Military Review

Field medicine of the Patriotic War of 1812 - who had it better?


Napoleon's words "the army receives more harm from inexperienced surgeons than from enemy batteries" testifies to the fact that in the colossal army that the French emperor brought to conquer Russia, significant attention should have been paid to medical issues. And so it was. The French system for treating the wounded at that time was considered one of the most advanced in the world. Its origins were such prominent figures as Pierre-François Percy, who is credited with inventing a stretcher for evacuating the wounded from the battlefield, and Dominique LaRey, who was the chief surgeon of the Grand Army.

Thanks to the latter, at the end of the eighteenth century, the so-called "flying ambulances" were created in the French troops - highly mobile medical units, now considered the "forerunners" of not only the military medical, but also the civilian ambulance service. They were two-wheeled vans, the crew of which consisted of a doctor with two assistants and a nurse. This brigade could not only promptly deliver wounded soldiers and officers to the rear, but also carry out the necessary medical manipulations over them (up to simple surgical operations) on the spot.

In the Russian army, medicine as such appeared during the time of Peter the Great. Decisive steps to improve its quality were taken just before the start of World War II, when a medical department was first created in the management structure of the army in the field. This was done on the initiative of the then Minister of War, Mikhail Barclay de Tolly, and the new department was headed by Jacob Willie. In fact, the name of this outstanding man was James Wiley, since he was Scottish by birth. Nevertheless, he saved the lives of Russian soldiers - both personally, conducting operations under enemy fire, and by creating a system of military field medicine, not only not inferior to the French, but significantly superior to it.

Here, in fact, you can already proceed to the comparison. Thanks to the creation of a revolutionary for that time "drainage" system of medical support for troops, the rescue and treatment of the wounded was more organized and effective among the defenders of our Fatherland than among the invaders. Willie divided all the hospitals subordinate to him into delivery, mobile and main military-temporary. As you might guess, in the first, emergency care was provided, and in the second, surgical intervention and primary treatment were carried out. The soldiers were finally put on their feet already in institutions of the third type, located far from the front edge.

The vaunted French ambulance was designed to carry just one person. Russian infirmary carriages were four-wheeled and accommodated 6 wounded! No wonder the mortality rate among those who were wounded on the battlefield in our troops ranged from 7 to 17%, which at that time was a very low figure. An important difference was also the fact that the French military doctors were divided into surgeons and, in fact, doctors, who were much closer to paramedics in their qualifications. Russian military doctors, according to surviving historical data, had much better training and were "more versatile" their French colleagues.

A very characteristic fact speaks in favor of this conclusion: both the main military doctors - both Larey and Willie - were in the thick of battles during the war and operated directly on the battlefield. At the same time, Larey was proud of his ability to amputate an injured limb in 7 minutes. For Willie, on this terrible, but sometimes saving operation, it took only 4 minutes, which clearly indicates his higher qualifications.

By the way, about amputations ... Napoleon's army surgeons strove to chop off any damaged soldier's limb - up to a broken one. It was faster, easier and easier that way. They called it "active treatment." Our doctors were much more humane in this respect and adhered to the "conservative method". They did not completely take the broken arms and legs, but put them in splints, thus managing to heal even damage to the bones of the skull and return to normal life many wounded soldiers who became disabled in the French army.

An important point was the most powerful disease prevention system that was available in the Russian army. The epidemics that broke out during the wars of that time sometimes claimed many more lives than bullets, cannonballs and bayonets. It is known for certain - in the many thousands of losses of Napoleon's army, which were available at the beginning of the Battle of Borodino, the killed and wounded in battles accounted for a smaller part. Many more conquerors were killed by dysentery, typhoid and other ailments. Our army was much more successful in this respect.

Speaking about military field medicine in 1812, it should be remembered that its then state was, by today's standards, rudimentary. Antibiotics, any means of anesthesia and antiseptics, up to the disinfection of surgical instruments - all this was in the distant future. But what is there - before the gauze bandages, allowing wounds and injuries to "breathe" thought of not soon. The work of a doctor in the war of that time was not just hard labor in terms of its physical activity. From the point of view of modern people, he represented a stay in the epicenter of hell, consisting of horror, pain and incredible suffering, which the physician was often unable to alleviate.

