Civil War Hospital Ship

The U.S.S. Red Rover, a captured Confederate vessel, was refitted as a hospital ship.

Evolution of Civil War Nursing

The evolution of the nursing profession in America was accelerated by the Civil War.

The Practice of Surgery

Amputations were the most common surgery performed during the Civil War.

Army Medical Museum and Library

Surgeon-General William Hammond established The Army Medical Museum in 1862. It was the first federal medical research facility.

Civil War Amputation Kit

Many Civil War surgical instruments had handles of bone, wood or ivory. They were never sterilized.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Simon Pollak and Ophthalmology in St. Louis During the Civil War

By Stephen Logson
March 8, 2012

On Thursday, April 12th at 4:30 pm ]2012], the Bernard Becker Medical Library in collaboration with the Center for the History of Medicine presented the 24th Historia Medica Lecture.

The presentation, "Simon Pollak and Ophthalmology in St. Louis During the Civil War," will be given by Dr. Robert Feibel, Professor of Clinical Opthalmology and Visual Sciences.

Simon Pollak (1814-1903) was a prominent physician in St. Louis who was the first in the city to specialize in ophthalmology. He played a key role in advancing education for the blind and visually impaired as one of the founders of the Missouri School for the Blind and was the first to introduce the Braille system of reading for the blind in the United States. He served energetically on the side of the Union in the Civil War, and established and conducted the first ophthalmology clinic in the city hospital of St. Louis. He championed the role of women physicians in organized medicine, and was able with considerable difficulty to obtain membership for one, Dr. Mary McLean, to the St. Louis Medical Society. Dr. McLean was the Society’s first female member.

The presentation took place in the King Center on the seventh floor of the Becker Library at the Washington University School of Medicine at 660 S. Euclid Ave., St. Louis.

From: becker.wustl.edu

Abortion in the Civil War

By Charles A. Mills

Abortion, rather than contraception, was the primary form of birth control during the antebellum and Civil War era. In the Civil War era it is estimated that there was one abortion for every five live births. William Buchan's Domestic Medicine contained prescriptions for bringing on delayed menstrual periods, which would also produce an abortion if the woman happened to be pregnant. The book prescribed heavy doses of purgatives that created violent cramps, powerful douches, violent exercise, raising great weights and falling down.

By the early 1860's most states had laws restricting abortion, but these laws were directed at unqualified abortionists and were intended to protect women. Procuring an abortion was not a crime in South Carolina and was illegal in Massachusetts only after the fetus had "stirred". Most Americans of this period did not regard abortion as a crime until the fetus had "quickened" (begun to move perceptibly in the womb). According to the prevailing view of the time, the fetus had no soul before quickening and had not demonstrated its independent existence through movement. Until quickening, the fetus was regarded as an extraneous part of the pregnant woman that could be removed without ethical constraint.

From: timetravel21.blogspot.com

A Pocket Surgical Kit

By Lori Eggleston

We [National Museum of Civil War Medicine] received an exciting donation recently of a collection of pocket surgical kits.  These small leather kits were carried by surgeons during the Civil War and contained the instruments they were most likely to need out in the field.  These instruments are smaller than the ones found in the surgical or amputation kits.  Many of these instruments were also designed to be folded into their handle when not in use, to make for a more compact kit.  There are several sizes of pocket kits, depending on the types and number of instruments they contained.  Let’s take a closer look at one kit and its contents.

The George Tiemann company, located in New York City, was a major supplier of surgical kits and instruments to the Union army during the Civil War.  His company is still in business today.  According to their website, they have been suppliers of “fine surgical instruments” since 1826.

Images: 1) This pocket kit was made by George Tiemann & Co. The exterior of the case is leather and the interior is lined with purple velvet and cloth. The flaps you see on the sides fold in to protect the instruments when the case is closed. You can see that the top flap of the kit is now detached, but the instruments are in very good condition.
2) This odd-looking little instrument is a comb and lancet, used for blood-letting and vaccinations. During the Civil War, doctors would vaccinate soldiers against smallpox using scabs from a person who had been infected with the disease. The lancet or the comb would have been used to make little incisions in the arm in order to insert small bits of the scabs.

From: guardianoftheartifacts.blogspot.com

Portrait of a Civil War Surgeon

By Lori Eggleston

Part of my job here at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine involves helping to tell the stories of the men and women who were involved with medical care in the Civil War.  Sometimes that is accomplished using their personal belongings or their medical instruments and supplies.  These things can certainly give insight into aspects of their lives or the medical techniques and technology of the time, but it’s not quite the same as being able to see the face associated with the objects.  I think it is far more compelling to be able to show that these were real people in the stories that we tell.  So, today I thought I would share the story and the image of one Civil War Surgeon.

