Surgeries have been performed since ancient times. A piece of flint stone was probably the first surgeon’s tool. Physicians of the day knew nothing about infections or the need for sanitizing equipment to prevent spread of disease and as a result two-thirds of the 618,000 fatalities suffered on both sides during the Civil War were caused from disease. Surgical instruments were issued by the government to each medical officer. They were contained in different cases depending upon whether their use was for a major or minor operation. Pocket or roll up surgical kits were carried by the surgeon into battle.
Very few of the medical instruments used by Cairo's Surgeon J. Otis Burt or Surgeon's Steward John W. Gerten (who before joining the ranks had been a butcher) were found. Many medicine bottles were found. Some were found to contain their original liquids and compounds. Samples were taken from each of the bottles and were sent to pharmaceutical companies to be analyzed. Results from chemists indicated that these bottles contained the following: quinine, rhubarb, ammonia, sulphur, an antidote for itch, blue mass for syphilis, zinc chloride and ferric chloride which was prescribed by the Cairo’s surgeon as an iron tonic. Bottles with glass stoppers could be identified without professional assistance. These bottles were found to contain iodine, sulphur, castor oil, camphor, turpentine, and linseed oil.