponge or an instrument fell on the floor it was washed and squeezed in a basin of tap water and used as if it were clean. Our silk to tie blood vessels was undisinfected….The silk with which we sewed up all wounds was undisinfected. If there was any difficulty in threading the needle we moistened it with bacteria laden saliva, and rolled it between bacteria-infected fingers. We dressed the wounds with clean but undisinfected sheets, shirts, tablecloths, or other old soft linen rescued from the family ragbag. We had no sterilized gauze dressing, no gauze sponges….We knew nothing about antiseptics and therefore used none." So was written a description of the practice of surgery before the principles of asepsis and bacteriology came to be known.