Napoleonic Surgery

Medical Services
Treatment of Wounds
Medical Hygeine
Evacuation of the Wounded
Amputation Instruments and Chart
Causes of death in British Army hospitals 1812-1814
Lists of British officers wounded and killed in the Peninsula

Click to EnlargeThe horrors of amputation can only be imagined but the thought of being held down by surgeon's mates while having an arm or leg sawn off brings shivers to the spine.

However, amputation was the only real choice for soldiers who had suffered badly broken bones that left little hope of saving the injured limb.

Some surgeons believed waiting for a man to recover a little from the actual wound before amputation was the best course of action, while others - Dominique Larrey in particular - who advocated immediate amputation.

While that sounds a little hasty, Larrey was a skilled surgeon who knew when a soldier had a good chance of recovery with his original injury and when he wouldn't.

And by acting while the man's body was often still numb around the wound, healthy tissue could be sliced through with much less pain. A man in shock would also have lower blood pressure and that reduced the flow of blood.

A third - and possibly the most valid medical reason - was amputation would remove a filthy, disease-welcoming wound and usually lead to a rapid recovery.

Once held down, the wounded soldier had a leather tourniquet tied about 8cm (3 inches) above the place where the cutting would be done.

A knife was then used to slice down to the bone, arteries pinned out of the way and then the surgeon would begin his work with the bone saw.

There were two main types of saws used, a larger one for cutting through the thigh bone or femur, and a smaller one for the lesser leg bones and arms. Usually, the sawing would take under a minute to complete.

Next the arteries were sewn up and linen bandages were applied and then the stump was covered with a wool cap.



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