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Introduction to
Science and Medicine

by
William L. Barney,
Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


The brutal and prolonged nature of the Civil War dictated that issues of science and medicine were vital to the Confederate effort. A primary concern to all Southerners was the persistent manifestation of diseases, a problem that wreaked havoc on the population between 1861 and 1865. No less disconcerting, however, were the tremendous number of wounded soldiers who had to be cared for. Combined, these aspects of the war had a tremendous impact on domestic life.

Not surprisingly, then, the central theme of the science and medicine section is the way in which Southerners adapted traditional methods of surgery and disease prevention to the war effort. Included within this framework are official Confederate surgery manuals, Surgeon General's guidelines for hospital regulation and hygiene, and general directions for collecting medicinal plants in the field (which was of particular importance, given that the Union blockade induced the Confederacy to create medicinal substitutes). Privately published materials are no less compelling and include material ranging from field manuals to "An Appeal for the Sick and Wounded," a tract written by a hospital committee in Salisbury, North Carolina, to address the health problems most affecting Confederate Americans. Of particular interest within the privately published material is a pamphlet advertising the General Military Hospital for North Carolina Troops in Petersburg, Virginia, which explicitly lays out location, governing bodies, and the duties to be performed by its prospective employees. All told, the science and medicine section offers fresh insight into a lesser-known aspect of the Southern war experience.