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Napoleonic Medical Services

Medical Services
Surgery
Treatment of Wounds
Medical Hygeine
Evacuation of the Wounded
Amputation Instruments and Chart
Causes of death in British Army hospitals 1812-1814

Medical services during the Napoleonic Era were basic, to say the least. There was little knowledge of hygeine, antibiotics were non-existent and the most often used treatment for serious battle wounds was amputation.

If a soldier survived a battle but was wounded, the chances were high he would end up dead from infection.

Troops were taken from the field - sometimes days after the battle had ended - and had to endure not only the pain of their wounds, but also thirst, flies and blood loss.

Then came an agonising and jolting journey to a makeshift surgery where overworked and frequently talentless men did their best to save them.

Modern readers will often be surprised at the fortitude shown by wounded soldiers who, despite fearful injuries, often walked themselves away from the field of battle.

The first-hand accounts of amputations also underline the tremendous courage of the men in an age where anaesthetics simply did not exist. Instead of painkillers officers were offered rum or brandy, but enlisted men had nothing more than a piece of wood to bite on.

One reports of a British soldier sitting up on a table singing while his leg was taken off below the knee.

Many troops remained completely silent under the knife - it being bad form to utter a sound while the surgeon did his work - but Russian soldier were actually banned from making any sounds either when wounded or being operated on.

Another tells of watching a British officer swearing for 20 minutes while the surgeon struggled to remove the limb with a saw blunted through overuse that day. At the end of it, the man then thanked the surgeon.

That officer was Major George Napier, who said of his ordeal:

"I must confess I did not bear the amputation of my arm as well as I ought to have done, for I made noise enough when the knife cut through my skin and flesh.

"It is no joke I assure you, but still it was a shame to say a word."

Mind you, one brave soul probably took things too far when he used his own just-cut-off arm to beat into silence a Frenchman complaining when he was being treated for a musketball wound.

There are descriptions of bloody sawn-off arms, hands and legs being callously thrown out windows near wounded troops waiting for their own amputations are terrible indeed.

Even more terrible are the statistics that show of all the men who underwent post-battle amputations, only a third of them survived.

 

 
 
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