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Commentary Detail

Commentary by: Bob Archibald
Aired January 21, 2011

In the collections of the Missouri History Museum we have lovely objects, intriguing objects, historically important object Ö and a few that can give you a shiver and a chill.

A Union Army surgeonís surgical kit is one of the latter. It includes all of the instruments necessary for performing an amputation: a tourniquet, bone forceps, a saw for cutting large bones, three amputation knives, a scalpel, a hook for holding tissue, a metacarpal saw, and slide-catch forceps.

The physicianís instruments tell an abundance of stories. Not all of them are horrors, although the mortality rate for amputations in the Civil War could rise to perhaps 85 percent depending on what part of the body was cut off and the sanitary conditions where the patient was recovering.

The instruments belonged to Gustavus Wieland, a native of Germany who studied medicine there and immigrated to the United States just in time to join the federal army as an assistant surgeon with Missouriís 41st Infantry. This regiment never left St. Louis, so Dr. Wieland did not use his amputation tools on the battlefield. Did he use them later, as a doctor in rural Missouri after the war?

(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Bob Archibald

Bob Archibald


Bob Archibald is the President of the Missouri Historical Society

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