Deep wounds of the arm, leg, chest, and abdomen presented often-impossible problems for Civil War Surgeons. One of the only instruments available for seizing and holding displaced or severed arteries was the sharp, slender hook called a tenaculum.

The word was borrowed from Medieval Latin tenāculum (usually in plural tenācula) “forceps, pincers,” going back to Latin, “instrument for gripping,” from tenēre “to hold, occupy, possess” + -āculum, probably after retināculum “rope, cable” The first known use of a tenaculum was in 1693.