About 700 Russian doctors, paramedics, medical students, who for the most part joined the army voluntarily, walked the paths of the Patriotic War, saving other people's lives and not sparing their own. Eternal glory to them!
Photos used:
Photo from Wikipedia Patriotic War of 1812 Battle of Borodino
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  1. Vasilenko Vladimir
    Vasilenko Vladimir 18 January 2021 18: 34
    Field medicine of the Patriotic War of 1812 - who had it better?
    it seems to me that in this particular case, the word medicine should be put in quotation marks, because at that time it was more like Russian roulette
    1. Blacksmith 55
      Blacksmith 55 18 January 2021 18: 46
      The main problem at that time was to prevent infection. They could not, and did not know at that time about microbes and bacteria. The cleanliness of the wound was not given much importance. From there, and many wounded who did not survive.
      1. Crowe
        Crowe 18 January 2021 19: 07
        So after all, the same iodine was discovered in 1814, and for the treatment of wounds it began to be used only after 40-50 years. The main problem at that time was gangrene. To treat the wounds, plain water was used, sometimes with the addition of lime or salt. The tools were not sterilized. , but only washed off the blood from them. After washing and removing foreign bodies, lint was applied to the wound, and then bandaged. And getting wounded then is a terrible thing ...
        Fyodor Glinka wrote: “How many streams of blood! How many thousand bodies! ... At the place where the wounds were bandaged, pools of blood did not dry up.
        I saw such terrible wounds. Broken heads, severed legs and crushed arms to the shoulders. Those who carried the wounded (orderlies) were doused from head to toe with the blood of their comrades. "
        A similar picture was observed during the Battle of Borodino in the French camp. The French physician de la Fliz recalled: “It is impossible to convey that roar, that gnashing of teeth that emanates from the wounded pain from the members broken by the nucleus, those painful screams when the operator cuts through the membranes of the penis, cuts his muscles, cuts nerves, saws bone. "

        In those days, anesthesia was not yet applied (its first test was in 1846), and therefore primitive methods of anesthesia were used. Someone squeezed the carotid artery, someone simply "turned off" the patient with the help of fists, less often they gave a drink, and even then almost one officer.
        And if you compare, then a vivid illustration is the opinion of the chief surgeon of the French army J. Larrey. Describing the results of medical support of the French troops, he wrote:
        "No hostile general could have knocked out as many Frenchmen as Daru, the chief of the commissariat of the French army, who was entrusted with the medical service."
        He speaks quite differently about the state of Russian hospitals:
        "The hospitals that attracted my particular attention would do honor to the most civilized science."
        1. Hunter 2
          Hunter 2 18 January 2021 19: 22
          Excellent Comrad Crow good ! You wrote in the comments almost less than the author!
          The topic is very interesting and relevant, you can make an Excellent Cycle of articles on field medicine, starting from the time of the dawn of mankind.
      2. Dimide
        Dimide 18 January 2021 20: 18
        Among the people "Antonov fire"
    2. Cowbra
      Cowbra 18 January 2021 20: 20
      How to say. There was already anatomy, physiology. toxicology. Even forensic medicine. I'm talking about Russia. Vaccination, by the way, was. Disinfection was, however, most often with bleach.
      And savagery in medicine is still enough. Look at the USA. the whole country has become junkies - they have been sitting on antidepressants for a century. nothing is considered an advanced type. Some kind of Pirogov or Mudrov from that century - would have nailed nafig for that.
  2. Vadim Ananyin
    Vadim Ananyin 18 January 2021 18: 39
    Thanks to the author, I did not know anything on this topic, it was interesting.
  3. Mordvin 3
    Mordvin 3 18 January 2021 18: 47
    Speaking about military field medicine in 1812, it should be remembered that its then state was, by today's standards, embryonic.

    Yeah, and the French wanted to rob like a palace. Only there was a hospital. The wounded French were lying with ours.
  4. Aviator_
    Aviator_ 18 January 2021 18: 58
    It will not be enough for such a topic. Something recently on VO divorced notes, practically consisting of only headings.
  5. Undecim
    Undecim 18 January 2021 20: 13
    A striking ability of a propagandist - he can dirty up in his propaganda and distort any topic.
    Nothing, but incendiary.
  6. Dimide
    Dimide 18 January 2021 20: 16
    I read somewhere that the cut wounds, I apologize for the intimate details, the soldiers washed with urine
    1. tolancop
      tolancop 19 January 2021 15: 14
      Damid, there is no reason to apologize. Urine is a very good disinfectant and, which is very valuable, is always with you. I have personal experience: I washed a deep cut from a dirty tool with "improvised means". There was no suppuration (and it should have been !!!), and it healed pretty quickly .. And I used this remedy more than once and invariably with a positive result.
  7. Cowbra
    Cowbra 18 January 2021 20: 23
    By the way, about amputations ... Napoleon's army surgeons strove to chop off any damaged soldier's limb - up to a broken one.

