Clarksville, TN – Saturday afternoon at the Fort Defiance Civil War Park and Interpretive Center a small group gathered to watch Mark Britton talk about Civil War era doctors, the tools, medicines, and methods they used.
“I’m not a doctor, but I could have been in the 19th century,” Britton said. “I’ve only been collecting and studying medical supplies and procedures for the last 10 to 12 years, but I have always been a fan of history, all types of history, ancient and recent.”
Britton sat behind a table covered with items that were the medical tools of the time. From pestles and mortars, to horsehair used for stitches. He also had an antique tracheal tube, amputation saws, glass cups and other items used for bloodletting, and much more. There was even a leech in a mason jar.
Britton’s presentation lasted more than 90 minutes. He showed the tools and talked about how they were used. He informed the audience of the educational requirements of the day, (almost none) and how shockingly misinformed the doctors were.
At that time, there was no knowledge of germs and bacteria. He explained that there was no hand-washing, and that tools would only be cleaned at the end of the day, not after each patient. Britton shared lots of interesting facts about herbs and natural remedies that were used, many of which are now backed by science, while others have been proven to be completely ineffective.
Britton has become a regular presenter on this topic, performing in living history exhibitions elsewhere, and bringing his considerable understanding to Fort Defiance two to three times a year.
“I guess the thing I find most fascinating is the robustness of human beings,” Britton said. “There were 85,000 amputations during the Civil War. Remarkably, 75% of those people survived. Their wounds were brutal, but so was the surgery itself.
“Losing a limb and being able to survive without antibiotics and the other things that today we think are essential, that is a really big deal. Just look at the millions of people who are here today only because of the existence of antibiotics.”
Britton says Friends of Fort Defiance is in the process of putting an event together for this coming year that will cover the gamut of Montgomery County history. “We will present characters you don’t normally see in a living history,” Britton said. “And, there will be lots of focus on women and minorities. We are hoping to cover the period from 1786 – 1955.”