Military Review

Medical Service of Napoleon's Grand Army: surgeons and orderlies

Medical Service of Napoleon's Grand Army: surgeons and orderlies
A surgeon bandaging a wounded man on the battlefield. Painting by Louis-Francois Lejeune.

The Napoleonic Wars were the era of the birth of modern military medicine.
This is the third article in this series (read first и the second parts).

First aid to the wounded on the battlefield was provided by battalion surgeons and second surgeons.

Horses for surgeons

By state, each battalion and squadron was supposed to have one surgeon, and the number of support personnel was not specified. Battalion and squadron surgeons were subordinate to senior surgeons at the level of an infantry semi-brigade or a cavalry regiment.

Each medical specialist had his own set of instruments and medicines, and each regiment was supposed to have an ambulance carriage for transporting stretchers, a backup set of surgical instruments, medicines and bandages.

Already during the first revolutionary war of 1792, surgeons drew attention to the fact that they should (in the interests of the wounded) ride on horseback, and not march with the entire mass of foot soldiers, carrying heavy bags with medical supplies.

After many kilometers of marches, especially in bad weather conditions, surgeons were unable to provide timely and high-quality medical care to the wounded, whom they often had to carry out of the battlefield on their own during the first revolutionary wars. This required great physical strength. And many doctors and surgeons were not used to such work, as well as heavy loads.

Such postulates, as a rule, remained unanswered or met with resistance from the military command and the administration, who considered it immoral that surgeons ride horses, even when they were equated with officers.

Frustrated by this attitude, the chief surgeon of the Rhine army, Pierre-François Percy, came up with the idea of ​​using charging boxes to deliver medical personnel and their property to the battlefield. In the French army, the charging boxes had an oblong shape, which earned them the nickname sausage, that is, in German "sausage".

On December 31, 1798, Percy demonstrated this kind of modified Wurst to the commanders of the Rhine Army Headquarters. On a box upholstered in leather, up to six people could move, sitting in a row and holding each other, holding on to the belts. The inner space of the box was intended for transporting medical supplies, and a stretcher was attached under the bottom.

sausage he liked the generals so much that they gave Percy permission from the spot to order several dozen of these "sausages." But at the last moment the horses were an insurmountable obstacle, of which six were required for each box.

The military administration immediately protested this "waste". And as a result, "sausages" found only limited use where the commanders of corps and divisions understood the importance of medical service and ordered the allocation of horses for their needs.

All built "sausages" gradually disappeared by 1810.

But during the First Empire, surgeons had already acquired the right to use horses privately. And if they did not have such an opportunity, then the commanders of regiments and divisions on the sly could provide them with horses, knowing that in this way they improve medical care for the wounded.

During the first revolutionary wars, it was also the responsibility of the surgeons to carry the wounded from the battlefield to assembly points, from where they could be evacuated to the rear. Among the military commanders, there was an opinion that under the pretext of rescuing the wounded, soldiers wanted to escape from the front line and, as a rule, did not return there. Hence, there were severe prohibitions to take out the wounded from the battlefield and send assistants from the line units to the surgeons. Surgeons had to work hard to get help in the person of a small number of orderlies.

Corps of military nurses

The already mentioned Percy in 1808, unable to overcome the bureaucracy of the military administration, on his own initiative created a sanitary battalion in Spain from the slightly wounded and disabled, capable of carrying the wounded. The battalion, however, lasted only a few months, but Napoleon, finally convinced of the usefulness of such a service, by a decree of April 13, 1809, created a special corps of military orderlies consisting of ten companies of 125 people each under the command of centurions.

This corps did not yet exist during the 1809 war.

In fact, they began to form it only in the summer, that is, after the end of the war with Austria.

Five companies were formed in France, two in Italy and three in Spain. The tasks of the orderlies were to take out the wounded from the battlefield, send them (after preliminary dressing) to hospitals and protect them from the enemy. Each corps received one company. But in reality they operated in smaller units - two platoons, four squads, or eight sections.

