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.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Medicine at Sea

Excerpted from:

Surgeons aboard naval vessels during the Civil War were presented with unique circumstances and problems that their land based counterparts did not have to deal with.  The difficulty of performing surgery or any other medical task could be greatly amplified by the movements of the ship.

Additionally, army surgeons could usually find areas behind the front lines to stage their treatment areas, whereas navy surgeons had to perform their craft amidst the battle of the ship.  Navy surgeons working during a battle were in constant and immediate danger.  The creation of Union Hospital Ships allowed patients to be cared for on route to mainland hospitals.  Long rows of beds with surgical equipment were contained within the hull of the ship.  Nurses and surgeons would conduct necessary surgeries to save the patient or to stabilize them until they could reach a land hospital weeks later.

Prostitution During the Civil War

Excerpted from:

Prostitution experienced its largest growth during 1861-1865. Some historians have speculated that this growth can be attributed to a depression, and the need for women to support themselves and their families while their husbands were away at war. Other historians considered the growth of prostitution to be related to the women wanting to spread venereal disease to the opposing troops.

The term ‘public women’ was coined for the women that became prostitutes. There was moral outrage at this rising employment, and law officials classified the people they arrested as such.

The word “hooker” predates the Civil War, but became popularized by Union General Joseph Hooker.

After the outbreak of war, the number of brothels skyrocketed. “In 1864 there were 450 brothels in Washington, and over 75 brothels in nearby Alexandria, Virginia. A newspaper estimated there were 5000 public women in the District and another 2500 in Alexandria and Georgetown, bringing the total to 7500 by the war’s third year”. However, it was the towns located just outside the camps where prostitution was most prominent. These small towns were overrun by the sex trade when army troops set up nearby camps. One soldier wrote home to his wife, “It is said that one house in every ten is a bawdy house—it is a perfect Sodom.”

The most notorious area for prostitution was in Tennessee. Before the outbreak of the war, Nashville recorded 207 prostitutes; however, in 1863 reports claimed to have at least 1500 prostitutes. The area where these prostitutes could be found was known as Smokey Row.

In an infamous campaign to rid the city of the ‘public women’ Lt. Col. George Spalding loaded the women on to the steamboat Idahoe. The women were sent to Louisville, where they were not allowed off the ship and sent further along to Cincinnati. Many of the women became sick due to lack of food and they were again forced to turn around and return to Nashville.

Once they arrived back in Nashville, Lt. Col. Spaulding created a system of registration similar to European ones. He inadvertently created the first legal system of prostitution. This is the set of regulations he set up: 1. That a license be issued to each prostitute, a record of which shall be kept at this office, together with the number and street of her residence. 2. That one skillful surgeon be appointed as a Board of Examination whose duty it shall be to examine personally every week, each licensed prostitute, giving certificate soundness to those who are healthy and ordering those into hospital those who are in the slightest degree diseased. 3. That a building suitable for a hospital for the invalids be taken for that purpose, and that a weekly tax of fifty cents be levied on each prostitute for the purpose of defraying the expense of said hospital. 4. That all public women found plying their vocation without a license and certificate be at once arrested and incarcerated in the workhouse for a period of not less than thirty days.

Prostitution experienced a large growth and spread across the North and South, and was one of the only industries to cross enemy lines throughout the duration of the war.

Memorial Day History


Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

Local Observances Claim To Be First Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.

Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Ill., cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Carbondale was the wartime home of Gen. Logan. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.
Official Birthplace Declared In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.

It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

Some States Have Confederate Observances Many Southern states also have their own days for honoring the Confederate dead. Mississippi celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of April, Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, and Georgia on April 26. North and South Carolina observe it on May 10, Louisiana on June 3 and Tennessee calls that date Confederate Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day January 19 and Virginia calls the last Monday in May Confederate Memorial Day.

Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance, about 5,000 people. Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave — a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom has grown in many families to decorate the graves of all departed loved ones.

The origins of special services to honor those who die in war can be found in antiquity. The Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War over 24 centuries ago that could be applied today to the 1.1 million Americans who have died in the nation’s wars: “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.”

To ensure the sacrifices of America ’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission’s charter is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.

