Chloroform and the Civil War

By: Colleen vonVorys-Norton

One of the biggest advancements in the 19th century was in the medical field. Most of the advancements came from medical advances needed on the battlefield. This is especially seen during the Civil War when there weren’t many registered or trained surgeons. This meant that many of the wounds were treated from manuals. Both the Union and Confederate had a manual, though there are some differences in them since they were written by different doctors. These manuales cover a wide range of topics. For example the Confederate manual covers everything from the clothing allotment for each soldier to how to know when to amputate a limb.  One of the emerging fields in medicine was anestesia. Historically there was nothing really to help patients deal with the pain during surgery. Doctors realized that chloroform was efficient at making people unconscious or desensitized. It’s discovery is credited to Samuel Guthrie in 1831 and like most medical treatments, it was first used by the rich and the military.

The administration of chloroform is one of the differences between the Union and Confederate manual. For example, the Union mentions using it in passing. They are focusing more in those sections on what the treatment is and just has chloroform in passing. Interestingly, the Union prefered ether to chloroform because “being the least liable to destroy life.”¹ At this point, doctors were beginning to become hesitant to use chloroform since some individuals were dying from it. But this did not stop it completely in the war effort. In fact, it was believed that  “anaesthetics sometimes, and especially chloroform, prevent the union of wounds by adhesion, or by ‘first intention’”¹. In layman terms, they believed that using chloroform actually helped wounds heal faster and with less amounts of scar tissue.


Gettysburg Amputation, courtesy of Warfare History

The Confederate side however was very adamant about using chloroform. Not only were they explicit about it but they also had two chapters in their book not only about their views on it, but also exactly how is should be used. They believed that they reason that some people were dying from it was because it was used carelessly. This is why they went into specific detail on how to use the drug. They note that it should be used in careful amounts because the patient at times may not be able to pull the rag away if the drug becomes too much. But in general they “do not hesitate to say, that it should be given to every patient requiring a serious or painful operation.”² Where the Union was more careful with its usage, the Confederacy used it not only for surgeries but also for when they were cleaning painful wounds or even just to calm patients. Since chloroform was used so frequently, they outline specifically how it should be used properly. The device that they talk about parallels the shape and design of the anaesthetic mask still used today.


Chloroform mask. This was connected to a bottle that contained the chloroform and it would drip onto the cloth. courtesy of Medical Antiquities

Even though the medical world no longer used chloroform in general anesthesia, it is still very important to see just how far medicine has come in just a few centuries. Looking at something that is taken for granted in present day has dangerous roots but it because of those deaths that medican advanced to the way it is. Even though it is not commonly recognized, times of war advance the medical field quickly because doctors need to find new ways to fix a variety of injuries and this was especially true during the Civil War. Especially in a day and age where something like germ theory is taken so lightly, it is important to look back a few centuries and see just how far humanity has come in such a short amount of time.


¹ Hamilton, Frank Hastings. Practical treatise on military surgery. San Francisco: Normal Publishing, 1989.

² Chisolm, Julian John, and Ira M. Rutkow. A manual of military surgery: for the use of the surgeons in the Confederate States Army: with an appendix of the rules and regulations of the Medical Department of the Confederate Army. San Francisco: Norman Pub., 1989.

The Information Boom and 90s Music Videos

By: Colleen vonVorys-Norton

The 1990s will be remembered for many things: sitcoms, Bill Clinton, the beginning of terroristic attacks. But probably most of all, the technological boom. Not only was the internet becoming a household object but with the new millenium, there was a general feeling of futurism. This is very clear in the music videos that came out during this time. Even though there was not a big of a focus on space, the culture still had strong space themes since space is seen as the final frontier.

This is very clearly seen with *NSYNC’s I Want You Back. This music video takes place in what appears to be another planet colony. Not only that, but they also have teleportation. Being released in 1996 the new millennium and futurism was a very strong pull line through the direction for the music video mixed with very boyband images. Having the singers with synchronized dancing while in a CGIed space colony mixed together the beginning of the decade with the feelings of the second.  

