Administration of Patient Care during the American Civil War

American Civil War

The estimates of soldiers killed during the American Civil war War approach 700,000. In today’s numbers, that would be the equivalent of nearly 7 million killed (current population is approximately 10 ten times what it was in 1865). Most of those deaths did not occur directly on impact of gun or cannon fire. They were the result of infection and disease that took days and weeks to develop and claim their victims. One can imagine the strains placed on medical caregivers in the nation at the time. Some historians of medicine note the explosive advances in surgical technique, technology, and medical knowledge that occur as a result of wartime experience. But the Civil War also brought about a revolution regarding the administration of patient care during the war. That revolution is women.

The participation of women as nurses and medical aides and experts during the war was unprecedented and shocking to many, who believed that women, especially model Christian women, were too sensitive and delicate to handle such scenes of gore and suffering. Many, many American women were involved in nursing, which pushed against commonly held biases against women’s strength and fortitude. For example, Harriet Tubman aided battlefield surgeons as they performed amputations, and Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross, implemented efficient regimens for quality control in hospitals, as well as standards of patient care that remain a model today. ), This Primary Source Exercise is designed to introduce students to the world of battlefield medicine in wartime hospitals.


Document 1 is a collection of Civil War photographs showcasing the horrors and realities of wartime injuries and treatment. Women’s brave entry into bloody battlefield hospitals and surgical theaters is but one of the many stories of the American Civil War. The war’s scope of destruction and despair remains difficult to comprehend even 150 years after the fact.

Document 2 contains excerpts from the diary of Amanda Akin, a Civil War nurse. Ms. Akin exemplifies a typical nurse volunteer in many respects. She came from a middle-class, educated, and Protestant Christian background.

Document 3 The is a poem from the poet Walt Whitman, who became famous in the mid- 1800s for his eloquence in describing democratic spirit of the American dream. That eloquence, that gift of capturing difficult-to-describe scenes and emotions, was put to the test as he tried to convey his experience during the war. His poem “A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown” is included in this assignment, because Whitman also served as a surgical aide during the war. His view is that of both direct experience and artistic expression, which is one way some people attempt to make sense of such an incomprehensible event.


1. Read Chapter 14 through 16 of the textbook.

2. Observe closely the images that make up Document 1, a collection of Civil War medicine-related photographs. Write down your initial reaction, details, and overall impressions of what you see. Remember that the Civil War took place before antibiotics to fight infection had been discovered, and that the causes of many contagious diseases were still unknown.

3. Read Document 2, excerpts from the diary of Amanda Akin, a Civil War nurse.

4. Read and “take in” the poem in Document 3, “A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown” by Walt Whitman, a famous American poet of the nineteenth century.

5. Answer the questions that follow and be sure to label your answers and submit in the inbox below in the accepted formats.


1. Why is the Civil War considered the first modern war?

2. What was the primary killer of Civil War soldiers?

3. Document 2: Which is the best explanation for the surgeon’s reaction to Miss Akin’s being placed as a worker in the hospital ward?

4. Write a response to Walt Whitman’s poem. How does it make you feel? What does it bring to mind? Describe in your own words the scene that Whitman describes here.

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