In 1813, a corps of porters was created, for which the word was introduced into French despotats, from famous of the Roman legions milites despotati.

Porters with folding stretchers operated in pairs, and according to the staffing table, 32 such pairs were to be present at each ambulance company.

Neither the orderlies nor the porters were respected by the army. Since they were usually soldiers avoiding the burdens of line service. They viewed their distribution to sanitary companies as an opportunity to survive and enrich themselves at the expense of the wounded.

It happened many times that instead of their direct duties, they were engaged in looting.

Adapted from A. Soubiran. Napoléon et un million de morts... Kent-Segep, 1969.

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  1. Destiny
    Destiny 1 March 2021 18: 24
    Thank you, the cycle becomes deeper and more interesting with each article! I look forward to continuing!
  2. Phil77
    Phil77 1 March 2021 18: 40
    Michael, thank you! Your today's article in the section * History * is truly a breath of fresh air. Write! hi
    1. Phil77
      Phil77 1 March 2021 19: 40

      A small sketch from * those times *. Teeth hurt at all times, alas and ah. wink
      1. Richard
        Richard 1 March 2021 22: 05
        Surgical instruments in a mahogany chest with the inscription “W. Ward, military surgeon, 1812 "(W. Ward, Army Surgeon 1812). Full set. These were used from 1810 to 1850.
        1. Richard
          Richard 1 March 2021 22: 08
          Medical knife for dissecting soft tissues of the limbs during the war of 1812
          1. Richard
            Richard 1 March 2021 22: 10

            Surgical instruments of the early XNUMXth century and their application
            1, 2. Large amputation saws (used for cutting off limbs).
            3. Large knife (used to cut the skin).
            4. Curved knife (used to dissect the soft tissues of the extremities).
            5, 6, 7. Knives (used for limb amputation).
            8. Needles (used to apply "bloody sutures"),
            9. Screw turnstile (used to compress blood vessels during operations on the extremities).
            10. Leather turnstile (used to compress blood vessels during operations on the extremities).
            12. Bisturei (folding scalpel, used for dissection of soft tissues).
            12. Scalpels (used to dissect soft tissues).
            13. Small hand saw (folding version, used for minor surgery on bone tissue).
            14. Curved scissors (used for various medical procedures).
            15. Bullet forceps (used to remove bullets and shrapnel from tissue).
            16. Bullet extractor (used to remove bullets from wound channels in soft tissues).
            17. Crown of trephine with a handle (used for craniotomy).
            18. Bromfield hooks (used to constrict large vessels or to expand the operating field during revision of wounds).
            19. The probe is long (used to probe the wound canals).
            20. Cauterizers (used to cauterize damaged blood vessels).
            21. Dental key (used for tooth extraction).
            22. Removing a bullet by means of a bullet pulling device.
            23. Dissection of the soft tissues of the limb with a curved knife in the process of amputation.
            24. Craniotomy using a trephine crown.
          2. ee2100
            ee2100 1 March 2021 22: 14
            With illustrations like yours, it would be much better. He suggested that the author give a classification of wounds received on the battlefield.
            And it was immediately clear what this little knife was for.
            Hopefully it will be about the sorting of the wounded.
            1. Richard
              Richard 1 March 2021 22: 43
              Alexander hi
              If Mikhail takes into account your comments in the continuation of his cycle, it will be just great
    2. Richard
      Richard 1 March 2021 22: 40
      Thanks to the Author for the excellent cycle! Above all praise.
      I think his only omission is the absence of images of this man, who is most directly related to the medical service of Napoleon's Great Army.
      Percy Pierre-Francois, 1754-1825) - French surgeon, one of the founders of military field surgery, a member of the French Academy of Sciences (1807) - one of the organizers of the military medical service of the French revolutionary army, and then the army of Napoleon I; since 1801 - inspector general honey. service of the French army and in this position he participated in all military campaigns of Napoleon.