At the start of the Civil War, Orange B. Ormsby was a young physician in Greenville, Illinois.  On June 25, 1861, at the age of 25, he enlisted as a Private in the 22nd IL Infantry, Company E.  His enlistment papers describe him as being 5’ 10” tall, with blue eyes, light hair, and a fair complexion.  In August of that same year he transferred to the 18th IL Infantry, Company S and was commissioned as an Assistant Surgeon.  His claim to fame was that during the Siege of Corinth, he was working behind Confederate lines and assisted in saving the life of General Richard Oglesby, who was wounded in the chest and back.  After the war General Oglesby went on to serve three terms as the Governor of Illinois, and also served as a U.S. Senator.  The town of Oglesby, IL, is named for him.

By 1863, Orange B. Ormsby had enlisted as a Surgeon in the 45th IL Infantry, Company S, also known as the “Washburn Lead Mine Regiment.”  The 45th IL was assigned to the Army of the Tennessee, and during his time with them Ormsby would have been in battles in Mississippi, including the Vicksburg Campaign.  In fact, there are monuments to the 45th IL Infantry in Vicksburg.

On October 29, 1864, Ormsby was discharged for disability (lumbago and rheumatism) and went home to his wife and family in Illinois.  He received an Army pension starting when he was age 55 and died on June 13, 1899 at the age of 63.  Another interesting note is that his youngest son, Oscar Burton Ormsby, followed in his father’s footsteps by attending medical school and serving in the medical corps in World War I.

Surgeon Ormsby’s CDV was donated to the NMCWM by one of his descendants.  He shared the story with me of searching for Ormsby’s grave:  I visited Murphysboro, Illinois in 2004 and found his grave.  An invisible string led me to it as I had no prior indication where it was but was led (by accident?) directly to it.  I went to the cemetery which was quite large and stopped at a random site, got out of the car to survey the area and found I was inadvertently located next to his plot.  The hair on the back of my neck was standing at attention!  Perhaps Orange’s spirit was helping me.  I don’t know but it makes a good story.

Though the CDV image is somewhat faded, we still wanted to display it.  In this case, the best option was to digitize it.  The digitized image and a brief biography of Orange B. Ormsby are currently a part of the NMCWM’s video display, “Faces of Civil War Medicine.”  This way Surgeon Ormsby’s image and his story can be shared with the public, while the original CDV image can be better preserved for the future.  I hope Orange’s story can be preserved this way as well!

Image: Here is a carte de visite, or CDV, of Surgeon Orange B. Ormsby in uniform, which was probably taken in 1863 or 1864. A CDV is a type of small photograph, usually an albumen print mounted onto a thicker paper, which was patented by French photographer André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854. They were inexpensive and easy to mass produce, so they were quite popular during the Civil War. Soldiers had them made to send home to their families or sweethearts, and those back on the home front had them made to send to the soldiers.

From: guardianoftheartifacts.blogspot.com

Beverly National Cemetery, Beverly, New Jersey

From: nps.gov

During the Civil War, numerous Pennsylvania and New Jersey towns that lined the Delaware River provided support services for the Union. Several military hospitals cared for wounded troops. Soldiers not well enough to return to active duty, but not needing intensive medical care, stayed at Beverly's convalescent hospital. In 1864, the U.S. government purchased a small one-acre plot to bury those who died at the hospital.  From 1936 through 1951, the cemetery expanded and now totals 64 acres.  Interments number more than 40,000, and include veterans from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War.

In 1864, at the height of the Civil War, wounded soldiers crowded Philadelphia’s military hospitals.  To make room for more critically injured patients, a convalescent hospital was established in Beverly, New Jersey, 20 miles north of Philadelphia on the east bank of the Delaware River.  The War Department converted a rope factory in to a facility to care for soldiers well enough not to need full hospital care yet not fit to return to active duty.

The river steamer John A. Warner transported soldiers from Philadelphia to Beverly’s hospital. The steamer sounded its whistle in advance of its arrival at the town’s wharf, signaling the town residents who brought wagons to transport the patients to the hospital. As the procession began, church bells pealed and Beverly residents lined the streets offering coffee and food to the soldiers.

Doctors at the convalescent hospital performed surgeries as necessary, including amputations.  Local tradition holds that amputated limbs were buried in a vacant one-acre lot owned by Christian Weyman.  Weyman conveyed the property to the U.S.  government in August 1864, under conditions that the acre be properly enclosed and serve as a burial ground for U.S. servicemen. Officially established as a national cemetery, the first burial took place on August 29, 1864.

By the close of the war, 147 Union soldiers, all but 10 identified, were buried at the Beverly National Cemetery. A rubble stone wall originally enclosed the small cemetery.  Starting in the 1930s, expansions to the cemetery necessitated the removal of the 1877 stone wall. Today, wrought-iron fencing stands along Bridgeboro Road, while the remainder of the property is enclosed by modern fencing.  In 1949, a new wider main entrance gate on Bridgeboro Road allowed for the passage of motorized vehicles.  Service gates are located along Green Street on the cemetery’s south side.

