Army Medical History- War of 1812

Military Medicine in the War of 1812

There is hardly on the face of the earth a less enviable situation than that of an Army Surgeon after a battle – worn out and fatigued in body and mind, surrounded by suffering, pain, and misery, much of which he knows it is not in his power to heal…. I never underwent such fatigue as I did the first week at Butler's Barracks. The weather was intensely hot, the flies in myriads, and lighting on the wounds, deposited their eggs, so that maggots were bred in a few hours.

Tiger Dunlop, British surgeon to the 89th (The Princess Victoria's) Regiment of Foot, War of 1812.

Death from disease was a major contributor over battle wounds. Dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia, malaria, measles and smallpox were the main culprits. Food poisoning was also common along with “flux” which was a term for all types of diarrhea. 

Although major medicine discoveries were decades away, skilled surgeons and doctors understood the benefits of cleanliness. In December of 1814, the Medical Department released directives concerning how to clean and care out on the field. Chamber pots were to be cleaned three times a day and lined with water or charcoal. Beds and sheets were to be aired and exposed to sunlight each day. The straw in each bed sack was to be changed each month. If a patient was discharged or died, the straw was to be burned. These tasks were carried out by female attendants who were paid no more than $6 a month plus one ration a day.

Image courtesy of PBS

Watch the PBS video the War of 1812, Military Medicine to learn more about medical practices during this time period and conflict.