Our Duty to Science. Human and Animal Medicine in the American Civil War, 1861-1865

Soldiers' Health, Between War and Peace: 1830-1930
By Kathryn Shively Meier

The American Civil War transformed that nation’s medical community to the extent that the North, the resource-deprived South, and the underdeveloped field of veterinary medicine adopted common approaches associated with the Paris Clinical School. The circumstances of war expanded the practices of doctors and veterinarians, from the elite educated to the rural apprenticed, to include scientific, sanitarian, and alternative therapeutic approaches, which many had vigorously rejected in the antebellum period. These changes were both deliberate and accidental, as well as facilitated by the military context. The most influential physicians, who had either trained abroad before the war or already associated themselves with scientific practices, mandated that surgeons in the ranks adopt certain techniques. Additionally, the urgency, magnitude, and privation of the wartime health crisis prompted improvisation and acceptance of new methods. Surgeons and veterinarians of the officer class benefited from the professional protection of rank and the captive patient populations obedient to them. The result was a diverse set of medical practices, which could be folded under the umbrella of science as part of a claim to new professional identity. These changes to human and animal medicine outlasted the war, apparent in new publications, professional associations, and institutions of learning.

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