The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”

Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth: The First Military Casualty of the American Civil War


Colonel Ellsworth was the first military casualty of the American Civil War. On May 24, 1861, along with his New York City Volunteer Regiment (made up mostly of New York City Firemen) Colonel Ellsworth went to remove a large Confederate flag from the roof of the Marshall House Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. It was there that he was shot in the chest with a shotgun blast and killed.

Upon the return of his body to the Washington Navy Yard, Dr. Thomas Holmes visited President Lincoln and offered to embalm the body free of charge. He was subsequently given permission to do so. It is reported that Mrs. Lincoln was so impressed with Colonel Ellsworth's appearance, that at the death of President and Mrs. Lincoln's son, Willie, she requested that the same embalmer prepare their son's body.

Dr. William J. Bunnell's Embalming Shed Near the Battlefield at Fredericksburg


The accompanying photo shows one of Dr. Bunnell's  (1823-1891) embalming sheds near Fredericksburg, Virginia, December 1862.  The embalmer would use any building or shed available.  In the absence of a permanent structure he would pitch a tent.  There were days when it was not uncommon for there to be more than 100 bodies waiting to be embalmed.

As the "embalming surgeon" or "undertaker" contracted to prepare the body of the dead soldier, he would set up an embalming tent near the battlefield or hospital.  There would be times when there might be tens upon tens of bodies waiting to be embalmed and prepared for shipment home. The cost would vary with each embalmer.  For many families the cost was a hardship.  However, having a Christian burial at home for their loved one was worth the sacrifices that had to be made.  Of course, when the body arrived home there would be additional costs for the wake and service.

It is well to remember that because of horrific battle conditions and general confusion, it was very difficult to located the remains of an officer and almost impossible to locate the remains of a common soldier.  But still, the hopes of the family persisted.  It became more and more common for the soldiers to pin cards to their sack coat or shirt, or to wear a metal disk around the neck, upon which he would write his name and hometown.  If his body would be found the undertaker would know where to send it.

"Soldier's Heart" and "Shell Shock": Past Names for PTSD


PTSD is a relatively new diagnosis, but Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has been observed throughout decades of warfare. Here, tracing the history and our growing understanding of how the disorder affects soldiers is Matthew Friedman, executive director of the VA's National Center for PTSD. These excerpts are from extended FRONTLINE interviews.

Dr. Matthew Friedman
Exec. Dir., VA National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

…Can you talk about the term "Soldier's Heart" and how it connects to our understanding today about what is PTSD?

The term "Soldier's Heart" was first coined in the post-Civil War era when people were looking at these veterans returning from Civil War combat and trying to understand why they had been changed, because there was general recognition that they had been changed, and that many of those changes were not for the good. [And back then] there were two different models trying to explain this. One was a psychological model, and the other model was a physiological model.

Soldier's Heart comes from the physiological model, the observations that people's cardiovascular system in terms of their heart dynamics, their blood pressure, a pulse rate, seemed to be altered. We can now incorporate that under the PTSD construct, but starting with Soldier's Heart, Irritable Heart ... it was [Jacob Mendez] Da Costa, who I believe was a 19th-century cardiologist, who made these observations.

Then, in World War I, another physical explanation was shell shock, the notion being that being close to the big guns pounding out the artillery on both sides of the barbed wire in the trench warfare was somehow disrupting neuronal connections, so nerves were actually affected. Combat exhaustion, combat fatigue -- all of these are physical types of manifestations. Following the Gulf War, some people felt that the unexplained medical symptoms [were] on a continuum going back to Soldier's Heart, as you've asked.

The parallel trajectory is about the psychological models. And in the Civil War, it was very interesting; the psychological model was nostalgia. The notion was that a Vermonter who found himself with Sherman marching through Georgia who exhibited psychological symptoms was doing so because he was nostalgic for being back in Vermont. Being in this alien Georgia terrain was somehow psychologically so disconcerting that he was having these kinds of symptoms. So this was another model under the influence of the Freudian psychoanalytic school. This got transformed into notions of traumatic neurosis and on and on.

