One hundred fifty years ago, the fall of Fort Sumter marked the beginning of the American Civil War. Four years later, the war ended with the surrender of Confederate forces. The medical Civil War, however, is still happening. When you see an ambulance take an injured person to a hospital for emergency treatment, you are seeing Civil War medicine. This system did not exist before the war. The war created the organization for hospital-based care that we have today.
No Civil War battles were fought in or near Philadelphia, but the war came here in other ways. On trains and steamboats, tens of thousands of wounded and sick soldiers arrived in the city, to be cared for in local hospitals.
What was it like to fight, to become sick or injured, to take care of the wounded? What was it like to live side by side with men from towns and country, to camp, march and fight, without wholesome food or enough sleep? Why did people—especially women—volunteer to work day and night to relieve the suffering of soldiers? What was it like to miss home or die alone?
We explore these questions in the new permanent exhibit, Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits; Injury, Death, and Healing in Civil War Philadelphia. Artifacts, anatomical specimens, and illustrations from the College's and other collections tell the story. Be sure to visit our interactive experience that enables you to visualize what it would be like to have an arm amputated!
You can explore the greater Philadelphia area's role in shaping the war that redefined our nation. Step into the lives of the Philadelphians, black as well as white, who participated in all facets of the war. Visit the Civil War History Consortium to learn what is going on near you! Also visit the Pennsylvania Civil War 150 website on the war. In early 2014, the Commonwealth Civil War 150 website will feature ten lesson plans for high school students and undergraduates on social aspects of Civil War medicine with appropriate primary source materials. Visit this website again for further information in coming months.
The following sites or institutions have loaned objects or provided support for the exhibit:
Stories of the medical dimension to the Civil War, or of the Civil War in Philadelphia, are explored at other museums and historic sites including the following:
See what others are saying about Broken Bodies:
Peter Crimmins, WHYY Philly's Mutter Museum sharpens focus on the Civil War's slain and wounded
Joe Brinn, Hiddencity Philadelphia Philadelphia During The Civil War: A Medical Perspective, Opening At The Mütter
And a related blog about an object in the Broken Bodies exhibit by Professor Darin Hayton, Haverford College
The single most authoritative and extensive site on the medical Civil War is Civil War Rx: The Source Guide to Civil War Medicine
Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits: Injury, Death, and Healing in Civil War Philadelphia is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.