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Post Civil War aftermath

Disir

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When called to the colors, whether Union or Confederate, doctors who used opiates liberally on civilian clients continued to use them liberally on their military patients. Willian H. Taylor was an assistant surgeon in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, an organization known for its rapid marches. After the war he wrote that he had simplified sick call on the march to one basic question: How are your bowels? If they were open, I administered a plug of opium; if they were shut I gave them a plug of blue mass (an unstable mercury compound)." A Federal surgeon devised an even speedier sick call method. He performed diagnosis from horseback, dispensing morphine powder by pouring it into his hand and letting the patient lick it.

Morphine, injected by the recently developed hypodermic syringe, was the preferred form of opium for treating the wounded. And though syringes were scarce, even in the better-equipped Federal armies, 29,828 ounces of morphine sulphate was dispensed to Union soldiers. That figure seems almost trifling compared to the almost 10 million opium pills and 2,841 million ounces of other opiates administered by Federal medical authorities by 1865. While not as ubiquitous in the Confederate army, opium was in reasonable supply until the very end of the war, thanks to captured medical stores and imports smuggled through the naval blockade of the southern ports. Though opiates were used profusely in the treatment of illnesses, it was in relieving the pain of wounds and surgery that they were most effective. The desire for that relief cause many injured soldiers to become opiate addicts, for pain lingered long after medical treatment in those days. And after the war it was easy to find veterans who suffered agony from war wounds or war-related illnesses for the rest of their lives. In his book, Dark Paradise: Opiate addiction in America Before 1940, David Courtwright quotes from an 1868 study titled The Opium Habit, with suggestions as to the remedy: Maimed and shattered survivors from a hundred battlefields, diseased and disabled soldiers released from hostile prisons, anguished and hopeless wives and mothers, made so by the slaughter of those dearest to them, have found, many of them, temporary relief from their sufferings in opium."

Opium in the Civil War

The addiction that followed is referred to as Soldier's disease.

The following link is to a book called Opium Eating by an Habituate, a Union soldier at age 16
Opium Eating

The medical care that was received both during and after the war was extremely primitive. Sterilization of hands and equipment is not a thing. That said, I am not one of those that believes "addiction" was not understood until someone from this past century was available to point out the obvious. There was just nothing else really available that could get the job done.

On his many tours of these improvised hospitals, the great American poet and Civil War nurse Walt Whitman noted in his Memoranda during the War the disorderly death and waste of early Civil War medicine. At the camp hospital of the Army of the Potomac in Falmouth, Virginia in 1862, Whitman saw “a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, &c, a full load for a one-horse cart” and “several dead bodies” lying near. Of the “hospital” itself, which was a brick mansion before the battle of Fredericksburg changed its use, Whitman observed that it was “quite crowded, upstairs and down, everything impromptu, no system, all bad enough, but I have no doubt the best that can be done; all the wounds pretty bad, some frightful, the men in their old clothes, unclean and bloody.” Of the division hospitals, Whitman noted that these were “merely tents, and sometimes very poor ones, the wounded lying on the ground, lucky if their blankets are spread on layers of pine or hemlock twigs or small leaves.”
Civil War Medicine | Civil War Trust

Many of the returning soldiers on both sides suffered from PTSD and committed suicide or entered into insane asylums.

Even so, there are striking instances of Civil War soldiers afflicted in ways that appear similar to the experience of veterans today. PTSD didn’t enter the medical lexicon until 1980, but its symptoms—including flashbacks, panic attacks, insomnia and suicidal thoughts—turn up frequently among Civil War soldiers, particularly those who entered asylums. In Shook Over Hell, historian Eric Dean examined the records of 291 Civil War veterans admitted to the Indiana Hospital for the Insane and found cases like Elijah Boswell, who “Sobbed & cried & imagined that some one was going to kill him,” screaming “the rebels was after him.”

Others were brought to the asylum because they barricaded themselves in rooms, awake all night with weapons at the ready. A veteran who narrowly survived an artillery barrage would shout at his wife, “Don’t you hear them bombarding?” Another, shot in the side during the war, was described upon admission as sleepless, suicidal and convinced “he is bleeding to death from imaginary wounds.”

Asylum records also give painful glimpses of families struggling to understand and help shattered loved ones. Patient files from the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, now known as St. Elizabeths, are filled with letters to the superintendent, like this one from a shopkeeper in Pennsylvania. “If brother is in any way conscious of passing events, I should like him to know that I have his oldest son Jimmy with me in the store, that he is a good boy and smart.” A Massachusetts woman wrote of her father, “If he does know anything at times please tell him his daughter has written to you about him and also give him my love.”