*NSYNC, I Want You Back, 1996, dir. Alan Calzatti


The information boom is seen more in TLC’s No Scrubs. This is especially visual with 9 seconds into the music video there is an email symbol. This was also right around the time that email was really taking off and having an electric envelope to represent the title of the album, FanMail shows the futurism. This idea is brought up again at 2:53 when one of the singers is shown being circled with a camera. With reality tv still being a novelty, having this image of her always being filmed shows the connection to the information boom.

TLC, No Scrubs, 1999, dir. Hype Williams


Not just in music videos, but also in song lyrics themselves were these ideals propagated. In Jamiroquai’s Virtual Insanity he has lyrics like:

Futures made of virtual insanity now

Always seem to, be governed by this love we have

For useless, twisting, our new technology

Oh, now there is no sound for we all live underground

This song can be seen as a warning to the public to be careful with the powers of technology. From changing virtual reality to virtual insanity it shows just how easily technology is taking over society. The music video is also filmed in a livecam type setup. This is interesting because it feels to the viewer that they are just watching the singer perform and not like a huge music production like many of the other music videos of the time. With having the camera at a slight tilt also adds to the creepy vibe that the director was hoping to get across.

Jamiroquai, Virtual Insanity, 1996, dir. Jonathan Glazer

Headstones, the Most Common Monument

By: Colleen vonVorys-Norton

The Civil War changed the ideas that surrounded burial. For the first time in American history, the nation was faced with having to care for the 600,000 soldiers who died. No longer were each of the men able to receive a proper funeral and instead had to buried in mass graves on the battlefield. This went against the burial practices of the day because it was frowned upon if the dirt was touching the body. It was believed that having the deceased body not just in dirt was one of the things that separated humans from animals.

With the massive amounts of casualties there was no possible way for the opposing sides to retrieve the dead. Not only that, but also with keeping records of who passed. Due to the fast moving nature of many of the battles, “armies did not have time to attend to the dead but had to depend on the humanity of their opponents, who predictably gave precedence to their own casualties“ (Faust 70). Having to rely on the opposing side to bury both sides bodies usually lead to their side being buried first.


Various pictures of Civil War’s casualties, courtesy of the National Parks Service

Many of the soldiers were not able to even have headstones or markers. If they are buried on the battlefield, sometimes the living would be able to leave behind how many were buried there but it was on a simple piece of wood. Headstones act as a monument for the individual or the family. Wealthier families would be able to have more extravagant stones where the lower class may not even be able to afford a stone at all. Back in the Civil War era, there was not a Department of Veterans Affairs and so if an individual was injured in war, there was no program that was designed to help the returned.

Since headstones are the most common type of memorial, there is a lot of diversity within them. The easiest way to see this is in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Even though the idea of Arlington is the rows and rows of identical white headstones, there is a small subsection where some 482 Confederate soldiers are buried. Interestingly, even though the Confederate soldiers fought against the union, they were still considered veterans and according to Congress Public Law 85-425, “the term ‘veteran’ includes a person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America”. This clarification is within a law that declares that Confederate soldiers will get the same pension as Union soldiers. Even though they are buried in Arlington, they are arranged in a different way. Their graves are in concentric circles around the Confederate Monument, and their graves are marked with headstones that are distinct for their pointed tops. Legend attributes these pointed-top tombstones to a Confederate belief that the points would ‘keep Yankees from sitting on them’”. This visually marks the clear distinction between the two armies.


Confederate flags planted at Arlington National Cemetery in front of Confederate headstones, photo by Wally Gobetz

But should they be there in the first place? This is where I reach a contradiction. Even though Congress declared that they were veterans, the soldiers were fighting to start another country. I am confused on why the Confederates are not viewed as traitors. But I am fine with having the bodies still be there. But, I am not fine with confederate flags and imagery on or near the graves. It is one thing to have their rank and regiment on the stone, I believe that is acceptable, but I do not believe that a confederate flag should be placed outside the grave. Especially since the flag is very much a hate symbol, it has no place in a cemetery that not only contains people of color who served for the United States but also enslaved individuals are buried there.