    By the way, I came across, I do not remember where, that they say the Germans were in captivity, even whole delegations were sent to the chief camps. they say there should be humanism - in our army such injuries are amputated, and you are making fun of the prisoners. And they freaked out that we wild Untermensch could treat this without amputation.
  8. Avior
    Avior 18 January 2021 23: 17
    Military role surgery originated in France in the 16th century, although the wounded have been treated since ancient times, of course, as best they could.
    During the Napoleonic wars, Lorrain introduced triage - sorting the wounded into three groups, depending on the severity of the injury, which sharply increased the chances of the wounded.
    In Russia, military field surgery arose through the efforts of the famous Pirogov during the Crimean War.
    And it is clear that during the First, and even more the Second World War, it acquired a more or less modern look with a system of hospitals with its own functions. During the war, my wife's grandmother was a nurse in a front-line evacuation hospital.
    Later, the Americans further improved the system during the Korean War - many watched the old TV series and film about the life of MASH - Mobile Army Surgical Hospital- N4077.
    And who has not watched - I recommend. An anti-war comedy with unfunny tragic notes starring Alan Alda. By the way, he also has Canadian bacon, I also advise you to look, excellent banter over American politics
    1. Bersaglieri
      Bersaglieri 19 January 2021 13: 55
      "... Military role-playing surgery originated in France in the 16th century, ..." - yes, Ambrois Pare is its founder. The first to stop filling bullet wounds with boiling oil. Applied flushing, drainage. Invented the tire. And he published a guide for doctors in his native French language (for which he was almost declared a heretic, but: the achieved position of the life-doctor saved). More details here:
  9. kamakama
    kamakama 19 January 2021 13: 14
    5 kopecks from personal. During the Finnish War (mid-20th century! - everything except antibiotics is available), my grandfather received a spinal shrapnel wound. A dirty lacerated wound mixed with bone fragments is a dream for sepsis. But he survived and lived a long life until almost the end of the 20th century. And they treated him simply - INSIDE the wounds (it is impossible to remove necrosis through living tissues, the spine) they poured molten wax and tore it out as soon as it hardens, with pus, earth and necrotic tissues. The fist-sized hole remained with him for the rest of his days. There is no anesthesia, only 100 grams at best. So they said - "If you endure the pain, you will live. No, it means no." At that time, they were busy with him for a long time, usually they were written off to die right away, but he, my mother and I were lucky - the doctor turned out to be conscientious. Naturally, disinfection directly into the wound. So think, is it sadism or treatment - multiple thermal burns + chemical open wound
    1. Bersaglieri
      Bersaglieri 19 January 2021 14: 45
      in 1939, novocaine blockade was a routine, in fact, in the VPH of the Red Army
      1. kamakama
        kamakama 19 January 2021 15: 12
        I can't say anything about this. Maybe in this particular medical unit there were problems with this, maybe my grandfather's memory let down. But it is also impossible to keep under novocaine all the time, especially the spine area, and there will not be enough novocaine for a month or two
        1. Bersaglieri
          Bersaglieri 19 January 2021 15: 56
          This is yes. Epidural anesthesia and other modern methods came into practice for 10-20 years after the Second World War.
  10. Ryazan87
    Ryazan87 19 January 2021 15: 21
    Another uryakalka from Kharaluzhny. Unfortunately, despite all efforts, field medicine was conditional in nature and almost the most important measures were the observance of at least basic rules of hygiene and a relatively normal supply. The energetic and capable military leaders understood this and did not experience any special illusions about the capabilities of the then doctors.
    "... By 1811, there were 52 inpatient hospitals with 36 beds. Unfortunately, in most cases, recovery depended primarily on the patient himself. The methods of treatment used were extremely imperfect, and doctors rarely had the necessary skills. Lack of food and drugs in hospitals became chronic. Therefore, the mortality rate among the sick and wounded was very high. In Oryol hospital alone, 320 out of 3500 patients died in December ... "
    "1812. Russian infantry in battle", 2008, Ulyanov I.E.
    And here is a description of the field operation from eyewitnesses (note that the officer is operating):
    "... The surgeons first turned to Tutolmin, encouraged him, caressed him, gave him some drops, then put him on a chair and began to untie his hand ... The cutters washed the wound, from which the meat hung in shreds and a sharp piece of bone was visible. Operator in powder. Wig took a crooked knife out of a box, rolled up his sleeves up to the elbow, then quietly approached the injured hand, grabbed it, and so deftly turned the knife above the shreds that they instantly fell off. and with hooks in their hands they rushed to catch the veins from the fresh meat of the hand; they pulled them out and held them; meanwhile the powdered Operator began to saw through the bone. They often sprinkled it with cold water and gave him a sniff of alcohol. Having cut off the bone, they picked up the veins in one knot and tightened the cut off place with natural leather, which was left and folded for this; then they sewed it up. lump, put a compress, tied the hand with bandages - and so the operation ended. Tutolmin went to bed half-dead. "
    There, only from the painful shock to bend like there is nothing to do.
    1. Bersaglieri
      Bersaglieri 19 January 2021 16: 00
      "Before Pirogov" 90% of abdominal surgical interventions ended in the death of the patient. "From Pirogov to Yudin and Vishnevsky" - 40%, "After Yudin and Vishnevsky" - 15-20% or less (depending on the initial conditions)
  11. gorenina91
    gorenina91 19 January 2021 15: 57
    - In S. Bondarchuk's film "War and Peace" there is a very small episode (for some reason everyone missed it and "did not see it"), where the wounded Anatol Kuragin is shown in a field hospital ... - where Russian doctors are helping him ... - So ... - the war took everyone to the battlefield ... - and this cynical dandy also did not escape military affairs ...
    - There, in this little episode ... - Seriously wounded A. Kuragin is given some kind of drink ... - maybe it's just water; maybe alcohol or vodka ... - After all, there was nothing else ...