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Moments in Surgical History
October 2002

Lower Extremity Fracture Splints During the Civil War

Arch Surg. 2002;137(10):1199. doi:10.1001/archsurg.137.10.1199

MANY LIVES AND LIMBS were saved by the widespread use of fracture splints during the Civil War. Understandably, there was little concern about the protection of upper extremity fractures because most of these patients could sit upright in an ambulance and help adjust themselves. This was not the case, however, with lower limb fractures, particularly those of the femur. Injuries to the hip were considered the gravest of all wounds; these patients suffered terribly, not only on the battlefield but following attempts at stabilization of the bony fragments. Ever more ingenious lower extremity fracture splints were devised, and the use of instruments designed by Nathan Ryno Smith (1797-1877), Gurdon Buck (1807-1877), and John Hodgen (1826-1882) represents one of the high points of Civil War surgery.