Arlington National Cemetery Confederate Monument, Arlington, VA, courtesy of Wikipedia

The coffins aside, there is a confederate memorial that stands in the center of the circles. There are six vignettes in the statute with the Goddess of War and Wisdom at the top. The six show the different types of people who were affected by the war. The one that I would like to bring to light is that there is a domestic enslaved woman on the monument, holding a soldier’s child as he goes off to war. I do not believe that their should be a large Confederate memorial in the cemetery, especially one with an enslaved woman on it. I can accept the burial of the soldiers and the official title of veteran and having them buried in Arlington, but having a large monument I believe is unnecessary. I understand the desire to have something symbolizing those who have fallen, but I believe that even just removing the part of the statue that has the six vignettes and keep the female figure would be much more tasteful and more respectful.


Arlington National Cemetery Confederate Monument, Arlington VA, courtesy of Wikipedia


Work Cited:

Faust, Drew Gilpin. This republic of suffering: death and the American civil war. Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

The American Perception of Death in the 1890s and 1990s.

By Colleen vonVorys-Norton


Between 1897 and 1997 the public perception of death and funerals switched. In the 1890s, grief was a public act. Women especially, would publicly show their grief with their clothes and veils. Even though the funerals would be reserved for family and loved ones, the view of grief was very public. But in the 1990s, grief and funerals took on a different form. Grieving was a private issue but funerals were the opposites. The amount of people at the funeral was a way to show how loved the deceased was. But once the funeral was over, the grief was seen as a burden to others. This shift is due to the public view on death. In the 1890s, grief was incredibly common due to not only the Civil War but also because child mortality was incredibly high. Greif was public but personal because the funerals were reserved for the family only. Everyone understood the pain. In the 1990s, there was no longer mass grieving. It became private, but the visual of funerals itself was public. Public grief was only acceptable for a few weeks. Then the loved ones have to go back to being productive members of society.

In the 1890s, the funeral itself was a very personal ceremony. Deaths were announced but not with the expectation that funerals would be attended.


“Died.” Milwaukee Journal [Milwaukee, Wisconsin] [Sep. 13, 1897]: 2. 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. Web. 17 Nov. 2017.

Since society was still in mourning of everyone who had passed in the war, the public acknowledged that grief was a long process. Women especially bore the brunt of the public grief. Since they are the symbol of the home and family, their public grief was especially important. Women would wear specific clothing and dressed to show how long it had been since their family member had died.



Queen Victoria with the five surviving children of her daughter, Princess Alice, dressed in mourning clothing for their mother and their sister Princess Marie in early 1879.


Then, death was not as compartmentalized. It was everywhere and a very common and open experience. The funeral itself was supposed to be quiet and a sacred religious service. In Christian burial, the need for funeral was seen as necessary for the deceased to receive their last rites. The services were short, just a pastor and a small musical accompaniment, if the estate was able to afford it. At this time in American history, grief was not a sign of weakness, but a natural part of living. It was understood that grief lasted for months and at most a year. It was accepted in that society.

Over the course of the century, the view on funerals and grief changes. Grief was more of a private issue. Funerals were very public. If someone knew the person, it was expected for them to go to the funeral to pay their respects. For the first few weeks after the death, the society around the family would support them but would quickly move on and expect the family to do so as well. Funerals were spectacles about not only the individual but also the other people that were around them. People would loudly cry and show their grief but then a few weeks later that was no longer accepted.

Something as simple as an obituary was something that showed the class symbol. Where in the 1890s it was common for all obituaries to be a few lines, in the 1990s, this expanded to including the surviving family members. Also if the estate had enough money they could add the deceased accomplishments. This was a form of a class symbol with how long the obituary was since lower income estates might not be able to afford a whole column.

Another motivating factor in the shift towards grief being private in the 1990s was due to the public no longer being faced with so much death. Infant mortality had decreased, especially in America with the increase in medicine. This also lead to infections and illnesses not leading to death at a young age for many people as well.


In the graph above, there is a clear increase in the life expectancy across the board. Specifically looking at America, this increase lead to death being less prominent in society. Death was able to be compartmentalized and pushed to the side.

Funerals became a business. The average cost of a funeral was $5,000. Even though some funeral homes offered reduced pricing, most were still very expensive events. The reason it was so successful was because the estate and family felt that they needed to give their loved one a beautiful funeral because of all they deceased did for the family. The market understood this and monetize it.

The century split between the 1890s and 1990s had many difference, but one of the most prominent ones was the ways the public viewed death.


