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Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Civil War Medic’s Knapsack

By Chuck Franson, Registrar, AMEDD Museum, Number 3, Summer 2013

At the beginning of the Civil War, each regimental surgeon was outfitted with equipment and supplies for his regiment, including medicines, stores, instruments, and dressings, in quantities regulated by the Standard Supply Table for Field Service. In the field he was accompanied by a hospital orderly, who carried a knapsack containing a limited supply of anesthetics, styptics, stimulants, anodynes, and material for primary dressings.


An army board had recommended this hospital knapsack for adoption in 1859. It was made of light wood or wicker, and was covered with canvas or enameled cloth; it weighed about 18 pounds when full. This knapsack was in general use in the first year of the war, but it was difficult to keep items in order. In 1862 it was replaced with the “Regulation Hospital Knapsack of 1862”, which featured a better arrangement of supplies and medications. The new pattern was 16 inches high, 12½ inches wide, and 6 inches deep; the contents were packed in 3 drawers, which were more accessible than in the old style and less liable to become disarranged or broken.

The contents of the knapsack were:
One piece of white wax, 8 oz. simple cerate, 12 oz. chloroform, 5 yds. adhesive plaster, 2 yds. isinglass plaster, 1 oz. persulphate of iron, 100 compound cathartic pills, 150 blue mass pills, 150 opium pills, 100 opium and camphor pills, 150 quinine pills, 8 oz. aromatic spirit of ammonia, 16 oz. brandy, 4 oz. laudanum, 10 bandages, 10 binder's boards, 4 oz. charpie, 2 medicine glasses, 1 (spirit) lamp, 12 oz. lint, 1 box matches, 1 paper of pins, 1 spool of surgeons' silk, 4 pieces of sponge, 4 (Dunton's) field tourniquets. 2 spiral tourniquets, 1 piece of tape, 1 spool of lead wire, 1 spool of silver wire, and 1 spatula.

Weight when packed was nearly 20 pounds. Despite its convenience and general adaptability it was too unwieldy to be carried by the surgeon himself, and was liable to be lost in action when left to anyone else.

It was replaced in early 1863 by a field case or “Surgeon’s Companion” designed by Medical Inspector R. H. Coolidge, similar to a British model, to be carried by the surgeon himself if necessary.

This one contains:
Top Drawer
1 Scarificator
2 Tourniquets
2 rolls of cotton tape ½” wide
8 Wooden slates (splints)
1 Container Plaster
1 Roll of Adhesive Plaster w/o container
1 Bloodletting knife

Middle Drawer
33 Rolls Bandages
1 Pewter container Pilcathart Co.
1 Pewter container Pil Opit et camph
1 Pewter Container Chloroformum
1 Scarifacator in box

Bottom Drawer
3 Dunton’s Tourniquets
Pewter Containers: 2 Pil Hydrarg; Pil
Quiniae Sulph; Pil Opit; Sp Ammon
Ar: Chloroformum; 2 Ceratum Simp;
Opit; Pil Opit et Camph; Sp Vini Gale

From: history.amedd.army.mil/newsletters

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