Army Medical History- Mexican War

Mexican War 1846-1848


Both the U.S. and Mexican armies used muskets that fired large caliber musket balls. These soft lead projectiles could cause devastating injuries. Artillery rounds also increased the magnitude of injuries. This war also saw the use of edged weapons. Lances, swords, and bayonets caused severe injuries. Due to medical and time constraints a surgeon usually resorted to amputation. One of the advances that helped soldiers survive intense surgical procedures was the introduction of anesthetics, which were first introduced in the spring of 1847. Anesthetics helped with pain control which helped reduce the number of deaths that occurred from shock.

As with the war in previous years, disease was the major contributor to soldier death. American volunteer regiments could expect to lose a little over a tenth of its men in the Mexican War. Cramped and unsanitary hospitals and sick quarters spread disease quickly throughout the regiments. 

Medical field bags had become standardized during the war. Medical kits contained various items to help with injuries and sickness on the field. Powder of jalapa plant was used as a purgative and diuretic. Silver nitrate was used as an antiseptic. Tincture of opium was included as a cough suppressant. Castor oil was another common item in the kit, used as a laxative. To treat symptoms of malaria some soldiers utilized quinine powder to help with fever.