To the right of the cemetery’s entrance gate in the northern-most section of the cemetery is the superintendent’s lodge.  The lodge is a one-and-one-half story brick building designed in the Second Empire style, notable for its mansard roof and dormer windows.  The lodge’s design is of the standard plan created by Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs.  It is one of the 17 remaining Meigs lodges found at the Civil War-era national cemeteries.  Originally constructed in 1879, a kitchen has an addition that dates from 1907.

The cemetery’s rostrum stands east of the lodge.  Constructed in 1937, the rostrum resembles an open-air Greek temple. The structure, primarily constructed of limestone, consists of a raised rectangular platform with three Tuscan columns rising from each corner. The columns support a simple entablature with pediments at either end.  A seamed copper roof covers the rostrum.  Limestone benches, arranged in a shallow arc, form a small amphitheater around the rostrum.

Other structures located on the cemetery’s grounds include a 1957 brick administration building, a brick and concrete garage built in 1941, and a  service building with restrooms constructed in 1936.

In 1875, the state of New Jersey erected a 70-foot-tall monument to Union soldiers. Deterioration of the monument became evident in 1950 and led to its deconstruction in 1951. The monument was stored on site until 1953 when the local American Legion Post requested the statue of the soldier that had crowned the monument.  The statue, along with part of the intricately carved base, now stands at the local American Legion Post at 700 Melbourne Street in Beverly, a few blocks north of the cemetery.

Beverly National Cemetery is the final resting place for Medal of Honor recipients, the nation’s highest military decoration, given for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

Seven unknown Revolutionary War soldiers lay in the cemetery’s Section F. Initially buried in Camden, their remains were transferred to Beverly National Cemetery in 1955.

A Civil War Preventative

By Lori Eggleston

I’ve posted previously about dealing with a moth infestation on my first day on the job at the museum [National Museum of Civil War Medicine].  My second day on the job was memorable as well. I’d gotten a quick look at the collection room the previous day, but I wanted to get a closer look at the artifacts stored there.  It was partly to ensure that the moths hadn’t infiltrated the collection room, but mostly because I was curious about the artifacts!  So I started opening drawers.  The contents of the very first drawer I opened caused me to do a double-take though. I had to check the label to be certain that it was what it appeared to be.  It really was a Civil War era condom! 

By the 1860s, animal skin and rubber condoms, sometimes called “preventatives” or “French letters”, were available for use.  Typically they were used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.  Syphilis and gonorrhea were common in both armies during the Civil War.  However, this condom was accompanied by a circular which also touted its use for married couples as a birth control device.

Sex was not a topic which was discussed openly at that time, so it is interesting to note the language and euphemisms used in the circular.  You can see how carefully he words his description, “…as to the nature of the article, they are called CUNDUMNS, or Preventatives; they are used for a private purpose by males when having intercourse with the opposite sex.  The object in using them is as follows:  Single young men use them to prevent themselves from becoming diseased when having intercourse with women of a public character…” 

He continues and points out the merits of using them as contraceptives, “…but where I sell one for the above purpose, I sell a hundred for domestic use, for the husband to use with his wife…  Indeed, all wives when they become acquainted with this article, they become strong advocates for the husband to use the preventative with them, and they certainly show their good sense in doing so, for the wife saves her own health, and can have just as many children as they can comfortably raise, and need not have any more than they think fit.”

Being a good salesman, he then lists the price, “$3.00 per single paper or dozen.  Also on hand Yarners or Ticklers, at $3.00 per dozen.”  That was a bit pricey for the time, which may explain why it is reported that sometimes condoms were washed and reused!  Surprisingly though, they did appear to be effective at preventing the transmission of diseases.

Displaying the condom presented some challenges.  The animal skin is delicate and very prone to damage from light, heat, and relative humidity (RH) at both ends of the spectrum.  A high RH can promote the growth of mold or mildew, while a low RH can dry out the skin and cause it to shrink or crack.  I had to ensure that the conditions in its display would be appropriate for it. 

There was also some apprehension about the public’s reaction to a condom on display.  I had several conversations with the museum’s director about the pros and cons of displaying it, and how to most appropriately display it.  In the meantime, it went out on short-term loans twice, which gave us a chance to gauge the reaction to it.  The displays in both venues, Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial in Arlington, VA, and the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA, had positive reviews.

Ultimately, we felt that that the condom did help to tell the story of the Civil War soldiers, and was in line with the museum’s mission of preserving the legacy of Civil War medical innovation.  We did put it in one of the higher cases though, so that it is not in obvious view of our youngest museum visitors.

So I guess the lesson this week is to be careful which drawer you open!

From: guardianoftheartifacts.blogspot.com

Image: This condom is made of sheep or goat skin. The thin ribbon across the top was not used to tie it in place, but added stability and helped to prevent the condom from splitting.

Learn more about condoms during the Civil War  at www.CivilWarRx.com.


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