The Battle of Bentonville was fought 154 years ago just a short distance from Fort Bragg, NC. Each year the North Carolina Historic Site Staff and reenactors commemorate the battle with different types of reenactments. This year the focus is on Civil War Medicine and the originally preserved Union XIV Corps Field Hospital at the Harper house. This Event was called, “A Fighting Chance For Life.” It is important for us to look deep into the past and hold close the lessons learned which now benefit all mankind. This was a perfect opportunity in which to see the advents of modern combat medicine in order to compare and contrast the care received by those who sacrificed so much on our own home soil under such terrible circumstances.
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While Chloroform and ether anesthesia were gaining acceptance and being used in the United , antiseptic technique and germ theory were just emerging from Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur across the Atlantic. This important discovery could have saved tens of thousands but would not be widely adopted in the US for decades. Amputations were common place without the more conservative debridement strategy instituted by Dr. Theodore-Marin Tuffier in 1915. Penicillin wasn’t discovered the first time until over 30 years after the war in 1897 by 23 year old Ernest Duchesne and not used to treat a human until 1942 after rediscovery by Alexander Fleming in 1928.
The Ambulance Corps was arguably one if the greatest contributions to modern combat medicine to come out of the war from the Surgeon to the Army of the Potomac, MAJ Jonathan Letterman. He is widely recognized as, “The Father of Modern Battlefield Medicine.”
His evacuation chain included tiered levels of care starting with stretcher bearers and far forward dressing stations which led back to field hospitals and larger hospitals beyond that. These levels of care which paved the way for the current roles of care allowed the Union Army to truly preserve the fighting strength by keeping fighting men in the fight and returning as many as possible to the front lines. Prior to that men would either lay dying on the field of battle for days or their squad mates would stop fighting and carry them far to the rear. You can now walk through an original Union Field Hospital, The Harper House, at the Bentonville Battlefield in Four Oaks, NC complete with original blood stains on the hardwood floor where over 600 soldiers were treated.
There was a tent set up with a modern demo of prolonged field care to include some of the latest high tech gadgets such as the SAVE2, TempusPro and many others on the grounds a few feet from the Civil War Field Hospital and reenactors.
Once the sun went down there were additional professional role players reenacting multiple surgical procedures including some of the following from historic records.
You can hear more about Dr. Letterman by Civil War Historian Chris Grimes. If you can’t make it check back and I’ll update this post with more pics from the weekend. For more information read this story from the local news outlet and scroll down for the video recap.