Julian John Chisolm was born in Charleston, SC, on April 16, 1830. He graduated from the Medical College of the State of South Carolina in March 1850 and went on to spend two years studying, with an emphasis on eye surgery, at various hospitals in Paris. Returning to Charleston in 1852, Chisolm began a private practice and was very involved in the local medical community. In 1857 he was part of a group that founded the Charleston Preparatory Medical School, and with Joseph Palmer Cain established a free hospital for slaves. He became professor of surgery at the MCSSC in 1858 but returned to Europe in 1859 to visit hospitals in London and Paris. After war broke out between Italy and Austria, Chisolm traveled to Milan to observe the treatment of wounded soldiers from Magenta and Solferino. It was during this time that Chisolm gained knowledge and experience of military surgery. After returning to Charleston in 1860, Chisolm opened a private surgical hospital.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Chisolm treated wounded at the Battle of Fort Sumter. He was appointed the rank of surgeon on September 20, 1861 and was given the first commission as a medical officer to be issued in South Carolina, and some historians believe in the entire Confederacy. During the war Chisolm was stationed at the South Carolina Hospital in Manchester, VA, and in Charleston, Columbia, Chester and Newberry, SC. While in Virginia, Chisolm set up one of the first general hospitals in the Confederacy. He transferred to Charleston in November 1861 and established a medical purveyor’s office, which oversaw the receipt and distribution of surgical instruments and medicines to Confederate physicians in the field and in hospitals. In 1862 the purveyor’s office was moved to Columbia. Confederate Surgeon General Samuel Preston Moore granted Chisolm the authority to establish one of the first medical laboratories in the Confederacy in Columbia.
After the Civil War ended, Chisolm resumed his practice in Charleston and became president of the Medical Society of South Carolina, a position he held until December 1867. He was appointed Dean of the Medical College of the State of South Carolina in 1867 and served for a brief time. He relocated to Baltimore, MD in 1868 and joined the faculty of the University of Maryland and became Dean of its medical school. During his four years as dean, Chisolm served as a lecturer in military surgery, a professor of operative surgery, and clinical professor of diseases of the eye and ear. He became a full professor in eye and ear medicine in 1873, one of the first such professorships in the country. Chisolm held this position until 1896, two years after being seriously incapacitated by a stroke. It was also during this time that Chisolm was involved in the establishment of the Baltimore Eye and Ear Institute (1871) and the Presbyterian Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Charity Hospital (1877).
Two years after suffering a stroke, Chisolm moved from Baltimore to Petersburg, Virginia in 1898. He died there on November 1, 1903 and is buried in Baltimore.