tv Civil War Medicine and Disabled Veterans CSPAN March 11, 2017 7:35pm-7:55pm EST
meeting in denver, colorado. we spoke with professors, authors, and graduate students about their resource -- research. this interview is about 20 minutes. >> here to talk about civil war medicine and disabled veterans, sarah handley-cousins, phd candidate at the state university in buffalo. joining us also is ashley-bowen murphy, who just got her phd at brown university. our focus has been the panel you did at the aha on the pbs show "mercy street." ashley, how would you describe that showed to people who have not seen it and how realistic is it? ashley: it is a scripted drama that takes place at a union general hospital. it is pretty accurate. they worked with a lot of historians. intodid a lot of research
both what occupy alexandria was like an specific family members -- the green family, a major character, they were real people. some of the physicians and surgeons are composites of the various people who would have worked there, but there is a lot of reality. the new york times called it great anatomy with crinolines, pretty good description? the fabric that civil war women would have worn. ashley: which i think is pretty accurate. as much as there is medicine and history, it is also really funny and there is drama and love stories and other stuff. >> sarah, what interested the aha in putting together a discussion? why were they interested in having a discussion on what "mercy street" means to historians? sarah: ashley is the one who came up with the idea for the panel, and it came out of conversations she and i had been
having as we watched each episode on twitter, tweeting at each other about the ways that things were portrayed or little bits we could see of historian'' work coming out in the show. oh, that came out of that book. we wanted to have a moment where we could reflect on the show that also on the historians' work that went into the show. >> from what you have seen in the first season, how is the accuracy portrayed? compare it to maybe others civil war era film or video productions. "> what sets "mercy street apart is that it is in the hospital and not on the battlefield or washington. it is a story about nurses and doctors and the patients, the soldiers themselves, but it is set apart from the battlefield. i think that is really reflective of the historiography
happening right now on the civil war. a turn -- not entirely away from the battlefield but it turn towards the larger stories of the war. >> seems like the whole feel of civil war medicine has been written about a lot more in the last 10 or 20 years and now making it on to network television. ashley: i think that is definitely true. one of the things we spent a lot of time talking about was the ways in which right now, this is the only story about the civil war you can tell and does it feel appropriate for this particular moment in american history, where we have wars in iraq and afghanistan, more and more men and women coming back with real disabilities, either mental or physical, and what is the appeal right now of a story about war trauma broadly understood 150 years ago. it strikes me there are some
residences between the past and present. >> what should people who watch it know about the reality, history of civil war medicine? what changed during the civil war for doctors and the wounded? sarah: the one thing to keep in mind is how much clinical experience they were able to get. they had thousands of men coming through field hospitals, general hospital's, even specialty hospitals. the civil war is when you see the development of specialty hospitals. in philadelphia, turners lane hospital opens, a nervous diseases clinic for nervous disorders. before the war, medical education, they just did not get that kind of hands-on training. you would have gone to two years of lectures, where the second year repeated the first. serving in the army, they got so much more experience and were able to rapidly get more data about the ways illness and
wounds progressed. >> your focus has been on disabled veterans. a lot of veterans coming out of the civil war with incredible wounds and disabilities -- amputations, etc. what did you learn in your research? >> i learned that not also for disabilities booked the way we expect. a lot of the time when people think about disability, they think about amputation. but amputation only made up a fairly small percentage of the entirety of civil war disabilities. one of the people i write about is a soldier that a lot of people might be familiar with, joshua lawrence chamberlain. he was profoundly disabled after the battle of petersburg in his hips and groin. but it was all underneath his clothing, so no one really knew.
it was not something that people assumed about him when they saw him. it did not always look the way we think. >> he carried shrapnel with him all of his life and lived until his late 19 -- his late 80's. his mobility was profoundly impaired by that wound, he was sick a lot of the time from repeated infections. whatat do we know about now would be called ptsd? did they begin to identify the psychological impact of war as early as the civil war? ashley: that is a really tricky question. it was at the center of my dissertation project and that we talked about a lot yesterday on the panel. this is an era before freud. he is not really doing anything yet. people in america are not thinking about trauma as a psychological condition, so when physicians in the civil war use
the word trauma, they mean that in a dramatic injury -- a traumatic injury. but they were deeply aware that men were coming back for more changed and the changes were not good. they knew something had happened to them, but they were struggling with ways to make sense of that. one of the ways they made sense of that was through particular diagnoses of physical complaints. for example, a character mentioned in "mercy street" in the first episode studied hard conditions and soldiers. we read the symptoms today and think it is a panic attack. the symptoms are rapid heart rate, tunnel vision, numbness in your face, that kind of thing. but they don't have a concept of anxiety or panic the way we do today, so he said it was a cardiac disease associated with men who had seen service. because ietent answer don't want to say that
post-traumatic stress disorder existed in 19 century and they just did not know the name for it because i think that is condescending to the doctors and how much research they did. at the same time, there is no doubt these men were scarred and they carried physical symptoms with them long after the war. >> physical symptoms of emotional problems. ashley: it was before conversion disorder, which is the other way to think of it. >> what is that? ashley: simply understood, when your body manifests a psychological complaint. a good example is anxiety manifesting as heart palpitations. he was describing a conversion disorder is unclear, but he was not thinking of it like that. ashley touched on specialty hospitals that came out of the civil war. how did the treatment of vets
after the war change these sorts of fields that doctors got into and hospitals that were created? you mentioned joshua chamberlain, who lived a long time, and so did other vets. sarah: he lived for quite a while, 50 years. in terms of medical care, some physicians work at the soldiers homes, institutions created for veterans to live out sometimes for a certain number of years, other times for the remainder of their life, they lived in government run homes for veterans. some doctors did work there. veterans did not have their own hospitals the way we have a v, .a. system today. the government did give them pension payouts and they use the money however they would, so it had to cover food but also medical care. >> you get a pension whether you
were disabled or not? sarah: pension law changes. initially, the pension law only covered men disabled and service during their time in the war. after the war is over, it changes couple of times. by the time chamberlain was dying in the early 20th century, it covered anyone who had served in the war. >> what do you think the army learned from the treatment of troops on the field from the civil war? i don't think either of us doesn't on on-field surgery. a lot of what i have learned is about triage and the way they would bring people back. how were they deciding who to treat when. getting them off and back to hospitals away from the .rontlines
>> does treatment during the war change during the course of the war? >> they had gotten better at providing care and they were a lot more organized. the army medical department becomes more organized. the other thing they learned was they were in touch with physical bodies. doctors were not allowed to perform autopsies the way we do now in medical schools. they did not have corpses. one of the best learning tools during the war was the access they had to men's bodies, whether it was fixing wounds or access to their bodies after they were dead. >> this takes us back to "mercy street" because it is a tv program. the showing of intense medical scenes of operating rooms etc., how real is it and how visceral?
