During major engagements in the Civil War the flood of wounded became overwhelming. Surgeons could afford to spend only a few minutes with each of the wounded, and the Minie bullet caused a terrific amount of damage to bones. As a result, amputation became the treatment of choice for gunshot wounds to arms and legs.
Due to the large number of wounded, surgeons became proficient at performing amputations; in many cases an amputation could be performed in ten minutes. The number of wounded needing attention and the lack of water in many cases meant there was no attempt to wash hands or instruments between procedures. The lack of hygiene, antibiotics and sterile procedures created a large chance of infection; however, it has been estimated that as many as 75% of the amputees survived.
Image Courtesy Wilsonâ€™s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30620