Post Hospital - Medicines

Apothecary Kit

Various medicines were used for a wide variety of reasons, although few were very effective. Medicines were used to counteract the effects of inflammation, to induce purging or vomiting, as stimulants or as sedatives. Unfortunately, many of these medicines were poisonous and if taken in large doses, would be fatal.

Some of the more common types of medicines used at the time included:

  • Anesthetics such as ether
  • Anodynes or narcotic pain relievers such as opium and morphine.
  • Antiperiodics such as quinine and arsenic which were used to stop the recurring fevers of malaria. Quinine was a successful treatment, but arsenic was a poison, mistakenly thought
    to cure malaria because workers in a copper smelting plant were found to be free of the disease in an area where malaria existed in epidemic proportions. It was thought that the workers had benefited from ingesting the arsenic fumes, when what had in fact happened
    was that the arsenic had killed off the mosquitoes in the area.
  • Astringents which helped blood to clot and decreased hemorrhaging.
  • Cathartics or purgatives such as calomel which had the same effect as a laxative. Calomel though was a mercury based poison which did more harm than good. Harmful effects included tooth loss, painful and bleeding gums, and mouth ulcers. Even more serious, it could cause cell damage and tissue loss which could lead to a deformity or a disabling injury.
  • Depressants or sedatives which calmed or tranquilized.
  • Diaphoretics and sudorifics which induced sweating.
  • Diuretics which increased urination.
  • Emetics which induced vomiting.
  • Emollients which softened or soothed the skin or an irritated area beneath the surface of the skin.
  • Escahrotics which were used to destroy or cauterize infected tissue.
  • Expectorants which produced saliva.
  • Rubefacients such as cantharhides which were used to produce redness and blistering of the skin.
  • Stimulants such as brandy, gin, wine, whisky rum and spirits of ammonia. A stimulant was a substance that excited a part of the body to normal activity.
  • Tonics-a class of medicines believed to have the power to restore normal tone to tissue.

Of all these different medications, only a few were actually effective. Quinine actually did help cure malaria. Ether did put you to sleep and morphine and opium were effective pain killers, although they were addictive and often, in the long run, destructive. Every other medicine which was used had either no effect or was detrimental to the patient;

The following medicines are available for use as props at Fort Scott National Historic Site.

The bottles and labels are authentic reproductions but do not contain the real medicines

Medicine Bottles EtherChloroformCough MixtureSpirits of AmmoniaStrong Alcohol
  • Alcohol was used as a stimulant and as a rubefacient to induce blistering.
  • Spirits of ammonia was inhaled as a stimulant. It was diluted and used internally to prevent spasms.
  • Cough mixture was used for coughs and could contain glycerine (a syrupy liquid that is used to soothe irritated skin), vinegar, herbs, gum arabic (a gum which in liquid form is used to reduce inflammation), and whisky.
  • Ether - Developed during the Mexican War. Used as an anesthetic. Ether was a safe anesthetic, but it smelled bad and was slow acting
  • Chloroform was developed later, but it had to be used sparingly or it would cause vomiting.
Medicine Bottles QuinineOpiumIpecac PowderLead Acetate
  • lpecac - A strong emetic that stimulates vomiting. It was also used as a stimulant, diaphoretic (to induce sweating) and an expectorant. It was often mixed with opium to be used as a painkiller and a diaphoretic. This mixture was called Dover's powder.
  • Lead Acetate-used to treat dysentery in the 1840s. It was an astringent used to stop bleeding, but was also poisonous.
  • Opium and Morphine - Used for pain relief and muscle relaxation. Opium was also used for dysentery.
  • Quinine - Made from cinchona tree bark - specific for malaria. Used for all types of fevers, but was only effective on malaria.
Small Medicine Bottles GlycerineAlcoholBlack TeaCreosoteOil of TurpentineSodium Chlorate
  • Sodium chlorate-used to cool the skin and as a skin wash. Taken internally as a diuretic.
  • Oil of Turpentine was used internally as a stimulant, to kill intestinal worms, and as a purgative. It could be used externally as a blistering agent.
  • Creosote was used externally as an antiseptic-it helped to stop bleeding and destroyed infected tissue. Taken internally it could be used as an expectorant which loosened up phlegm.
  • Black Tea was used as a stimulant and to soothe abdominal discomforts.
  • Glycerine-used primarily to soothe skin but was also used in cough syrup.
Brooks Brothers medicine bottles

LinimentFerric SulphateCoffee ExtractBeef ExtractAlumAmmonia Water

Brooks Brothers medicine bottles White SugarTincture of Ferric ChlorideTannic AcidSpirit of Nitrous EtherSilver Nitrate

These bottles are in our Brooks and Brothers medical bag

  • Ammonia Water-used as a stimulant, an antacid, to induce sweating and externally-as a blistering agent.
  • Alum-used to clot blood. to induce vomiting and purging and to prevent spasms. Also used as a mouthwash and gargle for mouth ulcers.
  • Beef Extract-a nutrient used in cases of diarrhea and dysentery.
  • Coffee Extract-a stimulant used in cases of diarrhea and dysentery.
  • Ferric Sulphate-used to clot blood and was also used as a tonic in solution form.
  • Liniment-used to relieve skin irritations which sometimes included blistering in order to bring irritated areas beneath the skin to the surface.
  • Silver Nitrate-used internally as a tonic, for gastric or stomach discomfort, and to prevent spasms associated with epilepsy and other spasmodic diseases. Used externally as a blistering agent, to cauterize wounds, and in the treatment of gangrene.
  • Spirit of Nitrous Ether-induces urination and sweating and also used as an antispasmodic.
  • Tannic Acid-Internally used to combat diarrhea and used externally as an astringent or blood clotting agent.
  • Tincture of Ferric Chloride-potent tonic and diuretic
  • White Sugar- used as a nutrient, an antiseptic, and to relieve irritation of mucous membranes.

Information for this section was taken from

Civil War Medicine: An Illustrated History by Mark J. Schaadt, M.D.(used by permission)

Civil War Medicine: 1861-65 by C. Keith Wilbur. M.D (used by permission).

Medicine Bottle for Hospital

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