Battlefield Medicine in the Civil War: Advances Despite the Horror

Battlefield Medicine in the Civil War: Advances Despite the Horror
Mary Lincoln: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: Two to three class periods


The Civil War was a defining event in American history from many different perspectives.  However, for the soldier on either side, all that mattered was staying alivelong enough to go home when it was over.  However, the War was fought with weapons that had been improved upon since the Revolutionary War; yet, medical practice had not advanced greatly. 


The purpose of this lesson is to encourage students to research and present information about the state of medical science and practice during the Civil War.  This is the first war during which anesthesia was used.  Students can research the medical training doctors received as well as field hospital practice.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet Access to print reference materials


1.  Introduce students to the casualty figures of the Civil War, or perhaps only of the Battle of Gettysburg. 

2.  Note that many of these casualties were not battlefield deaths but rather deaths that occurred because of a lack of medical knowledge. 

3.  Allow students to decide which area of medicine/surgery they will research:

  • Union Army
  • Confederate Army
  • Navy
  • Prison camps (Andersonville, for example)
  • Specific battles (Gettysburg, for example)

4.  After researching their topic, students should develop their presentations, utilizing either posters, PowerPoint, or other means.

Extending the Lesson:

The teacher may choose to assign the topics, restrict the topics to medical advances only, or have students research only the Union or Confederacy, or may divide the class into two teams (U.S.A. and C.S.A.) and research the topics from that perspective.

Sources & Resources:



This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.