We're unable to sign you in at this time. Please try again in a few minutes.
We were able to sign you in, but your subscription(s) could not be found. Please try again in a few minutes.
There may be a problem with your account. Please contact the AMA Service Center to resolve this issue.
Contact the AMA Service Center:
Telephone: 1 (800) 262-2350 or 1 (312) 670-7827  *   Email: subscriptions@jamanetwork.com
Error Message ......
Moments in Surgical History |

Anesthesia During the Civil War

Ira M. Rutkow, MD, MPH, DrPH
Arch Surg. 1999;134(6):680. doi:10.1001/archsurg.134.6.680.
Text Size: A A A
Published online


INITIALLY, THE GENERAL ignorance of the average Civil War "surgeon" regarding the use of chloroform and ether, combined with widely reported incidents of anesthetic mishaps, accounted for considerable controversy over whether anesthesia was appropriate in the military setting. This dispute led to romanticized tales of uncountable soldiers biting a bullet or getting rip-roaring drunk as a prelude to their confronting the surgeon's knife. Despite a tinge of truth, many of these surgical stories represent nothing more than imaginative folklore. The simple fact is that surgical anesthesia had been available for almost 15 years and was extensively applied early in the war, and by the end of the conflict it was universally used. With more than 80,000 known instances of anesthetic renderings, it would become apparent that few clinical lessons proved of greater value to the evolution of American surgery than this vast and positive experience with surgical anesthesia.

Figures in this Article

Sign in

Purchase Options

• Buy this article
• Subscribe to the journal
• Rent this article ?

First Page Preview

View Large
First page PDF preview


Place holder to copy figure label and caption

This rare extant example of bottled chloroform was prepared in 1863 at the US Army Laboratory in Philadelphia, Pa (Courtesy of Alex Peck, Antique Scientifica, Charlestown, Ill).

Graphic Jump Location




Also Meets CME requirements for:
Browse CME for all U.S. States
Accreditation Information
The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
Note: You must get at least of the answers correct to pass this quiz.
Please click the checkbox indicating that you have read the full article in order to submit your answers.
Your answers have been saved for later.
You have not filled in all the answers to complete this quiz
The following questions were not answered:
Sorry, you have unsuccessfully completed this CME quiz with a score of
The following questions were not answered correctly:
Commitment to Change (optional):
Indicate what change(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.
Your quiz results:
The filled radio buttons indicate your responses. The preferred responses are highlighted
For CME Course: A Proposed Model for Initial Assessment and Management of Acute Heart Failure Syndromes
Indicate what changes(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.


Some tools below are only available to our subscribers or users with an online account.

1 Citations

Sign in

Purchase Options

• Buy this article
• Subscribe to the journal
• Rent this article ?

Related Content

Customize your page view by dragging & repositioning the boxes below.

Articles Related By Topic
Related Collections
PubMed Articles
Chisholm chloroform inhaler. Lancet 2016;387(10035):2281.
Gas: the greatest terror of the Great War. Anaesth Intensive Care 2016;44 Suppl():24-30.