Putting It All Together
The four years of fratricidal war killed more then 620,000 Americans. These numbers would have been even higher had the two armies not improved their methods for getting the wounded to treatment. The systems developed during the Civil War proved so effective that they have continued to serve as the basis for army field hospitals: the structure of medical "Collecting and Clearing" units mobilized by the United States forces in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, for example, may be traced to Civil War precedents, such as the hospital set up at the Harper House during the Battle of Bentonville.
Even with the many improvements both during and since the Civil War, however, wounded soldiers suffered. The following activities will help students better understand the experiences of those wounded in battle, and those who treated them.
Activity 1: Once a Soldier
Ask students to imagine they are farmers who enlisted in the Union army in 1862 that came through unscathed during the campaign for Atlanta and the March to the Sea. Marching with Sherman's army as it nears Goldsboro, North Carolina, they should think about the end of the war, which seems inevitable, and returning home to plow their fields in order to provide for their families. Suddenly they find themselves in the Battle of Bentonville where they receive a severe leg wound. They are carried to the field hospital at the Harper House, where a surgeon amputates their leg above the knee. Have students write a letter to their loved ones describing their experience, including the wounding, the treatment they received at the field hospital, and how they believe the wound and its treatment will change all of their lives.
Activity 2: The Other Side
Although this lesson concentrates on the advancements made in the Union medical service, the South also recognized the need for better treatment of its wounded. Ask students to research the system the Confederates arranged for their men, concentrating on how the Confederate system for transporting and treating the wounded compared to the North's. What were the reasons for the similarities and differences? To what extent did the successes and weaknesses of the Confederate medical service reflect the entire Southern war effort?
Activity 3: On the Homefront
Explain to students that war not only affects those who fight, but also those who live near the battlefields as well. The Harper family left no written record regarding their experiences during the Battle of Bentonville. Yet the battle was perhaps the most dramatic event of their lives. Using the information provided in this lesson, have students form groups to write short plays depicting the Harper family during the three days of battle and immediately afterwards. The groups should then present their plays in class. Choose one group to lead the class in a discussion of the impact of such an event on the Harpers and other families who may have been caught in the midst of the fighting.
As a follow-up activity, ask students to survey newspapers and news magazines to identify any locations in the world today where families are being caught in the crossfire of an armed conflict. Students should think of ways in which these families try to cope with such dangerous situations.
Activity 4: A Popular Example
Perhaps one of the most powerful depictions of a modern-era army field hospital was the long-running television series M*A*S*H. Select an appropriate episode from that series (which is now commercially available on videocassette) for students to view. Have students compare and contrast the Korean Conflict-era field hospital depicted in M*A*S*H with the Civil War-era field hospital depicted in this lesson plan. They should pay particular attention to the surgeons depicted in the series, and identify their characteristics. Would the qualities depicted in the television characters (humor, humanity, etc.) have been necessary for a Civil War field surgeon as well? Students should design an enlistment poster recruiting doctors for service as field surgeons in the Union army during the Civil War.
Activity 5: In Your Own Community
The modern armed forces of the United States still employ field hospitals on the battlefield today. Ask students to investigate any mobile military hospitals (either at Regular Armed Forces military bases, or at local National Guard armories) based in their area. If such a military medical organization can be located, invite a representative of that unit to visit the class and discuss with the students modern military medical practices in the field. If such a medical unit cannot be located, contact a local physician and invite that person to speak to the class on modern forms of treatment for traumatic injuries. Students should compare these discussions with what they learned about medical care on Civil War battlefields.
Unfortunately, all wars result in wounded soldiers. Locate veterans of foreign wars residing in the community who may have suffered service-related injuries. If they (the veterans) are agreeable, have students interview these veterans about their experiences.
Volunteers, like the Harper family, are often involved in crisis situations. Ask students to locate people in the community who have volunteered to help in such emergencies (for example, Red Cross volunteers, firefighters, hospital volunteers, and emergency medical personnel). Students should prepare a case study of one such individual, concentrating on that person's motivation for volunteering in extreme circumstances.