Medicine and Surgery
During the war, soldiers were twice as likely to die of disease as they were to be killed in battle. Poor sanitation and crowded camp life helped spread epidemics among the armies. An often insufficient diet, exposure to the elements, and combat stress weakened the body's resistance to disease. Because Civil War surgeons did not know about germs and the need for sterile instruments during operations, many unnecessary infections resulted from even relatively minor wounds.
Many serious wounds were beyond the abilities of military surgeons to treat, without relying on amputation. Amputation was a common operation if a patient's arm or leg had a extensive wound. The procedure lessened the chance that gangrene or fatal infection would occur. Although amputation could sometimes save the life of a patient, it left thousands of soldiers permanently disabled.