And what's really interesting about PTSD is that it incorporates both the physical manifestations -- and certainly our research has shown that people with PTSD have alterations in their physiology and even are at risk for medical problems as well as psychological problems -- and it incorporates, of course, the psychological symptoms. The first person who really discovered this was an American psychoanalyst [Abraham Kardiner] working with World War I veterans. ... And what he observed, in addition to the psychological distress that they were manifesting and that he was diagnosing as traumatic neurosis -- which was the term that was used for these symptoms in those days -- he also noticed that they were physiologically altered. Particularly he noticed that they were very jumpy, that unexpected loud noises would produce in them a startled reaction …

Tell me about the breakthrough concerning understanding how the mind and body connect.

Well, you know, this mind-body dualism that has infected medical thinking for centuries, since Descartes, if you will, is the notion that what happens in the mind doesn't affect the body. And hopefully everybody now recognizes that we're talking about the brain, and the brain is a part of the body. And it also is the part of the body that produces the phenomenology that we also talk about as mind.

And I'd say in the last 10, maybe 15 years, there has been extraordinary progress. And I'm proud to say that the National Center for PTSD has been at the forefront of this progress, showing that people with PTSD have alterations in certain structures of the brain. And they have alterations in how the brain processes information, particularly how it processes information perceived to be dangerous or information that might be reminiscent of a tour in Iraq or of other traumatic situations. So this really is becoming much clearer now in terms of why both the body and the brain are affected in people with PTSD and other post-traumatic problems.

The Youngest Soldier Wounded

By Kayla

Although army drummers were usually adult males, young boys were trained to take their place—some even starting as young as eight years old.

These boys were responsible for memorizing up to 40 beats to communicate to the troops. Some of the boys were carried on the shoulders of fellow soldiers, protected and endeared by their older companions. These young drummers were not intentionally put near dangerous areas of battles, but it wasn’t rare for them to receive injury as they marched with the troops to fight.

William Black is believed to be the youngest soldier wounded in the Civil War. When he was twelve years old, his left arm and hand were severely injured by an exploding shell as he marched.

From: spotlights.fold3.

Learn more about children in the Civil War at

The Youngest Wounded: Drummer Boys

Excerpted from:

Drummer boys were children recruited as drummers for use on the battlefield.

Until well into the 19th century, western armies recruited young boys to act as drummers. The drums were an important part of the battlefield communications system, with various drum rolls used to signal different commands from officers to troops. Although there were usually official age limits, these were often ignored; the youngest boys were sometimes treated as mascots by the adult soldiers. The life of a drummer boy appeared rather glamorous and as a result, boys would sometimes run away from home to enlist. Other boys may have been the sons or orphans of soldiers serving in the same unit. The image of a small child in the midst of battle was seen as deeply poignant by 19th-century artists, and idealised boy drummers were frequently depicted in paintings, sculpture and poetry.

Thirteen year old Charles King was the youngest soldier killed in the entire American Civil War (1861–1865). Charles enlisted in the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry with the reluctant permission of his father at the age of 12 years, 5 months and 9 days. On September 17, 1862 at the Battle of Antietam or Battle of Sharpsburg he was mortally wounded near or in the area of the East Woods, carried from the field and died three days later.

Twelve-year old drummer boy William Black was the youngest recorded person wounded in battle during the American Civil War. John Clem, who had unofficially joined a Union Army regiment at the age of 9 as a drummer and mascot, became famous as the ""The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga" where he played a "long roll" and shot a Confederate officer who had demanded his surrender.

An 11 year-old drummer in the Confederate Orphan Brigade, known only as "Little Oirish", was credited with rallying troops at the Battle of Shiloh by taking up the regimental colors at a critical moment.

Another noted drummer boy was Louis Edward Rafield of the 21st Alabama Infantry, Co. K, known as the "Mobile Cadets". He had enlisted at age 11 and while 12 at the Battle of Shiloh he somehow lost his drum; he then obtained an enemy drum and kept on going, thus earning the title of "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh".

Richmond Man Watched Lincoln Conspirators Hang

By Steve Martin, April 12, 2015

A man who lived out his life in Richmond witnessed the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the burial of John Wilkes Booth. He also guarded the conspirators before their executions.

