Dr. John Miles Waite used this amputation kit as a surgeon on the 1st Illinois Cavalry during the Civil War. Waite was born in Richfield, Ohio, in 1834. He later attended the Cleveland College of Medicine and then opened a pharmacy in St. Louis. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a private to escape domestic discord with his young bride. After the war, he divorced his wife and moved to Mound City, Illinois, where he became one of Pulaski County’s first physicians.
During the Civil War, surgeons lacked both the time and expertise to repair limbs shattered by gunshot wounds, so amputation became the most common surgical treatment in the field. Using a kit such as this, surgeons were able to amputate limbs in as little as ten minutes; speed was essential to keep the patient from dying of shock and pain. Despite the fact that germ theory did not yet exist and surgical instruments were frequently not washed between surgeries, it is estimated that as many as 75% of soldiers survived the loss of a limb.