Women in war


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Women may have nursed wounded or sick soldiers on an ad hoc basis but until Florence Nightingale it was not considered an occupation for women. There were women, I know mostly of Union women but doubtless there were those on the rebel side, who nursed wounded and sick soldiers.

Some of these (union) women did not just nurse. Some got rid of incompetent or drunk surgeons, organised hospitals etc. Some of these were the widows of slain Union officers.

Another part of their work, running or aiding “Sanitary Fairs” and “Sanitary Commissions” which are nothing to do with sewerage but improving soldiers’ health by sending fresh fruit and vegetables and medical supplies to army camps in the field. Scurvy made an appearance in some of the armies, to be expected when the soldiers live on hard tack and rancid bacon.

Hard tack really was hard! Some droll passages about soldiers blessing the rain for softening the crackers so saving the soldier’s teeth :)

The US Civil War was the last war of the US where bacteria killed more soldiers than enemy bullets and shells etc did. A hospital after a battle soon accumulated huge piles of arms and legs—amputation the only way to ensure gangrene did not set in and kill the soldier. “Hawkeye” in M*A*S*H* complained he was doing meatball surgery in the Korean War but doubt (real) surgeons in that war did much amputating at all.