One of them was the first woman ever to be executed by the United States government. She was Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt, a co-conspirator in the assassination of Lincoln. Surratt was a Southern sympathizer whose family relied on slave labor. She and the other subversives were pro-slavery white supremacists.

Richmond’s Harry Hoover guarded her. He later became a Palladium printer, who would retire in Richmond after the war. He wrote that he got to know Surratt well:

“I was in one of the detail of soldiers who guarded the Lincoln assassination conspirators, Mrs. Mary E. Surratt, David E. Herold, George A. Atzerodt, and Lewis (Payne) Powell… Some people have asked me why they executed Mrs. Surratt. She kept a rooming house on H Street, a place where the blinds and shades were always closed. No one ever came out of the house or went in. It was discovered in an alley back of her house… [that there] was a trapdoor which led into the house by passage underground. Here is where Booth, Herold, (Payne) Powell and Atzerodt planned the assassination of Mr. Lincoln and Secretary Seward and that is why she was executed, which in my opinion, was just… I remember her as a large boned, large bodied woman who could have easily passed herself upon a stranger as a man. Her forehead was broad, high and strong… Her nose was large, her mouth large and firm, her chin prominent and aggressive. Her manners were ladylike and she was wonderfully self-possessed.”

“Lincoln’s successor, President Johnson, approved the military commission’s report on July 5, 1865 that sentenced, in two days, Mary Surratt and the others ‘to be hanged by the neck until they were dead.’ Many people, including the hangman himself, expected Johnson to commute Surratt’s sentence to life imprisonment.

“The conspirators were to be executed at 1:30 p.m., on July 7.

“At noon on July 6, Mary Surratt was informed she would be hanged the next day. She wept profusely and was then joined shortly by a Roman Catholic priest, her daughter Anna, and a few friends. She was allowed to wear looser handcuffs and leg irons during this period, but was kept hooded.

“She spent the night praying and refused breakfast. Her friends were ordered to leave her at 10:00 on the morning of July 7, and her heavy manacles were replaced. She spent the final hours of her life with her priest.

“On July 7, 1865, around 1:15 p.m., a procession, headed by the nearly fainting Mary Surratt and consisting of the four condemned prisoners and many guards, walked through the courtyard past the condemned's newly dug graves, set up in plain sight of the gallows. They were led up the thirteen steps to the gallows where the four were to be hanged. Their hands were manacled and legs chained with heavy irons and 75-pound balls. Surratt had to be supported by two soldiers.

“The actual gallows was on a ten-foot-high platform. The hangman had made Surratt's noose with five turns instead of the required seven because he had thought that the government should never hang a woman.

“The condemned were seated in chairs while their chains and shoes were removed and their wrists were tied together behind them, their arms were bound to their sides, and their ankles and thighs tied together.

“Instead of rope, white cloth was used.

“Surratt wore a long black dress and black veil. The doomed party was attended by several members of the clergy. In addition to the military personnel and various officials, one hundred civilian spectators with tickets were present to watch them die.

“From the scaffold, Powell pleaded, ‘Mrs. Surratt is innocent. She doesn't deserve to die with the rest of us!’

“The condemned were then moved up to the platform break, nooses were placed around their necks, and thin white cotton hoods were placed over their heads.

“Mary Surratt's last words, spoken to a guard as he put the noose around her neck, were purported to be, ‘please don't let me fall. Please don’t let me fall.’

“General Winfield Scott Hancock read out the death sentences in alphabetical order.

“Four members of Company F of the Fourteenth Veteran Reserves knocked out the supporting post, releasing the platform.

“The scaffolding of Mary Surratt’s life was dropped out from under her. She and the conspirators dropped about five or six feet, which killed Herold and Atzerodt instantly, but failed to kill Powell and John Surratt, who both slowly strangled to death in over five minutes of an agonizing expiration by slow strangulation. Mary Surratt was reported to have gagged out loud as she strained against her bonds, dangling in the noose. The official report states that she died the easiest.

“The body of Mary Surratt and those of the convicted conspirators were allowed to hang for 25 minutes, then unhooded so that their faces could be seen, and allowed to hang a further ten minutes before they were examined and pronounced dead.

