Military Review

Napoleon's Grand Army Medical Service: hospitals

Napoleon's Grand Army Medical Service: hospitals
The price of victory.Painting by Augusto Ferrer-Dahlmau shows the working conditions of field hospitals during the Napoleonic era.

After preliminary dressing by battalion surgeons, the wounded were taken to the infirmaries, where they received first surgical aid. Such hospitals, according to the rules developed during the revolutionary wars, were established

"A mile from the battlefield."

And the surgeons began to provide medical care by searching for the wounded on the battlefield after the volleys of the guns had subsided. The luminary of the then medicine, Dominique Jean Larrey, already in 1792 noticed that such rules were absurd. And he and his staff tried to get as close as possible to the fighting troops.

The rules were gradually changing.

And in the era of the First Empire, it was already decided that hospitals set up assembly points (deposit) in the middle of the battle formations with the simultaneous dispatch of auxiliary squads to the flanks. In principle, there was one infirmary per division and one hospital per corps.

Amputation conveyor

The surgeons of the Grand Army understood that after 36 hours the wounded had no chance of surviving due to blood loss and gangrene. Therefore, in conditions of slow transport or the absence of such, the rule was applied that any dangerous wound or fracture should lead to amputation of the limbs. Due to lack of time and money, no treatment attempts were made.

And contemporaries write (as a kind of curiosity) about cases when the wounded refused to amputate. And in the end, the swearing surgeons, in spite of everything, agreed to treatment.

The typical surgeon was required, first of all, to be able to do amputations. At the same time, such physical endurance and skill was required so that a surgeon could amputate several dozen arms and legs per day. Some, like the same Larrey, could amputate up to 150 limbs, of course, with the help of qualified personnel.

After the Battle of Preussisch Eylau, a main hospital was established in Herzberg. Then, for the first time, to facilitate the work of surgeons, the wounded began to be sorted by type of injury, sending those who were to have their arms amputated to the right, and those who should have their legs cut off to the left. Thus, the surgeon could perform the operation in a few minutes.

No anesthesia existed at that time. The wounded were simply drunk with vodka. And for those who, in spite of everything, retained consciousness, a lead bullet was put in their mouths to bite it, and thus somewhat drown out the pain.

Some particularly gallant soldiers demanded that lighted pipes be inserted into their mouths. This required special self-control, since the jaws, which were brought together by pain, were able to easily bite the pipe shank. Among the soldiers, however, there was a widespread superstition that to bite the pipe or let it out of the mouth was a bad omen, indicating that the patient would not survive the coming night.

If the army was advancing, operations could even be carried out in infirmaries. On retreating, the picture looked somewhat different. Then surgeons often operated directly in the open air, at best under a charging box or supply van. In such conditions, for example, Larrey amputated the leg of General Jozef Zajoncek, who was wounded on the crossing over the Berezina.

The amputations were carried out using an ordinary saw, which could be purchased from any artisan. With a dexterous circular motion, the surgeon incised the skin and meat below the amputation site. Then he cut the muscles from the bone, exposing it and creating some "reserve" of tissue. After sawing off the limb, this made it possible to cover the wound with meat and skin.

Hospital operating rooms (if, in general, it would be appropriate to call the random rooms where surgeons organized their "workplace") after several hours of continuous amputations looked terrifying. Piles of severed arms and legs gathered around the operating tables, which, as a rule, were not removed until the surgeon had finished his work. The surgeons themselves, even in aprons, were covered in blood from head to toe.

This had a terrible effect on the psyche of the soldiers: both those who were to undergo a "course of treatment" and those who delivered the wounded.

Permanent hospital

After amputation, the wounded were loaded onto carts covered with hay or straw and sent to second-line hospitals, or (as they were also called) permanent hospitals.

In theory, such hospitals should have been organized along the route of the army as it moved forward. In practice, this principle has rarely been applied. And the wounded had to be taken to remote areas, sometimes several hundred kilometers away.

For example, the wounded near Preussisch Eylau were taken to Elbing, Marienburg and Danzig. And the wounded at Friedland were sent to Thorn, Warsaw and even Berlin.

