One of the major misconceptions regarding medicine during the Civil War was that anesthesia (ether) was not available especially in field hospitals. Anesthesia was used widely throughout the war on both sides. It was first used in the United States on a patient at Massachusetts General Hospital in the early 1840s. Anesthesia made its “war debut” during the Crimean War fought between Great Britain and Russia roughly a decade earlier. This war showcased the importance of anesthesia for any military field hospital .
The issue for field hospitals during the war was not so much anesthesia but the lack of understanding surrounding how germs, diseases and infections came about. Doctors often prodded wounds with dirty fingers, or by way of metal stick-like instruments such as the “wand” to locate impacted bullets and shrapnel. Operations in field hospitals during a battle often lasted from sun up to sundown and rarely used equipment that was sterile & clean. Any length of time in a field hospital especially after an amputation was more or less a death sentence.
It has really only been over the course of the last 100 years or so that hospitals became places where people went if they were sick in order to get better. . .for a long time, hospitals were seen by the general public as simply places where people went to die.