Media: Slideshow

Civil War–Era Surgical Equipment

Surgical Kits

Two surgical kits used by Confederate doctors during the Civil War include a variety of steel saws and knives employed during amputations (the largest one shown was used for cutting through bone and was known as a capital bone saw), as well as trepanning instruments for drilling into the skull of an injured patient. Tourniquets of canvas and brass are also included in these kits, along with a slender hook-shaped instrument known as a tenaculum for grabbing and holding tissue or blood vessels during surgery. The wooden box at left has a bone forceps (that looks like a pair of pliers) for trimming bits of bone from the newly amputated area to create a neat stump; and the kit at top features an additional tool—a small bristle brush to remove bone dust generated during the operation.

The kit at left, which features two tiers of instruments, was used by Confederate surgeon Dr. Leonard Slater from New Kent County, Virginia. Slater graduated as valedictorian from Lynchburg College. The kit at the right, with the brown velvet lining, was manufactured in Philadelphia and used by Tennessee-native Dr. Robert G. Rothrock.

Original Author: Unknown; Katherine Weitzel, photographer

Created: Mid-nineteenth century

Medium: Surgical instruments

Courtesy of The Museum of the Confederacy, photography by Katherine Wetzel

Surgical Chain Saw

This chain saw, a popular surgical instrument during the Civil War, features a steel blade that is jointed in such a way that it allowed a surgeon to reach behind a bone and remove a section of it without damaging nearby soft tissue. This type of surgery saved arms and legs that had been wounded in battle, but did not require amputation. Cutting bone, however, often resulting in shortening limbs and rendering them useless.

In 1864, a Confederate field surgeon described operating on a 22-year-old private who had been hit with a minie ball "at the juncture of superior and middle thirds of the femur." The doctor reported: "Operation procedure was deemed advisable and resection was performed. An incision about seven inches in length was made on the external aspect of the limb, exposing the injured shaft … and a chain saw was thrown around the upper and lower ends of the fractured bone and two and half or three inches of its shaft removed …" This resection took place in a field hospital, an unusual occurrence as it was a lengthy procedure generally performed in a hospital.

Created: Mid-nineteenth century

Medium: Surgical instrument

Courtesy of The Museum of the Confederacy, photography by Katherine Wetzel

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  • Surgical Kits

    Two surgical kits used by Confederate doctors during the Civil War include a variety of steel saws and knives employed during amputations (the largest one shown was used for cutting through bone and was known as a capital bone saw), as well as trepanning instruments for drilling into the skull of an injured patient. Tourniquets of canvas and brass are also included in these kits, along with a slender hook-shaped instrument known as a tenaculum for grabbing and holding tissue or blood vessels during surgery. The wooden box at left has a bone forceps (that looks like a pair of pliers) for trimming bits of bone from the newly amputated area to create a neat stump; and the kit at top features an additional tool—a small bristle brush to remove bone dust generated during the operation.

    The kit at left, which features two tiers of instruments, was used by Confederate surgeon Dr. Leonard Slater from New Kent County, Virginia. Slater graduated as valedictorian from Lynchburg College. The kit at the right, with the brown velvet lining, was manufactured in Philadelphia and used by Tennessee-native Dr. Robert G. Rothrock.

    Original Author: Unknown; Katherine Weitzel, photographer

    Created: Mid-nineteenth century

    Medium: Surgical instruments

    Courtesy of The Museum of the Confederacy, photography by Katherine Wetzel

  • Surgical Chain Saw

    This chain saw, a popular surgical instrument during the Civil War, features a steel blade that is jointed in such a way that it allowed a surgeon to reach behind a bone and remove a section of it without damaging nearby soft tissue. This type of surgery saved arms and legs that had been wounded in battle, but did not require amputation. Cutting bone, however, often resulting in shortening limbs and rendering them useless.

    In 1864, a Confederate field surgeon described operating on a 22-year-old private who had been hit with a minie ball "at the juncture of superior and middle thirds of the femur." The doctor reported: "Operation procedure was deemed advisable and resection was performed. An incision about seven inches in length was made on the external aspect of the limb, exposing the injured shaft … and a chain saw was thrown around the upper and lower ends of the fractured bone and two and half or three inches of its shaft removed …" This resection took place in a field hospital, an unusual occurrence as it was a lengthy procedure generally performed in a hospital.

    Created: Mid-nineteenth century

    Medium: Surgical instrument

    Courtesy of The Museum of the Confederacy, photography by Katherine Wetzel