Read more: Did Civil War Soldiers Have PTSD? | History | Smithsonian

And of course the post Civil War divorce rate increased 150% for the same reasons they did following every war or conflict afterwards.

After the Civil War, and despite intense anti-divorce sentiment, the divorce rate skyrocketed. In the newly-united nation, officials ordered studies to determine why the Republic was emulating ancient Rome and other decadent societies.

The answers lay closer to home, and resonate to this day. As men enlisted and left wives and families at home, their relationships changed. And in the thick of the horrors, banalities, and brief joys — camaraderie and life-saving bonds — of war, so did their values. Meanwhile their waiting wives shouldered new “manly” burdens, and grew more confident and assertive.

At war’s end, reunited couples took stock of each other. Many husbands were severely injured or disabled. Combat soldiers fighting on the ground were often wounded in the buttocks, pelvis or genitals and the National Archives Pension files are filled with records “of impotence and depression related to loss of sexual function” that darkened many veterans’ marriages.

Rampant alcoholism and drug addiction, the “soldier’s disease,” wrecked havoc on marriages. So did venereal disease, contracted from prostitutes known as “horizontal refreshments.” Symptoms included incontinence and impotence, and “No one knows how many Union and Confederate wives and widows went to their graves, rotted and ravaged by the pox that their men brought home,” writes Civil War medical historian Thomas Lowry.1

Some demobilized husbands had grown closer to their wives through letters describing their experiences, including their fears, hopes, and emotional responses. Others, alienated by years of separation and hardship, had difficulty reconnecting with spouses. (“While you all was Haveing Such good times... on the 4th. we was Shooting Rebels,” one young soldier observed.2) Some women had had extramarital sex. Others, expecting their husbands to die in combat, entered new relationships. Some sold themselves to survive. When many veterans and their waiting wives reunited, they made each other miserable until they finally sought relief in separation or divorce.
Lest We Forget, Marriage Is Often a Forgotten Casualty of War | HuffPost






Southern, upper class, white women were the largest group of addicts because it was prescribed for everything. Although, the first image that usually comes to mind is Wyatt Earp’s first common law wife “Mattie” Blaylock who committed suicide by overdosing on laudanum after spending years dealing with her addiction.
 

Jackson

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When called to the colors, whether Union or Confederate, doctors who used opiates liberally on civilian clients continued to use them liberally on their military patients. Willian H. Taylor was an assistant surgeon in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, an organization known for its rapid marches. After the war he wrote that he had simplified sick call on the march to one basic question: How are your bowels? If they were open, I administered a plug of opium; if they were shut I gave them a plug of blue mass (an unstable mercury compound)." A Federal surgeon devised an even speedier sick call method. He performed diagnosis from horseback, dispensing morphine powder by pouring it into his hand and letting the patient lick it.

Morphine, injected by the recently developed hypodermic syringe, was the preferred form of opium for treating the wounded. And though syringes were scarce, even in the better-equipped Federal armies, 29,828 ounces of morphine sulphate was dispensed to Union soldiers. That figure seems almost trifling compared to the almost 10 million opium pills and 2,841 million ounces of other opiates administered by Federal medical authorities by 1865. While not as ubiquitous in the Confederate army, opium was in reasonable supply until the very end of the war, thanks to captured medical stores and imports smuggled through the naval blockade of the southern ports. Though opiates were used profusely in the treatment of illnesses, it was in relieving the pain of wounds and surgery that they were most effective. The desire for that relief cause many injured soldiers to become opiate addicts, for pain lingered long after medical treatment in those days. And after the war it was easy to find veterans who suffered agony from war wounds or war-related illnesses for the rest of their lives. In his book, Dark Paradise: Opiate addiction in America Before 1940, David Courtwright quotes from an 1868 study titled The Opium Habit, with suggestions as to the remedy: Maimed and shattered survivors from a hundred battlefields, diseased and disabled soldiers released from hostile prisons, anguished and hopeless wives and mothers, made so by the slaughter of those dearest to them, have found, many of them, temporary relief from their sufferings in opium."

Opium in the Civil War

The addiction that followed is referred to as Soldier's disease.

The following link is to a book called Opium Eating by an Habituate, a Union soldier at age 16
Opium Eating

The medical care that was received both during and after the war was extremely primitive. Sterilization of hands and equipment is not a thing. That said, I am not one of those that believes "addiction" was not understood until someone from this past century was available to point out the obvious. There was just nothing else really available that could get the job done.

