Find of the Week: Surgeon’s Kit of the War of 1812

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA-- The wars of the past were no laughing matter.  News With a Twist has teamed up with the Historic New Orleans Collection to bring you Find of the Week, where we present artifacts and their stories out of the collection's vaults.  Todays story is about a surgeon's kit from the war of 1812.

Technological advancement is worth its weight in blood. Over time, London's sewage buckets to the street became indoor plumbing and horses across the plains of the midwest transitioned into motorized vehicles with horse power.

We've come a long way in terms of surgery.

"it is a field surgeon's kit, as used in the battle of New Orleans and as you can see it's fairly rudimentary," says George F. Schindler the 4th, the Interpretation Assistant at the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Springfield muskets or model 1798 muskets with 69 caliber soft lead balls were the reason amputations were so common.

"The gun only has a range of 75 to a hundred yards. This ball is not moving very fast. A modern bullet will most probably go right through your arm and you will be more or less fine. This bullet is moving so big through the air and so slowly, it absolutely shatters everything," says Schindler.

After soldiers had the misfortune of getting shot, they were subjected to the medical care of the age.  This treatment meant they were likely about to loose a bodily appendage.

Schindler enthusiastically paints a picture of carnage saying: "so the doctor would ideally have one to three inches along the socket joint and then makes an incision along the infected area, he'll take a strap and then peel away the flesh from the bone to expose it. Then taking the saw, he places it on the exposed bone and in one or three quick motions, the limb is liberated from the body and then he'll begin to sew up the arteries."

At the time, doctors didn't understand the specifics of infection.  What they did know was that amputation was important to stop the spread of infection and because of this little knowledge, 70 percent of those treated lived.

It was gruesome, but it saved lives.

Anesthesia didn't come until much later in the 19th century.  The soldiers had to rely on their daily rum rations to get through the pain.