Works Consulted:

“September 13, 1997 (Page 10 of 63).” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (1927-2008), Sep 13, 1997, pp. 10, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Singleton, S. (1994, Jun 18). The high cost of death–the funeral business. New York Amsterdam News Retrieved from

“Mr. Wyman’s Funeral.” Boston Journal, 1 Jan. 1897.

Brett, Mary. The Custom Of Mourning During The Victorian Era. 2011,


Poe’s The Black Cat and Internal Conflict

By: Colleen vonVorys-Norton


Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat is the story of a mans descent into madness. In the beginning, when he is a child, he is a devout animal lover. As the story progresses, he begins to abuse the animals due to his alcoholism. The animal that is closest to him is his black cat named Pluto. When he breaks and abuses Pluto, he drunkenly cuts out the cat’s eye. Later he is driven to harm the animal again and he hangs the cat on a tree. That night, his house burns down and he and his wife narrowly escape. A while later, another cat appears to him, this one is black with a patch of white. He brings that cat into him hope. Over time, the black goes away and the cat mysteriously loses an eye, leading it to look like Pluto. In a fit of rage, he tries to kill the cat but his wife stops him. Reflexively he then murders his wife. Having to hide the body, he puts her into the wall. When the police come through, they almost leave but the man gets cocky and hits the wall to show that it is solid. Because of that, an inhuman noise comes from the wall and once it is opened, it is revealed that the cat was buried into the wall with the body of the wife.


I mostly chose this story because I have a black cat but wow I was in for a surprise

Edgar Allen Poe is one of the most famous American writers. What makes his voice so distinct is the ability to show American ideals in dark and haunting ways. In The Black Cat, Poe discusses the concept of civilized vs savage. This is an American concept because on the frontier this idea was put head to head. Poe uses the stereotypes to show these two sides. The civilized side is the husband with a love for animals. The savage side is his treatment of his wife and pets. This polarity plays out and is the internal conflict within the narrator, like the conflict between the Native Americans and the settlers was a conflict on the frontier. With this idea in mind, “Poe’s narrator is “mad” because his behavior deviates from all the moral maxims in traditional ethics, which is on the side of the good and the social order, while his drive ethics is on the side of chaos, madness, and death” (Wing-Chi Ki 2009, 569). But he is only viewed as being mad because he is not fitting into the norms of the dominant social structure.

Poe’s story “may be more a statement on the insufficiency of human reason than the nature of the human will” (Stark 2004, 263). This also plays into the American ideals because there is a strong belief of being in control of one’s destiny within the culture.

Poe shows these ideals through haunting stories because it makes the ideas less normalized within the society reading it. Since it is taken to the extreme, people are able to identify the issues within the text since it sticks in the back of their minds, especially when they see a black cat.


Work Cited

Ki, Magdalen Wing-Chi. “Diabolical evil and ‘The Black Cat’.” The Mississippi Quarterly no. 3-4 (2009): 569. Literature Resource Center, EBSCOhost (accessed November 7, 2017).

Ki, Magdalen Wing-Chi. “Diabolical evil and ‘The Black Cat’.” The Mississippi Quarterly no. 3-4 (2009): 569. Literature Resource Center, EBSCOhost (accessed November 7, 2017).

Elizabeth Keckley and a Look into the Private Life of the Lincolns

By: Colleen vonVorys-Norton



Portrait of Elizabeth later in life


Elizabeth was born a slave in Virginia and at the age of four was the maid to a new born. After many years of moving around, she ended up marrying a white man who used to be her Master. After he died, the estate owner claimed that she was to be a slave once more and the only way to gain freedom for her and her son was through payment. With some help, she was able to leave and head to Washington D.C. where she quickly became the dressmaker for Mrs. Jefferson Davis. At this point in time, the south was beginning the process of succeeding. Having Elizabeth be working so closely with Mrs. Davis gave her access to the domestic life of the Confederate President. Mrs. Davis spoke frequently to Elizabeth about their future and remarked that “you had better go South with me; I will take good care of you. Besides, when the war breaks out, the colored people will suffer in the North. The Northern people will look upon them as the cause of the war, and I fear, in their exasperation, will be inclined to treat you harshly” (71). Knowing better than to head back to the south, Elizabeth stayed in D.C. with the desire to work as a dressmaker for the first lady.