Permanent hospitals were best organized in large cities with churches, monasteries, palaces, and large public buildings. Therefore, most of the wounded near Austerlitz ended up in the hospitals of Brunn and Vienna. And the wounded near Pultusk and Golymin ended up in Warsaw. The wounded in the Iberian War had to be transported to several dedicated hospitals in Madrid, Zaragoza, Burgos and Valladolid.

Conditions in these hospitals were generally appalling. They had no beds or even mattresses or senniks. They just scattered hay or straw on the floor without changing it for weeks. Due to the lack of space, the wounded were placed in twos on the couch. Moreover, they could lie for hours next to the dead or dying.

Other eyewitnesses of the era wrote in their diaries and memoirs that they were robbed by orderlies in hospitals. Most of the hospital staff viewed their distribution as an opportunity to enrich themselves. Sometimes Napoleon and his generals handed out to the wounded several coins of "lifting" money. Some fortunate ones could take their packs of war booty from the battlefield.

The situation was aggravated by the general and systematic theft of the military administration. Military hospitals were subordinate to her. And she was obliged to provide the wounded with bed, food and medicine. In the meantime, the commissioners in charge of the hospitals themselves enriched themselves at their expense. Lack of supplies, food and medicine was common.

It is not surprising that many of the wounded (if only their condition allowed or comrades came to their aid) preferred to avoid hospitals. And keep to their shelves, moving in transport vans.

Adapted from G. Hanus. Le service de santé militaire français de 1789 à 1815... Thèse Médecine, 1978.

Продолжение следует ...
Photos used:
Articles from this series:
Medical Service of Napoleon's Grand Army
On the battlefield
Surgeons and orderlies
"Flying ambulances"
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  1. Lech from Android.
    Lech from Android. 13 March 2021 05: 46
    The flip side of the war, which they try not to show everywhere. As long as a soldier is healthy and fit to fight, he is needed, and without an arm and a leg in case of injury ... everything is thrown to the sidelines of society ... many break down after that.
  2. Free wind
    Free wind 13 March 2021 06: 29
    There were interesting doctors then. They were more feared than the executioners. Cut off your arms and legs, let the blood flow if your head hurts or some kind of weakness. I remember a joke about confused limbs during amputation. By the way, why the poppy was not used, for at least some pain relief its action has been known for a long time. It was used even for diarrhea. You can drink, you can smoke.
    1. Lech from Android.
      Lech from Android. 13 March 2021 06: 34
      A wooden mallet was still used, some gifted healers deftly knocked out a person's consciousness on the crown of the head.
      1. Free wind
        Free wind 13 March 2021 07: 23
        Not every surgeon is a sadist at heart, not every proctologist is a diamond seeker. But there are quite a few such cases. Remember the same fascist "doctors" or Japanese. Until some time, babies were operated on without anesthesia, it was believed that they were screaming, let's say, out of harm, or, in extreme cases, they were given muscle relaxants, the child can only clap his eyes, but feel everything. Actually, my first childhood memory is a terrible pain. I was less than 3 years old, I took off a piece of skin from my leg, without any stitches, they just bandaged my leg, and every morning there was a bandage when the bandages were simply ripped off. When my grandfather found out about this, he was ready to kill this surgeon. Then he treated me himself, smearing the wound with goose fat.
        1. Revolver
          Revolver 13 March 2021 10: 02
          Quote: Free Wind
          Until some time, babies were operated on without anesthesia, it was believed that they were screaming, let's say out of harm

