— Darnestown —
Soldiers feared bullets and bayonets on the battlfield, but the greater danger was the invisible presence of bacteria in both Union and Confederate camps. By 1865, 620,000 men were casualties of war; the bulk succumbed to communicable diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and dysentery — amounting to three out of every five Union soldiers and two out of every three Confederate soldiers.
Medical ailments resulted from a lack of awareness of public health and poor hygiene in soldier camps. Inspection records of Federal camps in 1861 revealed that men lived in conditions "littered with refuse, food, and other rubbish, sometimes in an offensive state of decomposition; slops deposited in pits within camp limits or thrown out of broadcast; heaps of manure and offal close to the camp.
" Such poor conditions created an ideal environment for spreading illness, as was experienced by the 27th Indiana regiment stationed at Darnestown, where 15 men died of measles and typhoid.
Hospitals for wounded soldiers were created in a variety of settings, ranging from tents, the back of ambulance wagons, existing buildings, or newly created permanent structures, such as Carver Hospital on Meridian Hill, in Washington D.C.
At the start of the Civil War, the medical profession was unprepared and ignorant of how infection was spread through unclean hands and unsterilized equipment. In fact the Union Surgeon General, William Hammond, recognized the war was fought "at the end of the Medical Middle Ages"
. By the close of the war, however, the field of medicine had witnessed new advances, such as the use of anesthesia during surgery, better record keeping and the role of women in the profession of nursing.
Clara Barton was perhaps the most famous female nurse during the Civil War. Because of her combat experience, she recognized the need for a national organization to respond quickly to emergencies. In response, she founded the American Red Cross in 1881. Her home in Glen Echo would become the headquarters for this organization from 1897 to 1904. Since 1975, the National Park Service has operated her home as a National Historic Site in Montgomery County.