Dress created by Elizabeth for Mrs. Lincoln


This became a reality when she was recommended for the position by another lady. This lead her to have a unique look at the private life of the Lincolns. The most notable of these was what she observed after Willie died at a young age. She was in the room with the President when he saw Willie and “great sobs choked his utterance. He buried his head in his hands, and his tall frame was convulsed with emotion… His grief unnerved him, and made him a weak, passive child” (103). This complexity bring much more light on the man that the President was. He was more than just a strong man who lead his country unflinchingly through war. Elizabeth’s story serves as a reminder that he was just an ordinary man who was able to do extraordinary things.



Photo of President Lincoln from Fredrick Douglass’ autobiography


Elizabeth was also there for the assignation of the President as well. Only a few days before, Mrs. Lincoln remarked “Yes, yes, Mr. Lincoln’s life is always exposed. Ah, no one knows what it is to live in constant dread of some fearful tragedy. The President has been warned so often, that I tremble for him on every public occasion. I have a presentiment that he will meet with a sudden and violent end. I pray God to protect my beloved husband from the hands of the assassin” (178). Having this only come days before the assignation is a telling sign of how confident that the President was in him not being hurt. At that time, Presidents did not believe that they could be hurt.

Elizabeth’s story holds so much valuable information on the domestic life of the Lincoln family. Even though she began her life as a slave woman, she was able to rise to such heights and become close friends with Mary Lincoln.


Photos: Elizabeth portrait, Mrs. Lincoln’s dress, President Lincoln

The Sexual Oppression of Women in the 1890s as Seen Through Comics

By: Colleen vonVorys-Norton


Throughout history women have been systematically oppressed, especially when it comes to expressing their sexuality. This is not a single act, but is built into the patriarchal social structure where the oppression is kept in place with violence. Based on the social hierarchy, white men were the highest, then came white women, than men of color, and finally women of color. This is a highly simplified form, but is very clear in the 1890s.



Samuel Ehrhart, A Dreadful Predicament, Puck vol 12 no. 570, February 8, 1888

One of the forms of suppression was the controlling of the female sexuality and using it to define her. White women were not allowed to show any form of sexuality. They were exclusively supposed to be seen as virtuous, motherly, and submissive to their husbands. This was only further reinforced with the Comstock Act of 1873. This act prohibited the spread of sexual material through the postal service. This included erotica but also educational material. In doing this, women were unable to properly learn about their sexual health and it became very taboo.

This concept is shown in the cartoon above. Since the act of bending over can be seen as a sexual one, she is not even able to tie her shoe with Comstock behind her. This shows just how unhelpful this act was since it only made sex a taboo thing. Also, since white women were aware of society’s negative view on sex, this made them want to act pure so they would not be seen in the negative light.



Photographed by Benjamin Falk, Bellydancer, 1893

Since women of color are portrayed with all the negative stereotypes, having them be heavily sexualized makes them stand apart from white women. This also creates a polarity since white women wanted to remain virginal. The divide separated women and was an excuse for men to exploit them. The image, taken from the Chicago World’s Fair, is of an Egyptian belly dancer. How she is dressed is the opposite of what white women of the time were wearing and the dance they performed was labeled Hoochie Coochie by Anthony Comstock because he was trying to get the dance banned. Since men are supposed to be more sexually active and powerful, having a woman being sexual was seen as unable to be part of society.



Victor, Liliuokalani on Platform, Judge, December 2, 1893

This idea can be applied to the image above. Queen Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii, is being portrayed as the contrast to white women. Her clothes are loose and is barefoot, like the Egyptian dancers. Not only that but her posture and her knees are not put together. Having the legs apart is seen as intentionally sexual and is only reinforced with her holding papers that say “gross immorality” and “scandalous government”.



Liliuokalani, St. Paul Daily Globe, February 3, 1893

This hyper sexualization is seen again with how the artist drew Queen Liliuokalani’s dress be incredibly short and just having her bare legs and arms. Added with the size and exposure of the bust, she is hypersexualized to be stigmatized by society.

The state’s violence on controlling women, especially their sexualities, polarized women depending on the race and shows to men if the woman is able to be controlled and submissive or not.