Disease -- not rifles or bayonets -- was the most deadly obstacle facing soldiers during the Civil War.
In fact, for every one soldier killed in combat, two were killed by diseases like dysentery, malaria and typhoid fever, according to the "medical re-enactors" who visited Cantigny Park in Wheaton Sunday.
The medical discussion was part of a Civil War Symposium that took place all weekend. The event included formal presentations and a slew of re-enactments that showed what a Civil War soldier's life was like both on and off the battlefield.
"There's a big difference between reading about history, looking at a dry list of dates, and really experiencing it," said Robert James Norton, a Rolling Meadows resident who portrayed a military doctor during Sunday's re-enactment. "I do this as a hobby. It's something I've always loved. But it's great that our hobby allows us to teach, also."
The medical demonstration was conducted by members of the 17th Corps Field Hospital, a nonprofit organization that specializes in researching and re-creating medical practices of the period.
As part of the demonstration, doctors removed a bullet from the knee of a wounded soldier. They anesthetized the soldier first by getting him to breathe chloroform, but soldiers of the time were never really asked to "bite the bullet!" Then a doctor dug into the wound with his finger to pull out the round projectile lodged inside.
After the demonstration, visitors got a chance to view a collection of Civil War-era medical implements, including a saw that was used to amputate crushed or infected limbs. Many of the instruments were originals that Morton has collected over the years.
Martha Ellis of Naperville said the demonstration really captured the crudity of medical practices at the time.
"I guess I knew it was like this, but when you really see it in front of you, even though it's just a demonstration, it definitely hits home," she said.