Whereas the modern battlefield is marked by high explosives, whether manufactured in an industrialized factory or crudely built out of whatever is at hand, a mere century and a half ago, the most common war injury in the 1800s was bullet wounds. However, the nineteenth century was a major historical development period in the history of firearms, as well as a major period in the development of battlefield surgery, both of which would prove pivotal in the history of that century’s battlefields.
The 1800s started off with the then advanced musket rifle as a standard battlefield weapon. Though these rifles were fast evolving for the time (particularly since the Napoleonic wars and the beginning of modern colonialism made improvements in firearm technology a very in demand feat of engineering), these devices were still quite simple. They fired a small ball of lead, slow-moving by today’s standards, but still more than fast enough to shred flesh and shatter bone.
Later advancements in the century saw the birth repeating firearms that fired more bullets in less time than ever before, though the speed these bullets flew at and the rate at which they were still slow compared to today’s guns. Still, it was more than fast enough to create an upsurge in the number of war injuries and casualties of the wars of the era.
Explosion injuries, typically those of the cannons of the era, were common as well, but the bulk of war injuries of the era came from bullet wounds of faster and more powerful firearms. For those soldiers who didn’t die of their bullet injuries, treatments of the day were risky. Amputation was common, though it is unfair to describe the surgeons of the era as butchers. It was the best they had and many injured soldiers who survived the initial survived what would have been fatal a century earlier.