Images of war are always heartbreaking, but these vintage photographs of old war wounds are particularly unsettling.
They were taken before the advent of modern medicine in a time when a doctor’s best course of action was a combination of potentially dangerous procedures and prayer. Limbs with gunshot wounds often had to be amputated immediately, while other injuries were washed, wrapped, and left to heal on their own. There was no plastic surgery to fix things up later; no prosthetic limbs to make life easier for survivors.
For these 10 men, their war wounds haunted them for the rest of their lives. The following collection is a shocking reminder of the cost of freedom and how much has to be sacrificed to achieve it.
1. After this young man entered a Virginia hospital with gangrene in his elbow in 1865, the wound was treated with turpentine and kerosene oil. He survived, but was never able to use the joint again.
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2. This photo was taken two years after Private Joseph Harvey was shot in the face. A note with the photo reads, “The loss of substance in the cheek was still unrepaired, and liquids and saliva escaped from it.”
3. Not many people survived gunshot wounds to the stomach during the Civil War, but Major H. A. Barnum miraculously recovered.
4. This poor man had two devastating surgeries in less than five months. First, his leg was amputated below the knee after a musket ball injury. His upper thigh was amputated later, presumably due to infection.
5. Although this man lost much of his upper arm to a gunshot wound, he was luckier than most to retain the use of his hand.
6. Private Charles Myer lost his right leg, but his pride and dignity appear intact in this image.
7. Neck trauma caused Mr. Joseph Brown to develop a rare case of arterial aneurysm. This can be fixed with surgery now, but he likely died from the condition.
8. Incredibly, this man survived wounds to his chest and abdomen.
9. A gunshot that passes straight through the body is less likely to get infected, which gave this man good hope of survival. Often, doctors and photographers used red ink to show the path of the bullet.
10. Here, a group of wounded men rest outside of a hospital in Fredericksburg. They survived battle, but it would still be a long time until they were strong enough to travel home.
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We take most of today’s medical advancements for granted now, but these images prove that we have so much to be thankful for in that regard.