          Well, the Jews, it turns out, are sadists! All boys on the eighth day of life - under the knife, and, moreover, without any anesthesia! belay
          1. ee2100
            ee2100 13 March 2021 11: 32
            "on the 8th day" there is a diagnostic component in this. Until now, in the English royal family, all boys are circumcised.
            1. Richard
              Richard 13 March 2021 16: 40
              Good afternoon, Alexander hi
              You are true to yourself - every time something is unusual.
              And although I did not have a reason to doubt your comments, I confess I did not believe this time and climbed into the Internet. To my immense amazement, you were right.
              1. ee2100
                ee2100 13 March 2021 17: 58
                Why is it written?
                1. Richard
                  Richard 14 March 2021 00: 08
                  Because I didn’t know it before, but it’s hard to take its word for it.
                  Best regards
                  1. ee2100
                    ee2100 14 March 2021 00: 44
                    I'm talking about the reason for circumcision in the royal family
                2. Richard
                  Richard 14 March 2021 00: 53
                  Queen Victoria, who was a hotbed of hemophilia (a genetic disease and is inherited), believed that the removal of the foreskin well demonstrated the signs of hemophilia in a child and he was dying from an operation as an infant, and did not suffer all his short life. She called it a "humane way" to deal with disease. The health and activity of any monarch is an important component of the quality of the autocrat's rule, such a disease as hemophilia nullifies the role of the monarch and exposed him to constant danger of sudden death. Actually, the introduction of the circumcision procedure made it possible to "get rid" of an infant with hemophilia in the royal family, which looks cruel, but from the point of view of that era it was a completely humane step, especially in relation to the state and its future. Therefore, the circumcision procedure, although it was carried out by a real Jewish mohel, did not carry a Jewish meaning.
                  1. ee2100
                    ee2100 14 March 2021 00: 57
                    That's all right. But Nicholas II, Alexey suffered from hemophilia. Relatives, you understand!
                    Good night.
              2. ee2100
                ee2100 13 March 2021 19: 15
                The Jews told.
                Jewish hipsters don't circumcise - they just twist laughing
      2. WHAT IS
        WHAT IS 13 March 2021 08: 21
        Only on October 16, 1846, the world's first ether anesthesia was carried out during an operation to remove a submandibular tumor in a patient Gilbert Abbott. Anesthesiologist William Morton and surgeon John Warren took part in it. from a friend, Russian scientists Fyodor Inozemtsev (February 7, 1847) and Nikolai Pirogov (February 14 of the same year). The next important step forward in the history of anesthesiology was the emergence of local anesthesia. In 1877, cocaine was used for the first time for this purpose. Then came local infiltration anesthesia and peripheral nerve blocks, and even later - spinal and epidural anesthesia, which allowed in the 1900s to carry out surgical operations on the abdominal cavity without deep anesthesia, which is achieved using ether and chloroform. In the early 1900s, new, less toxic local anesthetics were introduced into medical practice. And then they simply "turned off" the patient either by pinching the carotid artery or simply hitting the head, officers were given alcohol for pain relief, and even then not always.
      3. ee2100
        ee2100 13 March 2021 10: 03
        It was called Rausch anesthesia
    2. Oleg Aviator
      Oleg Aviator 14 March 2021 15: 10
      Our medicine was better. The French liked it better. We were in no hurry with amputation. They tried to heal.
  3. Vladimir_2U
    Vladimir_2U 13 March 2021 06: 44
    Piles of severed arms and legs gathered around the operating tables, which, as a rule, were not removed until the surgeon had finished working.
    Of course there were tables, but at least some of the operations were carried out right on the ground, and the doctors stood in a ditch dug along the perimeter of the "earthen table".
  4. Doccor18
    Doccor18 13 March 2021 07: 11
    The luminary of the then medicine Dominique Jean Larrey ...

    A unique person.
    Some sources claim that it was Larrey who can be considered the founder of the ambulance service, the founder of the military field hospitals of the front line.
    Russian doctors took a lot of things from Larrey and French medicine during the Patriotic War of 1812.
  5. Simargl
    Simargl 13 March 2021 07: 42
    The situation was aggravated by the general and systematic theft of the military administration.
    How can you ?! This is indeed EUROPEAN!!! They have no such thing as theft! Only we can!
    The author, you must know this!
    1. Former naval person
      15 March 2021 20: 42
      Are you satisfied with the term "privatization"?
      1. Simargl
        Simargl 16 March 2021 03: 45
        Yes, but "privatization" is the transfer of public property to private property upon use ...
        And here...
        1. Former naval person
          16 March 2021 20: 57
          and "privatization"?
          1. Simargl
            Simargl 16 March 2021 21: 14
            Quote: Former Naval Person
            and "privatization"?
            And then we catch up ...
  6. Boris55
    Boris55 13 March 2021 08: 01
    Quote: M. Arushev
    Napoleon's Grand Army Medical Service: hospitals

    Shaw, oh? belay

    Maybe it will be enough for us to impose the Western point of view about the loser Napoleon, who killed 2/3 of the male population of France, exiled by his relatives to the island and poisoned there?