“All of the bodies were placed on coffins, which were actually gun boxes, beside the gallows. They were again declared dead by doctors, and unceremoniously buried with their hoods back on and a glass vial containing their names to help identify the bodies for posterity.

“Several pieces of the rope that had ended Surratt's life and locks of her hair were sold as souvenirs to moneygrubbers.”

Four years later, Mary’s daughter Anna, pleaded with the federal government successfully for the return of her mother's remains. Today, Mary Surratt's body is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Image 1:  Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surrat

Image 2: Mary Surratt on the Gallows



By Ron Kennedy, M.D.

Until the turn of the 20th century, podiatrists were separate from organized medicine. They were independently licensed physicians who treated feet, ankle and related leg structures. Lewis Durlacher was the first to recognize the need for a protected profession. There are records of the King of France employing a personal podiatrist, as did Napoleon. President Abraham Lincoln suffered greatly with his feet and chose a podiatrist (then called chiropodists) who not only cared for the president’s feet, but also was sent by President Lincoln on confidential missions to confer with leaders of the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War. The first society of chiropodists was established in New York in 1895 with the first school opening in 1911.

Podiatry or Podiatric Medicine is devoted to the study and treatment of disorders of the foot, ankle, and the knee, leg and hip, i.e. the "lower extremity." The professional care of feet was in existence in ancient Egypt. Egyptologists believe tending feet probably spanned the whole of Egyptian civilization. Corns and calluses were described by Hippocrates who recognised the need to physically reduce hard skin and removal of the cause. He invented skin scrapers for this purpose. Aulus Cornelius Celsus, a Roman scientist and philosopher, gave corns their name..It may be removed in the course of time by paring away the prominent part constantly with a scalpel or rubbing it down with pumice. The same thing can be done with a callus.

Podiatrists are devoted to the study and medical treatment of disorders of the lower extremities. The term "Podiatry" originated in the United States and is now the accepted term in the English speaking world for all graduates of podiatric medical schools who have earned one of the following degrees: D.P.M., D.P., B.Pod., Pod.B, or Pod.D.

Image: A soldier's boot from Gettysburg


How Boston Embraced the Booth Brothers

By Christopher Klein, 4-12-15

ON APRIL 15, 1865, a shroud of grief descended upon Boston as the city awoke to learn of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Flags that had been fluttering proudly since Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox just days before now drooped sorrowfully at half-staff. Miles of black crepe draped from buildings that only hours earlier sported an outburst of patriotic bunting. Merchants placed lithographs of the martyred president in their storefront windows and shuttered their doors — with the exception of those doing a brisk business selling black gloves, black ribbons, and other merchandise for mourning.

The bells of Boston’s churches tolled for an hour at the news of the president’s murder, and the assassin’s older brother heard every peal of anguish as he stared at his cold breakfast. For as John Wilkes Booth was taking center stage in an American drama at Ford’s Theatre the night before, Edwin Booth stepped before the footlights of the packed Boston Theatre to star in “The Iron Chest.” Little did the country’s most famous thespian know that the lines he had exclaimed as a villain draped in black velvet — “Where is my honor now? Mountains of shame are piled upon me!” — would become his searing reality the following morning.

Just three columns to the left of the breathless page-one report on the assassination in that morning’s Boston Daily Advertiser blared an advertisement trumpeting Edwin Booth’s scheduled matinee performance as “Hamlet” to conclude his successful three-week Boston engagement. The show, of course, would not go on. “A fearful calamity is upon us,” Boston Theatre manager Henry Jarrett wrote to his star, informing him of the performance’s cancellation. “The President of the United States has fallen by the hand of an assassin, and I am shocked to say, suspicion points to one nearly related to you as the perpetrator of this horrid deed.”

Suspicions of complicity enveloped the Booth family. In Cincinnati, hands that had the night before applauded the performance of Junius Brutus Booth Jr. as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” now tore down playbills branded with his name. A vengeful mob stormed his hotel only to be turned away by a quick-thinking clerk who falsely claimed that the eldest Booth brother had already skipped town. Not until two days later could friends safely smuggle Junius out of the hotel and onto a train bound for Philadelphia, where his sister, Asia Booth Clarke, had been placed under virtual house arrest.