      The article is unambiguously - bold "+" good
  3. Dimide
    Dimide 1 March 2021 20: 13
    Mikhail, articles on the formation of medical service in the troops, will there be about different armies?
    1. 3x3zsave
      3x3zsave 1 March 2021 20: 22
      About the medicine of the Russian army of this time there was a small cycle authored by Evgeny Fedorov, about a year ago.
  4. Phil77
    Phil77 1 March 2021 21: 17
    Louis-François Lejeune. Michael, and this artist, whose picture you illustrated your article with, was a general of the Napoleonic army, right?
    1. Phil77
      Phil77 1 March 2021 21: 23

      These are two of his works. Above: * Siege of Zaragoza *, below * Attack on a large convoy *.
      1. Richard
        Richard 1 March 2021 22: 25
        I'll have a little fun for members of the forum smile
        Famous painting by Claude Gauthero. "The wound of Napoleon at Ratisbonne on April 23, 1809".

        The wounds of military leaders were often reflected in art. An example is the painting by Claude Gautreau "The Wound of Napoleon at Ratisbonne", which later became widespread in the form of lithographs made from it. Ratisbonne is the French name for the Bavarian Regensburg, which Napoleon's army spent five days capturing in April 1809. At the same time, Bonaparte was wounded by a bullet in his left leg. The moment of rendering medical assistance became the subject for the painting by Gotro ... But the artist screwed up with the wounded leg of the emperor, depicting the right one with a bandage. laughing
        1. Revolver
          Revolver 2 March 2021 07: 27
          Quote: Richard
          But with the wounded leg of the emperor, the artist screwed up, depicting the right

          There was no Photoshop then, but I would have mirrored it, and the whole business wassat
          1. Richard
            Richard 2 March 2021 07: 40
            No, Photoshop mirroring would not help here. The ribbon, star and insignia of the Order of the Legion of Honor would then have turned out on the wrong side of the uniform. And that would definitely put Napoleon in a comic light.
  5. Fat
    Fat 2 March 2021 01: 37
    Familiarized with the class.
    But where did the waitresses find themselves all this time?
    Do you have any idea how serious the matter is to ensure combat operations?
    Superficially taken from the very beginning of the cycle.
    Interesting, but no more.
    Your examples are not enough. Little of! Before we talk about medicine and sanitation.
    From whom to eat armies?
    This is not a small thing.
  6. Gennady Fomkin
    Gennady Fomkin 2 March 2021 21: 18
    And one more characteristic nuance: 40 thousand soldiers who died at Waterloo provided dentists in Europe and North America with raw materials for many years to come. Healthy teeth, pulled out from corpses or sawed out along with pieces of jaws, in the first half of the XNUMXth century were considered the best dentures for the wealthy public. The expression "Waterloo teeth" has long been a prestigious brand.
  7. Gennady Fomkin
    Gennady Fomkin 2 March 2021 21: 21
    However, there were also completely different drawings dedicated to this battle, which did not decorate the interiors of palaces and were not exhibited in museums. They were made by the English military surgeon Charles Bell, who treated soldiers wounded at Waterloo. He was good at drawing and captured on paper from life the effects of musket bullets, cannonballs and cavalry sabers on human bodies. The gallery turned out to be quite creepy, and therefore it is better for impressionable people not to look under the cut.
  8. Growlers
    Growlers 3 March 2021 09: 24
    All you need to know about the medical service of the Napoleonic army is that, excuse me, it has grown farther than it has seen on its way. People died of dysentery and so on, and no one fought with it. At least they began to wash their hands. And surgeons were famous for their tendency to amputations, cauterizing wounds with open fire, which, even at the level of 1812, looked like complete obscurantism. However, this practice persisted until World War II. It should be added that all such campaigns of the United Europe to Russia brought us only new diseases, primarily venereal, viral fungal ... What speaks of the "high" culture of the conquerors