What Rare Images of Black Military Surgeons Reveal About the Civil War Era—and Today

“These Black surgeons were hired at a point in the war when the death toll was growing and resources were shrinking. Health crises were rampant; in fact, two-thirds of the roughly 620,000 Civil War fatalities came from germs, not guns. (Some research also suggests the total death toll could be as high as 750,000-800,000.) “The greatest demand on all Civil War surgeons was in combating diseases, not repairing injuries,” as historian Richard Reid put it in Practicing Medicine in a Black Regiment: The Civil War Diary of Burt G. Wilder, 55th Massachusetts. Troops from secluded areas were exposed to diseases for which they had no immunity; in addition, the combination of humidity, tainted water supplies, poor sanitation and crowding in military camps created the perfect breeding grounds for germs. The most commonly contracted illnesses were diarrhea and dysentery, malaria, typhoid and pneumonia.”

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