On his many tours of these improvised hospitals, the great American poet and Civil War nurse Walt Whitman noted in his Memoranda during the War the disorderly death and waste of early Civil War medicine. At the camp hospital of the Army of the Potomac in Falmouth, Virginia in 1862, Whitman saw “a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, &c, a full load for a one-horse cart” and “several dead bodies” lying near. Of the “hospital” itself, which was a brick mansion before the battle of Fredericksburg changed its use, Whitman observed that it was “quite crowded, upstairs and down, everything impromptu, no system, all bad enough, but I have no doubt the best that can be done; all the wounds pretty bad, some frightful, the men in their old clothes, unclean and bloody.” Of the division hospitals, Whitman noted that these were “merely tents, and sometimes very poor ones, the wounded lying on the ground, lucky if their blankets are spread on layers of pine or hemlock twigs or small leaves.”
Civil War Medicine | Civil War Trust

Many of the returning soldiers on both sides suffered from PTSD and committed suicide or entered into insane asylums.

Even so, there are striking instances of Civil War soldiers afflicted in ways that appear similar to the experience of veterans today. PTSD didn’t enter the medical lexicon until 1980, but its symptoms—including flashbacks, panic attacks, insomnia and suicidal thoughts—turn up frequently among Civil War soldiers, particularly those who entered asylums. In Shook Over Hell, historian Eric Dean examined the records of 291 Civil War veterans admitted to the Indiana Hospital for the Insane and found cases like Elijah Boswell, who “Sobbed & cried & imagined that some one was going to kill him,” screaming “the rebels was after him.”

Others were brought to the asylum because they barricaded themselves in rooms, awake all night with weapons at the ready. A veteran who narrowly survived an artillery barrage would shout at his wife, “Don’t you hear them bombarding?” Another, shot in the side during the war, was described upon admission as sleepless, suicidal and convinced “he is bleeding to death from imaginary wounds.”

Asylum records also give painful glimpses of families struggling to understand and help shattered loved ones. Patient files from the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, now known as St. Elizabeths, are filled with letters to the superintendent, like this one from a shopkeeper in Pennsylvania. “If brother is in any way conscious of passing events, I should like him to know that I have his oldest son Jimmy with me in the store, that he is a good boy and smart.” A Massachusetts woman wrote of her father, “If he does know anything at times please tell him his daughter has written to you about him and also give him my love.”

Read more: Did Civil War Soldiers Have PTSD? | History | Smithsonian

And of course the post Civil War divorce rate increased 150% for the same reasons they did following every war or conflict afterwards.

After the Civil War, and despite intense anti-divorce sentiment, the divorce rate skyrocketed. In the newly-united nation, officials ordered studies to determine why the Republic was emulating ancient Rome and other decadent societies.

The answers lay closer to home, and resonate to this day. As men enlisted and left wives and families at home, their relationships changed. And in the thick of the horrors, banalities, and brief joys — camaraderie and life-saving bonds — of war, so did their values. Meanwhile their waiting wives shouldered new “manly” burdens, and grew more confident and assertive.

At war’s end, reunited couples took stock of each other. Many husbands were severely injured or disabled. Combat soldiers fighting on the ground were often wounded in the buttocks, pelvis or genitals and the National Archives Pension files are filled with records “of impotence and depression related to loss of sexual function” that darkened many veterans’ marriages.

Rampant alcoholism and drug addiction, the “soldier’s disease,” wrecked havoc on marriages. So did venereal disease, contracted from prostitutes known as “horizontal refreshments.” Symptoms included incontinence and impotence, and “No one knows how many Union and Confederate wives and widows went to their graves, rotted and ravaged by the pox that their men brought home,” writes Civil War medical historian Thomas Lowry.1

Some demobilized husbands had grown closer to their wives through letters describing their experiences, including their fears, hopes, and emotional responses. Others, alienated by years of separation and hardship, had difficulty reconnecting with spouses. (“While you all was Haveing Such good times... on the 4th. we was Shooting Rebels,” one young soldier observed.2) Some women had had extramarital sex. Others, expecting their husbands to die in combat, entered new relationships. Some sold themselves to survive. When many veterans and their waiting wives reunited, they made each other miserable until they finally sought relief in separation or divorce.
Lest We Forget, Marriage Is Often a Forgotten Casualty of War | HuffPost






Southern, upper class, white women were the largest group of addicts because it was prescribed for everything. Although, the first image that usually comes to mind is Wyatt Earp’s first common law wife “Mattie” Blaylock who committed suicide by overdosing on laudanum after spending years dealing with her addiction.
Thank you for an interesting look into the civil war. It was most aprreciated.
 

