Germ Warfare New Civil War Museum Traces Battle against Diseases

Article excerpt

Ambulances, the nursing profession and many other touchstones of modern medicine can trace their American roots to the Civil War, according to a new museum near the Gettysburg and Antietam battlefields.

When the National Museum of Civil War Medicine opens today, visitors will also learn that germs and not bullets killed most of those who died in the war.

"Of the 600,000 dead, two died to disease for every one killed in battle," said Burton Kummerow, the museum's executive director.

"Bad food and bad water made many sick. There was also a general lack of sanitation at the beginning of the war. The latrines were often near the drinking water supplies," he said.

Several major medical advances came out of the war, including the development of modern hospitals and medical evacuation techniques, the birth of the nursing profession and the first widespread use of anesthesia, Kummerow said.

"In 1862, during McClellan's peninsular campaign, the wounded were on the field for seven days," he said. "By the time Gettysburg came along, they had everybody off the battlefield every night."

But perhaps the most important advancement was the realization of how little was actually known about medicine, said Dale Smith, chairman of the Department of Medical History at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda. …