Becoming Hardened to Horror as a Surgeon

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 4.58.15 PM.pngThe nature of the Civil War surgeon’s work was harrowing, marked by bloodshed, gore, suffering, torture, and death. In the Overland Campaign of 1864, this was especially true as nearly 100,000 men became casualties of war in less than two months of near-continuous combat. On May 24, 1864, during the Battle of North Anna, Surgeon John Gardner Perry of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment wrote in his diary about the hardening to death of a surgeon.

“I can scratch only a few lines, being up to my elbows in blood. Oh, the fatigue and endless work we surgeons have! … It seems to me I am quite callous to death now, and that I could see my dearest friend die without much feeling. This condition tells a long story which, under other circumstances, could scarcely be imagined. During the last three weeks, I have seen probably no less than two thousand deaths, and among them those of many dear friends. I have witnessed hundreds of men shot dead, have walked and slept among them, and surely I feel it possible to die myself as calmly as any, but enough of this. The fight is now fearful, and ambulances are coming in with great rapidity, each bearing its suffering load.” 


John Gardner Perry, Letters from a Surgeon of the Civil War (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, & Company, 1906.


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