    If anyone has forgotten, it was our Cossacks who were in Paris, and not their troops in St. Petersburg.

    (Pay attention to the banner, otherwise many here think that there was a tricolor even then)

    For those who passed the exam, let me remind you that Paris and St. Petersburg were at that time the capitals of the states of France and Russia, respectively.

    March 31st will mark the day of France's surrender. Maybe write something about this?

    1. Deniska999
      Deniska999 13 March 2021 09: 21
      1. As I have already said, and more than once, the Great Army is the term for Napoleon's army. This is not a reflection of the personal preferences of the author, the preferences of Western historians. It is a fact. She had such a name, period. Why shouldn't it be used? One can just as well be indignant at the name of the Byzantine Guard of the Immortals who fought against Svyatoslav. What are they immortals, if our soldiers killed them ...)
      2. Well, let's give sources for 2/3 of the male population of France and at the same time compare how much ours lost in all the wars with France from the moment of the French Revolution to the second fall of Napoleon.
      1. Boris55
        Boris55 13 March 2021 09: 51
        Quote: Deniska999
        Why shouldn't it be used?

        Because he came to our land in order to kill and rob us. That is why for a Russian person he will never be great. For us he is as barbarian as Hitler. We are not the West, we are Russia!
    2. Former naval person
      15 March 2021 20: 45
      kid, are you tired of interfering with adult uncles on the Internet? if you have nothing to do remotely, read "war and peace". exactly the whole "war and peace", and not just the "war" in a brief summary for those who pass the exam.
      1. Boris55
        Boris55 16 March 2021 07: 49
        We will never come to a consensus because for you the sun rises in the West.
        1. Former naval person
          16 March 2021 20: 59
          if you fly from london to vancouver north of the 60th parallel, you can see the sun rising in the west.
  7. Olgovich
    Olgovich 13 March 2021 09: 17
    Piles of severed arms and legs gathered around the operating tables, which, as a rule, were not removed until the surgeon had finished his work. The surgeons themselves, even in aprons, were covered in blood from head to toe.

    yeah, the carnage looks better ...
  8. Richard
    Richard 13 March 2021 09: 47
    It is remarkable that the Author put at the head of his article the painting "The Price of Victory" from the Napoleonic cycle of the famous Spanish battle painter Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau.
    IMHO, today he is one of the best artists in this genre. His interests and eras are very diverse.

    He does not pay attention to our history either.
    1812. Borodinó. Batería del general Raevsky (Borodino. Raevsky's battery)

