Evacuation of the
Instruments and Chart
Causes of death in
British Army hospitals 1812-1814
services during the Napoleonic Era were basic, to
say the least. There was little knowledge of hygeine,
antibiotics were non-existent and the most often used
treatment for serious battle wounds was amputation.
a soldier survived a battle but was wounded, the chances
were high he would end up dead from infection.
were taken from the field - sometimes days after the
battle had ended - and had to endure not only the
pain of their wounds, but also thirst, flies and blood
came an agonising and jolting journey to a makeshift
surgery where overworked and frequently talentless
men did their best to save them.
readers will often be surprised at the fortitude shown
by wounded soldiers who, despite fearful injuries,
often walked themselves away from the field of battle.
first-hand accounts of amputations also underline
the tremendous courage of the men in an age where
anaesthetics simply did not exist. Instead of painkillers
officers were offered rum or brandy, but enlisted
men had nothing more than a piece of wood to bite
reports of a British soldier sitting up on a table
singing while his leg was taken off below the knee.
troops remained completely silent under the knife
- it being bad form to utter a sound while the surgeon
did his work - but Russian soldier were actually banned
from making any sounds either when wounded or being
tells of watching a British officer swearing for 20
minutes while the surgeon struggled to remove the
limb with a saw blunted through overuse that day.
At the end of it, the man then thanked the surgeon.
officer was Major George Napier, who said of his ordeal:
must confess I did not bear the amputation of my arm
as well as I ought to have done, for I made noise
enough when the knife cut through my skin and flesh.
is no joke I assure you, but still it was a shame
to say a word."
you, one brave soul probably took things too far when
he used his own just-cut-off arm to beat into silence
a Frenchman complaining when he was being treated
for a musketball wound.
are descriptions of bloody sawn-off arms, hands and
legs being callously thrown out windows near wounded
troops waiting for their own amputations are terrible
more terrible are the statistics that show of all
the men who underwent post-battle amputations, only
a third of them survived.