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Saturday, May 11, 2013

John Meck Cuyler, M.D.

A Confederate Surgeon's Sacrifice


John M. Cuyler was born in Savannah, Georgia on March 9, 1810. He entered the Regular Army as an Assistant surgeon in 1834, being among the first to pass the rigid examination instituted in 1833.

Dr. Cuyler was a graduate of the West Point Military Academy. He was actively engaged in the Creek War of 1838, and the Seminole War of 1840. He served with distinction through the Mexican War, receiving promotion as Major and Surgeon on February 16, 1847. From 1848 until 1855,he served at West Point.

When the secession crisis and Civil War ensued, he chose to remain with the U.S. Army. He was the senior medical officer at Fort Monroe during the first years of the war. He served as Medical Inspector and Acting medical Inspector General. He served on examining boards. Dr. Cuyler was promoted Lieutenant Colonel and Medical Inspector on June 11, 1862.

He served at the II Corps field hospital at Gettysburg. While operating upon a gangrenous wound, his scalpel slipped and cut into his finger. Realizing that the wound would becoming infected, and wishing to avoid spreading the infection to this other patients, Dr. Cuyler had his own finger amputated immediately. He took this action at a time when the germ theory of infection was only a suspicion and not an accepted medical fact.

He was breveted Colonel on November 29, 1864 and Brigadier General on March 13, 1865. He retired on June 30, 1882, and died on April 26, 1884, in Morristown, New Jersey.

Excerpted from: The Journal of Civil War Medicine, Vol. 10, No. 3


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