Continental Congress: Hospital Reports
Medical treatement during the Revolutionary War.
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Read about hospitals and medical treatment for sick and wounded soldiers.
The 53 page Report of the Papers of the Continental Congress - Hospitals give us an idea of how the military hospitals were set up. The country was divided into 3 geographic regions, and the Reports list the supplies that each hospital should have, the personnel and their duties (including those of matrons, nurses and washerwomen), the pay each surgeon and other personnel should receive, and the maintenance of the facilities. You can see the images of several of the pages to the right.
During the Revolutionary War, more men died of disease/illness than battle wounds. The government was mindful of the needs of the sick and injured, but knowledge of germs, contagion and nutrition at this time was limited. "Flying" hospitals were set up adjacent to battle fields to provide the first treatment, much like field hospitals or MASH units today. Injured soldiers were then transferred to a general hospital, transferred back to their unit, or accepted into a type of "invalid corps".
Often homes were used to provide medical services. Sometimes regiments had their own hospital. General hospitals were usually places to be avoided at all costs because rampant disease, contagion, overcrowding, lack of supplies, and filth contributed to a high mortality rate. The skill and knowledge of doctors varied greatly too, from those who were trained and experienced to those who just had an interest in medicine or who were pressed into service because they had once treated an injured animal!
One of the great innovations of the Revolutionary War period was inocculation against smallpox. As the War progressed, there were fewer deaths due to contagious diseases because of inocculations and the natural immunities that were built up because of exposure to people from different areas of the country.
You can read more about Military Hospitals by going to www.ushistoryorg/washingtoncrossing/history/hospitals.htm.