Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Veterinary and Human Medicine in the Civil War (Part I of 2)

By Dr. Robert Altman,  4-9-14

Dr. Altman practiced as a veterinary doctor for many years. He broke his talk into two sections:
At the beginning of the 19th Century the few animal practitioners in America were uneducated or at best self-educated. Many were farriers and farmers with animal husbandry knowledge but no medical knowledge. At the beginning of the Civil War there were only 50 graduate veterinarians in the entire country, all graduates of European schools. The first veterinary school, in Lyons, France, was established in 1762. In contrast, the first veterinary college in the U.S. was opened n 1862 in Philadelphia. The college folded because of insufficient enrollment, before any student could graduate. The New York College of veterinary surgeons was founded in 1857 and graduated only two students in 1867. Sixty one years later, in 1918, when we entered World War I, only 867 graduated. The New York State Veterinary College at Cornell was established in 1876. Its first graduate was Daniel Elmer Salmon, who went on to discover Salmonella (which was named after him). Dr. Altman’s father was a veterinary doctor in the Veterinary Corps, serving in France as a 1st Lieutenant in World War I.

The start of the Civil War witnessed the formation of dozens of cavalry regiments requiring the service of thousands of horses. A War Department General Order in May of 1861 provided for one veterinary sergeant for every Union cavalry regiment but said nothing of the qualifications necessary for the post. As late as 1863 there were only six veterinarians in the Union army. The War Department increased the rank given to veterinary sergeants to sergeants-major and then changed the title to veterinary surgeons, who received a salary of $75 a month.

In 1863 Giesboro Point (now headquarters of the Defense Intelligence Agency), was the largest Union cavalry depot with 32 stables, 6,000 stalls and a veterinary hospital that could hold 2,650 injured animals. Due to overcrowding, disease was rampant and infectious diseases such as glanders (Pseudomonas mallei nka Burkholderia mallei), which caused fever, a thick nasal discharge, swelling of glands in the neck region and often death. The long incubation period of this disease delayed its diagnosis so it spread widely. At Giesboro over 17,000 horses died in three years.

A German immigrant, Gustavus Asche-Berg was trained as a veterinarian and practiced in the Old World for 13 years and then practiced human medicine in the new world before joining the Union cause in the late summer of 1861. He first joined a Pennsylvania unit as a human surgeon, but soon switched to the 4th New Cavalry as a veterinarian. By March of 1862 a New York cavalry unit had lost 160 of the 780 horses originally assigned to it. With a smaller horse supply the Confederate States established giant horse infirmaries that emphasized rehabilitation of disabled animals rather than just buying new ones.

It is truly ironic that in the Civil War animals were treated by human physicians and soldiers were treated by veterinarians.

From: civilwarroundtablepalmbeach.org


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