>> one of the things i love is the extent to which it is clear how physical being a doctor was. there is this amputation scene in the third episode -- you will know exactly what i'm talking about. dr. foster is sawing this legless sweat dripping down his face. there is blood. you can tell it is physical work. that was one thing i liked. the other thing i think is so interesting, we talked yesterday with one of the creators. they had physicians and surgeons train the actors. when you are watching them timely pictures or do amputations -- when you are orching them tie ligatures do amputations, the actors learn how to do it. not doing cgi, they are getting their hands dirty. >> no artificial, no special effects -- limited, anyway. >> not computer-generated. >> what were the most common
types of injuries? sarah: i am probably going to get the statistics wrong, but i think most wounds were to the trunk, the core, which were generally not survivable. a lot more people survive for injuries in "mercy street" then actually did. another reason why we think of amputations, but i think a lot more people were injured in ways that were not their limbs. ashley: again because it is more we think about it as physical injury, but so many of the men who were casualties were casualties of sickness. infectious disease, environmental, unclean water, that kind of thing. a lot of the men who ended up suffering the rest of their lives from disabilities were suffering from a lingering sickness. a lot of the men i studied who were diagnosed with your edible heart, -- diagnosed with irritable heart, they may not
have that the rest of their lives, but they continue to have symptoms from infections, malaria, typhoid. sarah: chamberlain also had malaria the rest of his life. >> did doctors, scientists learned about the avoidance of those sorts of diseases and canned and elsewhere from the civil war? sarah: not so much malaria, i don't think. smallpox, they worked very hard to try to inoculate soldiers from smallpox to try to avoid epidemics you see in season two of "mercy street." we had a teaser the other night. we worked really hard -- they work really hard to inoculate soldiers, which was controversial. it was relatively new to them. ashley: one of the things so interesting about this period is
on one hand, the rise of germ theory is starting to happen. you also have miasma theory with the stronghold. they are aware they need to contain epidemics, but they are still concerned about the circulation of air and they are very concerned about keeping water clean in particular ways that we now would think, why does it matter if the air is circulating that way? but they were still trying to make sense of these two competing modes of understanding. >> the miasma theory fell by the wayside. ashley: a bit later, but by the civil war, there is some debate about it. i think that is part of what made it difficult to control diseases, in part a product of the sanitary commission could put forth a bunch of recommendations but getting soldiers to follow them if soldiers had been raised to think it did not matter was really tough. >> was first brought both of
you, your interest in this area of civil war history? sarah: i was looking for something -- i wanted to study the civil war, specifically the real effects of the war. i think i was really affected by what we have been learning recently as citizens about what warfare does to people. i found myself thinking, if these things are happening to our soldiers today, what was that experience like ben? i started to look, and i found chamberlains story, and that is what brought me into it. that was my hook, was chamberlain's story. ashley: i came at it from a different perspective. before i came to grad school, i worked in public health. i started asking questions that demanded historical explanations, and my boss was
just like, that is not what we do in public health. great questions, but you have to go someplace else to do that. that is how i came to history. i really wanted to find out about how patients understood their own health. what is great about the army is they cap fantastic records. i was able to read pension records, this incredibly rich source of information about how men understood their own bodies after their time in the war. i kind of backed into it, but i love it, and now i am asking questions that take me further back in time. >> back to the televisual appeal of "mercy street." with do you think it rates other civil war films etc. in terms of its accuracy? ashley: it is immaculately researched. sarah: they spent a lot of time and energy going to historians and sharing scripts and having
historians go line by line into the scripts and make edits or as ortin's -- or suggestions the way they could change it that would make it more accurate or the stories they could tell that would better tell the story of that time. it is really accurate. i think compared to many other depictions of the civil war, it is not depicting the civil war that was glorious. instead, it is showing you the nitty-gritty of what all war is like. seeome historians television or film productions on the civil war and go, it is another tv show or film about the civil war, why should i watch? i, of course, love it. never, oh,esponses another thing about the civil war. i may have gone into it a bit
skeptical, but this is what i do , so i did go into it thinking, how well could they have possibly done? and then i loved it for all these reasons. sarah: a lot of historians are treating "mercy street" differently because it is telling a different story of the civil war. it is not a typical heroic battle story. a lot of people were willing to give it more of a chance. ashley: it is not a plantation story. it is treating slavery and much more nuanced and detail than almost any -- i can't think of another civil war story, specifically civil war that is doing as this show is doing with slavery. >> thank you both for being here at the american historical association. announcer: interested in american history tv? visit our website, c-span.org/history.
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