The 150th anniversary live battle reenactments around Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville, and Charleston both bring history back to life, and offer a chance for students to discover how the War Between The States (US Civil War) lives with us today, such as the discovery of medical sterilization due to the Union naval blockade to choke off Southern supplies from Europe.
Eventually the shortage of silk for sutures to stitch wounds prompted the South to use horse hairs for sutures. Doctors, finding the hairs too brittle, started boiling the horse hairs before stitching. By trial and error, it was observed that those who were stitched with boiled horse hairs contracted fewer infections, and they began boiling all medical instruments.
Words from the past
Indeed, the Civil War lives with us today, such as the term “sideburns”, named after Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s distinctive half-beard. Hard tack, a hardened bread and common staple for soldiers because it did not spoil, was the precursor to Saltine crackers. Condensed milk became popular (Borden’s). The term “it’s gonna cost you an arm and a leg” is rumored to have been coined after Confederate General John Bell Hood, who lost an arm and a leg, and had to be strapped into his saddle. Souvenir hunting and autograph collecting became more popular, as civil war soldiers were the equivalent of today’s Hollywood celebrities.
Military tactics taught at West Point – stand-up European style fighting at close range- were ditched in favor of trench warfare, because longer range, more accurate rifled muskets made prior tactics obsolete. The carnage in the early part of the war was due to weaponry being more advanced than tactics. Armored battleships were introduced. The first machine gun, the Gatlin, was invented in the beginning of the Civil War by a doctor who hoped that his invention would make war so horrific that wars would cease being fought. I learned these fascinating aspects of the war by touring battlefields. Despite war’s ugliness, sometimes necessity and urgency spur new treatments, discoveries, and even lasting peace after decades or even hundreds of years of tension, sort of like a letting. As they say, “necessity is the mother of all invention”.