The Civil War was a brutal, brutal time in our nation’s history. There was no understanding of bacteria as a cause of infection – and sanitary conditions were terrible. That was perhaps never more true than in the case of the hospitals that treated the wounded. Due to the damage caused by minie balls (the rounds fired from muskets, often over .50 caliber), arms and legs were often amputated – and quickly. The longer an injured limb remained on the body, the greater the risk of infection. So surgeons became experts at amputations. While it could take up to 15 minutes to amputate a limb, I remember reading that some docs were able to whack off a limb in just a couple of minutes!
Word of fatalities was hard to come by. Many times, a family member might learn of the death of a father, husband or son by reading their name on the front page of the newspaper along with hundreds (if not thousands) of others slain in a single battle.
Life was not easy for the widow, either. Today’s photo was taken at the Atlanta Historical Center and is a figure of a Civil War widow. Widows were expected to wear black mourning dress for a minimum of 2.5 years after the death of her husband. Many had no means of support.
If you’ve never been to the Civil War portion of the Atlanta Historical Center, I’d encourage you to go. It’s worth the visit!
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1957, the Soviet Union announced that it had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of being fired “into any part of the world.” The announcement caused great concern in the US, and started a national debate over the “missile gap” between America and Russia.
For years after World War II, both the US and the Soviet Union had been trying to perfect a long-range missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Building on the successes of Nazi Germany in developing the V-1 and V-2 rockets that pummeled Great Britain during the last months of World War II, both American and Russian scientists raced to improve the range and accuracy of such missiles. (Both nations relied heavily on captured German scientists in their efforts.) In July 1957, the United States seemed to win the race when the Atlas, an ICBM with a speed of up to 20,000 miles an hour and an effective range of 5,000 miles, was ready for testing. The test, however, was a disaster. The missile rose only about 5,000 feet into the air, tumbled, and plunged to earth. Just a month later, the Soviets claimed success by announcing that their own ICBM had been tested, had “covered a huge distance in a brief time,” and “landed in the target area.” No details were given in the Russian announcement and some commentators in the United States doubted that the ICBM test had been as successful as claimed. Nevertheless, the Soviet possession of this “ultimate weapon,” coupled with recent successful test by the Russians of atomic and hydrogen bombs, raised concerns in America. If the Soviets did indeed perfect their ICBM, no part of the United States would be completely safe from possible atomic attack.
Less than two months later, the Soviets sent the satellite Sputnik into space. Concern quickly turned to fear in the United States, as it appeared that the Russians were gaining the upper hand in the arms and space races. The American government accelerated its own missile and space programs. The Soviet successes–and American failures–became an issue in the 1960 presidential campaign. Democratic challengerJohn F. Kennedy charged that the outgoing Eisenhower administration had allowed a dangerous “missile gap” to develop between the United States and the Soviet Union. Following his victory in 1960, Kennedy made missile development and the space program priorities for his presidency.
TRIVIA FOR TODAY: Psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania studied data from over 10,000 speed daters and found that most people make a decision regarding a person’s attraction within three seconds of meeting.