With John Wilkes still on the run and news spreading that the assassin had visited Boston just days earlier, Edwin increasingly feared for his safety. If the Booths found themselves under siege elsewhere, what would happen to him in the abolitionist hotbed of Boston? The answer turned out to be quite unexpected.

JOHN WILKES BOOTH had been a familiar — and even popular — figure in Boston’s theater scene. Although lacking Edwin’s talent, he regularly appeared on the city’s stages during the Civil War and even purchased an undeveloped plot on Commonwealth Avenue in the newly created Back Bay neighborhood. The last starring engagement of his life — a five-week run — came at the Boston Museum on Tremont Street in the spring of 1864.

Susan Wilson, house historian of the Omni Parker House and author of “Heaven By Hotel Standards: The History of the Omni Parker House,” notes a bellman saw John Wilkes eating breakfast at the iconic hotel on the morning of April 6, 1865, and an eyewitness also told the Boston Evening Transcript that he spotted the assassin at the adjacent Floyd & Edwards shooting gallery where he “practiced pistol firing in various difficult ways such as between his legs, over his shoulder, and under his arm.” Whether John Wilkes met with Edwin on the trip is unknown, but by this point the Booths — like the country itself — were a house divided. Not only did John Wilkes sympathize with the rebels, but he had met with Confederate Secret Service agents at the Parker House on July 26, 1864, to discuss a plot to kidnap Lincoln.

Edwin’s Boston roots ran even deeper than his brother’s. At age 15, he made his professional stage debut at the Boston Museum, and his lead performance in “A New Way to Pay Old Debts” eight years later at the Boston Theatre cemented his stardom. On the same stage in 1858, he fell in love with his “Romeo and Juliet” co-star and future wife, Mary Devlin, and he mourned over her dead body five years later in a rented Washington Street home in then-pastoral Dorchester.

Edwin befriended leading statesmen, religious leaders, journalists, and abolitionists, including Julia Ward Howe, who referred to him as “Great B.” Those powerful friends rallied to his side on April 15. “There is not a more devoted friend to the Union than Edwin Booth,” the Boston Post assured its readers. The Rev. George H. Hepworth told the Boston Evening Transcript that Edwin “has always been a firm and unflinching supporter of the administration, casting the only vote of his life, last November, for Mr. Lincoln.” Even the Massachusetts governor, John Andrew, vouched for the actor’s patriotism.

After deputy US marshals found nothing incriminating in a search of Edwin’s trunks, they granted him permission to leave Boston. On April 17 the actor returned to his New York City home, where he holed up under a barrage of hate mail and death threats.

Compared to other family members, though, Edwin got off easy. The youngest Booth brother, Joseph, was briefly jailed. Junius and John Clarke, Asia’s husband, were arrested in Philadelphia and spent weeks incarcerated with other suspected conspirators in Washington’s Old Capitol Prison. On his forced journey to the nation’s capital on April 25, Junius said little except that he “wished John had been killed before the assassination, for the sake of the family name.” The manhunt for his brother ended the next day when a Union soldier named Boston Corbett shot him dead. Edwin admitted the news was “a blessed relief.”

All the Booths were eventually released from jail, but the family name had become so toxic that Asia and her husband eventually fled to Europe in 1868. Edwin and Junius, however, eventually found an unlikely refuge much closer to home.

SHORTLY AFTER EDWIN ended his exile from acting in January 1866, he purchased the Boston Theatre’s lease. On Sept. 3, 1866, the tragedian finally set foot on the floorboards he last prowled on the night of the assassination. Before Edwin could perform the title role in “Othello,” men shouted, applauded, and stamped their feet for nearly two full minutes while ladies waved their handkerchiefs. The sold-out audience’s thunderous reaction confirmed the Boston Evening Transcript’s report that Edwin still “enjoys a popularity greater than any other actor.” Even though Boston had grieved so deeply for Lincoln, it did not hold the sins of John Wilkes against his brother.

