Amputation of wounded limbs was not new but reached somewhat of a high point in the Civil War. The Minie ball, in particular, was notorious for shattering bone. Doctors soon found that trying to save a limb was counterproductive—it almost always became infected and the patient died. We have all seen gruesome photos of severed arms and legs piled up next to a field hospital, sometimes higher than the roof.
An upcoming auction has a very nice example of a Civil War era amputation kit (and it’s not cheap) that shows what a typical surgeon would have used.
Although we think of Civil War medicine as primitive (and it was by today’s standards), medical practice made huge strides during the war. At he conflict’s beginning, for instance, the death rate for hospitals hovered around 50%, when the were available. By war’s end the figure had been reduced to 6-8% on both sides.
UPDATE: Speaking of interesting things at auctions, I came across this. It’s a wooden scale model of the C.S.S. Tennessee of Mobile Bay fame. Don’t know what I would do with it and don’t have space to display it, but the cool factor is hard to beat.