Meeting of June 29, 2010

Dr. Joe Wagner on “Civil War Medicine”

Civil War Medicine, with one major exception, was virtually unchanged from practice in the dark ages. Bacteria were unknown. Sanitation was primitive, handwashing by surgeons considered unnecessary. The one enormous discovery that was used extensively by both Union and Confederate surgeons was anaesthesia. Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) was discovered in 1845, ether in 1846, and chloroform in 1847. Smallpox vaccination was mandated but not rigidly enforced. Soldiers shared vaccine materials, often with disastrous effects. Measles, a childhood illness, was far more serious in adults. In one battle, half a regiment was out of action due to measles. Many soldiers from rural areas had no exposure to common childhood illnesses, and hence no immunity.

Joe received his M.D. from the University of Toronto in 1954 and had a distinguished career as an orthopaedic surgery professor at UCLA and the California College of Medicine (later University of California at Irvine School of Medicine) before his retirement. He and his wife Dolores have been married for 60 years.

Newsletter June 2010