Edwin persuaded his older brother to come to Boston to be his stage manager, and Junius — caught between one brother’s fame and another’s infamy — found a comfortable niche in the city’s theatrical community. Junius fell in love with Boston as well as with one of its leading ladies, Agnes Perry. Two years after their 1867 marriage, the pair joined the growing summer colony of thespians and writers in Manchester (now Manchester-by-the-Sea) and built a seaside cottage above the broad crescent of Singing Beach.

In 1878 Junius and Agnes built quite the addition to their cottage — the sprawling 106-room Masconomo House, which became one of the North Shore’s premier summer resorts. With its bathhouses, tennis courts, bowling alleys, billiard tables, and 300-person dining room overlooking a 12-acre emerald lawn that kissed the sapphire sea, the Masconomo House became a playpen for Boston’s rich and famous. “It is a good facsimile of some of those charming hostelries to be seen around the shores of the Swiss lakes among the Alps,” gushed one 1880 North Shore guidebook.

When Junius died in 1883, his Boston-area ties were cemented for eternity with his burial not in the Booth family plot in Baltimore, but in Manchester’s Rosedale Cemetery. In the same year, Edwin settled among the Brahmins on Beacon Hill after the death of his second wife. The wrought-iron balconies and purple panes of glass in the drawing-room windows of the elegant brick home he purchased at 29 Chestnut St. firmly established him as a proper Bostonian.

Four years later, he sold the home and returned to New York, where he died on June 7, 1893. But Edwin, liked Junius, chose not to rest in peace in Baltimore but in Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery next to his first wife and infant son.

In one of history’s eeriest coincidences, just as the organist struck the opening chords of Chopin’s haunting funeral march at Edwin’s service, three floors of Ford’s Theatre — which had been purchased by the federal government in 1866 and converted to War Department offices — collapsed into the basement. Twenty-two federal employees died. Rescue workers continued to pull mangled bodies from the rubble of Ford’s Theatre as gravediggers in Cambridge, bathed in the golden glow of a glorious sunset, shoveled dirt on top of Edwin’s antique oak coffin. Even in death, Edwin was forced to share the stage with memories of his infamous brother.

Christopher Klein is the author of “Strong Boy: The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan, America’s First Sports Hero.”

Image: From left: John Wilkes Booth, Edwin Booth, and Junius Booth Jr. in “Julius Caesar” in New York City in 1864. As actors, both John and Edwin had been popular with Boston audiences.


Embalming Exhibit Preserves Gory Part of Civil War History

By David Dishneau, August 2003

The table is a peeling wooden door laid flat across two upright barrels. The deceased is a bearded young man, his lips and eyelids blue, bare feet extending beyond a white sheet. And hand-pumping chemicals into the body is Dr. Richard Burr, a 19th century Army surgeon who found opportunity in the flourishing practice of embalming fallen Civil War soldiers.

The exhibit is the latest addition to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., a permanent installation of photographs, artifacts and life-size mannequins documenting America's embrace of full-body preservation.

"It's just gruesome enough to get the point across of how serious this was, but we've down-played the goriness enough to not have people run away in revulsion," says George Wunderlich, the museum's executive director.

Embalming dates to ancient Egypt but it wasn't widely used in the United States until the Civil War, to preserve soldiers' remains for shipment home. Before then, chemical preservation of human tissue was used mainly for specimens, says Terry Reimer, the museum's research director. When someone died, undertakers tried to keep the body chilled to slow decay until burial. Refrigerated "holding coffins", with ice chambers on top and drainage systems below, could be rented for viewing.

Civil War battles killed huge numbers of men, many from places far from the battlefields. Some surgeons and pharmacists familiar with tissue preservation became embalmers, following the troops and offering, for fees of up to $100, to prepare bodies for the long journey home. It could take several days for the remains of those killed in Sharpsburg, Md., or Gettysburg, Pa., to arrive in New England or the Deep South. Reimer said railroads would only accept bodies that were odour-free, which meant they had to be either embalmed, disinfected, or sealed in vessels such as the Fisk burial case, and air-tight, cast iron shell.