MarathonMike

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It's incredible to think that 160 years after the Civil War we still have government supported distribution of this life lethal drug. Thanks for that very interesting glimpse into Civil War history.
 

Pogo

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The medical care that was received both during and after the war was extremely primitive. Sterilization of hands and equipment is not a thing. That said, I am not one of those that believes "addiction" was not understood until someone from this past century was available to point out the obvious. There was just nothing else really available that could get the job done.

Another factor here was the new war technology, which had taken a great leap forward (read: backward) with the invention of the Minié ball, which greatly increased firing range, accuracy and rapidity. The American Civil War was the first use of such warfare technology in the Americas and the second worldwide after the Crimean War of a decade earlier. Owing to this both the volume and intensity of serious injuries were far higher than in previous wars and the number of amputations was sky-high.
 

Slash

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I like the post a lot. Personally I think morphine is a great situational drug. Post surgery, post heartattack, immediately after major pain (broken bones/amputations) and end of life situations. But not for chronic pain IMO.

As for the weapons, Pogo is right. With the minie ball, rifles were accurate up to 500 yards. breech loaders were being used more and more towards the end of the war which had quicker relaoding times. But the tactics had not yet caught up with the weaponary. Large formation battles still went on, with the firepower that should have led to the trench type warfare we see in WWI.
 

whitehall

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Since Opium wasn't available after the Civil War except under rare and exotic or medicinal conditions it's difficult to imagine a Civil War Veteran being addicted to the stuff..
 
OP
Disir

Disir

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Since Opium wasn't available after the Civil War except under rare and exotic or medicinal conditions it's difficult to imagine a Civil War Veteran being addicted to the stuff..
Sure it was. Opium dens all over and those came with the Chinese. There was even an opium den in Tombstone. Plus, it was still prescribed.

The dice and the guns weren't the only things loaded in the Old West -- so were many of the men and women. Generally, when we think of people being "loaded" in those days, the image of men standing at a long bar knocking down shots of Firewater or White Lightening immediately comes to mind. However, the fact is that drugs such as morphine and cocaine were being used with frequency. These, along with cannabis (marijuana), heroin and other narcotics, were legal, could be purchased over the counter, and were liberally prescribed by doctors for a multitude of ailments, even to children. Coupled with opium dens, patent medicines, and the easy availability of laudanum, it's a wonder more pioneers didn't overdose.


Before long, cocaine was found in a number of patent medicines and cocaine lozenges were recommended as effective remedies for coughs, colds and toothaches. Doctors and pharmacists often prescribed it for treatment of indigestion, melancholia, pain, and even relieving vomiting in pregnancy. Cocaine was widely available and could be purchased over the counter. It was used in cough medicines, enemas, and poultices. By 1885, cocaine was sold in various forms – cigarettes, powder, even injection by needle. In medicine, it was commonly used as a local anesthetic.

In 1885, John Styth Pemberton of Atlanta, Georgia, who had previously manufactured such patent medicines as Triplex Liver Pills and Globe of Flower Cough Syrup, introduced "French Wine Coca", advertised as an "Ideal Nerve and Tonic Stimulant." The product relied heavily on extract of coca leaves. The next year, Pemberton introduced a syrup called "Coca-Cola" named for the presence of an extract of the kola nut. At various times it was advertised as "a remarkable therapeutic agent" and as a "sovereign remedy" for a long list of ailments, including melancholy and insomnia. Coca-Cola once contained an estimated nine milligrams of cocaine per glass. (For comparison, a typical dose or "line" of cocaine is 50–75 mg.) In 1903, the cocaine was removed.
Drugs in the Old West
 

Picaro

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No serious effort at combating drug addiction was made until the early 1900's and the Harrison Act. But alcohol abuse still remained the most serious national scourge, with consumption rates per capita at over three times the rates found in Europe, and that predated the Civil War by decades. No serious effort was made to curb that until the first prohibition laws at the state levels began in 1910, followed by the Federal Amendment in 1919. Alcohol was by far the worst addiction, causing all kinds of domestic violence and poverty, and it became a 'Women's Issue' as a result and a unifying umbrella under which women' rights organized. The Prohibition Amendment, as weak as it was and riddled with holes, still put a brake on consumption, which didn't reach pre-Prohibition levels until after WW II, where it again caused mayhem and death at record levels; the average death tolls on our streets and highways from drunk drivers killed as many every year as were lost in the entire Vietnam War over16 years, and many more injuries as well.

Both addiction epidemics make hash out of the 'let's legalize everything!!! ' idiocy. Been there, done that already; it didn't work at all, not even a little bit.
 

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