    1914. Al frente alemán. Cosacos del Don (To the German front. Don Cossacks)

    Segunda Guerra Mundial. Caballería Soviética del ejército rojo (2nd World War. Soviet cavalry of the Red Army)
    1. shrus79
      shrus79 13 March 2021 20: 33
      Rather, the cavalry (or cavalry) of the Soviet Red Army.
  9. Moore
    Moore 13 March 2021 09: 52
    The French were amazed at the courage and calmness of the Russian wounded. The crippled people straightened their broken legs, tying tree branches to them, and relying on crutches from the same broken branches, got to the nearest villages.
    “Perhaps, being far from their own people,” recalls the same Comte de Segur, “they did not count on our compassion, but it is certain that they endured pain more firmly than the French, not because they were more courageous than the French, but because the Russians generally less sensitive in body and soul, which is caused by a low level of civilization, as well as a harsh climate, tempering their body ... "
    Civilized, bullshit ...
    Having barely passed the terrible Borodino field, the retinue of the French emperor saw a multitude of just killed Russian soldiers. Each of them methodically smashed their heads with a rifle butt, and the bloody brain was scattered there and then. The French knew that in front of them were about two thousand Russian prisoners under the escort of the Spaniards, Portuguese and Poles. Callencourt could not resist: "So here it is - the notorious civilization that we carried to Russia!"
  10. bk0010
    bk0010 13 March 2021 09: 53
    The only case in history when a surgical operation was completed with 300% fatal outcome The only case in history when a surgical operation was completed with 300% fatal outcome 200-300 years ago the main indicator of a surgeon's skill was speed. The chance of a happy outcome of the operation directly depended on the speed with which the Aesculapius acted. If you saw the leg for too long and without anesthesia (not to mention the fact that the wounds were not disinfected at all), the patient would die of painful shock. Of course, in terms of the speed with which surgeons of the past wielded their instruments, there were record holders. But the fastest was operated by a certain Scotsman Robert Liston. He was born in 1794 and died in 1847. He was called "the fastest knife in the West End" - he could amputate a leg in two and a half minutes. Here is how an eyewitness describes the operations he performed: “He was tall and operated in a green cloak and wellington boots. He bounced around his half-conscious, sweating and strapped patient to the couch like a duelist, addressing the students who stood around him with watch chains on chains: “Time it, gentlemen, time it! Everyone swore that the first stroke of his knife almost coincided with the sound with which the saw bit into the bone. To free both hands, he gripped the bloody knife between his teeth. " However, one should not think that all patients survived after his operations - rather, on the contrary. In those years, people tried to stay away from doctors, and it was not at all in vain. Gangrene most often followed a visit to a surgeon - the need to sterilize instruments and wounds was not yet understood by doctors (but it should be noted that Liston was one of the first to use ether for anesthesia). Liston had some of the most famous surgeries he performed. One of them was extremely effective - he managed to achieve 300% mortality among those present. But let's not get ahead of ourselves - here is a list of his records: Fourth Place: In four minutes Liston removed a 45-pound tumor in the patient's perineum, which he was driving in front of him in a wheelbarrow. Third place: Liston argued with another doctor. The subject of the controversy was a red, throbbing swelling on the boy's neck. Is it an abscess or an aneurysm of the carotid artery? "Ha! - Liston exclaimed impatiently, "Where did such a young man get aneurysms?" He drew a knife from under his cloak and slashed the boy's neck with it. The owner of the house in which the case took place described further events as follows: "Arterial blood spurted in all directions, and the boy fell." The patient died, but his artery is still with us - you can see it in the Museum of Pathology at University College Hospital. Second place: Liston amputated the patient's leg in two and a half minutes, but in a fit of enthusiasm he also grabbed the scrotum of the unfortunate one. And finally, first place: Liston amputated the patient's leg in two and a half minutes (the patient was finished with gangrene in the hospital; as I said, this was a completely logical outcome of the case at that time). In addition, at the same moment he cut off the fingers of a young assistant (who later also died of gangrene). In addition, he touched the clothes of one of the observers with a knife, who imagined that the knife had pierced him through and through, after which the suspicious poor fellow died of fear.
    1. garri-lin
      garri-lin 13 March 2021 19: 51
      If this is not a meme and not a fairy tale, then Chikatilo and Jack the Ripper nervously smoke on the sidelines.
  11. bubalik
    bubalik 13 March 2021 19: 12
    It is not surprising that many of the wounded (if only their condition allowed or comrades came to their aid) preferred to avoid hospitals.

    ,,, all this is awful.

    The soldiers died like flies. In the infirmary, there are five people in a pile for one bed, the lower one has already died. There are always no exceptions. Bottom died. And those who have not yet died look with their red eyes at one point, see something that cannot be seen alive, and scream so that the blood in their veins freezes. Many people had a mental dislocation: I saw how in winter, in the cold, half-naked soldiers ran away from the infirmary, and then they were found in the most ruinous places.

    ,,,At the command "load" - we load, at the command "pli" - we fire. We don't even look into the cannon hatch - a cannonball, a cap, or ... a cannonball, a cap, or. And there, as God puts it - either we are them, or they are us. We are the same target as they are. A terrible thing. The whole ship is shaking like a seizure. Slivers are worst of all - like daggers. They pierce the body like freshly knocked down butter. And there is no time to take it out. A nucleus, a cap, or ... Even out of need, no one leaves, they felled it right there, shit in half with blood, in half an hour you slide like on a rink. The stench is unbearable ...
  12. BAI
    BAI 13 March 2021 21: 12
    "A mile from the battlefield."

    "Versta" is an exclusively Russian measure of distances. The French must have a league. Where did the author get the information from?
    1. Former naval person
      15 March 2021 20: 50
      the author leveled the lee a mile away - hoping that it would be clearer this way. sorry, I tried.
  13. Oleg Aviator
    Oleg Aviator 14 March 2021 15: 16
    I am surprised how the soldiers, seeing such a bestial attitude, agreed to die and even more to suffer wounds for their emperor)