James W. Lowry, author of Embalming Surgeons of the Civil War, says most of the 529,000 soldiers killed in the war were simply buried near where they died, often wrapped in a blanket. The 10,000 to 40,000 who were embalmed were largely officers. "After one of these large battles, the embalming surgeons, once they got to the battlefield, would go out and bring in the bodies of the officers," says Lowry, a Charleston, W.Va., funeral director. Because officers generally came from wealthier families, "they knew if they embalmed them, they'd get paid." The embalmers often prepared the bodies immediately, before contacting the families, he says.

Reimer says some pharmacists stored embalmed bodies by standing them up against a wall. One, in Washington, D.C., displayed a uniformed corpse in the window for several days, she says.
The museum exhibit recreates a photograph of Burr demonstrating the procedure. A black rubber tube runs from a canister of preservative perhaps arsenic or creosote because formaldehyde hadn't been discovered yet into an artery in the subject's right armpit. Reimer says Civil War embalmers didn't drain their subjects many had bled out on the battlefield anyway. They simply pumped the preservative into an artery and moved on.

The practice, though less thorough than today's techniques, was effective, Lowry says. Draining blood from corpses became more common towards the end of the war; President Abraham Lincoln's body was drained before embalming.

The 7-year-old museum is the only one in the country dedicated to the medical side of the Civil War, which also produced advancements in anaesthesia, nursing, ambulances and mobile hospitals. Some students in a group of eighth-graders on a recent tour avoided looking at the display, but Elaine English, one of their chaperones, couldn't forget it. "I'm sure I'll see it tonight in my dreams," she says.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015



Medical supplies were transported to the battle areas as part of the general field train, and carried to the front lines in ambulances, or on pack mules, or on the shoulders of the regimental hospital stewards.

The major effective drugs in use were quinine and morphine. Whiskey was frequently administered to the wounded to induce "reaction", and as the solvent for quinine sometimes administered daily as a suppressant of malaria. Chloroform, sometimes mixed with small amounts of ether, served as an anaesthetic. Among other drugs used were opium, pepsin, various emetics and cathartics, iodine, and calomel.

Dysentery, one of the most important diseases from the viewpoint of both high morbidity and mortality, was treated with oil of turpentine, among many other substances, and ipecac was administered for enteritis; probably neither of these was very effective.

The paratyphoid fevers were not separately recognised and diagnosed; the term "typhomalarial fever" was used to describe debatable cases of prevalent remittent fever.

The lack of preventive measures and specific therapy for treatment of the various diseases became a major factor in the outcome of some battles, and at times, of entire campaigns.

Image: Replica of a circa 1864 army whiskey barrel

Surgery in the Field


The wounded soldier who received medical attention in the field (and base hospital) had still to run the considerable risk of surgery. After ambulance facilities were available, field hospitals were sometimes overwhelmed by major battle casualties. The limited number of surgeons worked around the clock and haste and neglect were unavoidable under such circumstances.

Anaesthetics, generally chloroform, were available, but there was no notion of aseptic procedure. As W W Keen recalled some years later:

"We operated in old blood-stained and often pus-stained coats with undisinfected hands we used undisinfected instruments and marine sponges which had been used in prior pus cases and only washed in tap water."

Nearly all wounds became infected. In the case of chest or abdominal wounds, surgeons probed with their fingers, prescribed morphine and tried to stop external bleeding. Otherwise there was little that could be done. Death within three days from haemorrhage and/or infection was the normal result. The average Union mortality from gunshot wounds of the chest was 62 percent of cases and from wounds of the abdomen, no less than 87 percent. By way of contrast, only about 3 percent of all American wounded failed to survive in World War II.

The chances for survival following an injury to the extremities were better though not good. Joints were resected and limbs amputated with alarming frequency, often in an attempt to prevent the spread of infection. It was usually the ensuing infection, which caused death. The so-called "surgical fevers" included tetanus, erysipelas, hospital gangrene, and septicaemia.

Image: A medical kit during the Civil War, with scissors, gauze and needles

Civil War Surgery

By Pvt. Hugh R Martyr, 20th Maine

The War broke out during a transition period in medical knowledge. Anaesthesia had been used since the 1840's and thus allowed operations to be performed that hitherto would have been impossible. However there was no knowledge or understanding about the spread of infection until the 1870's. Thus, able to carry out major surgery, medical staff unwittingly caused serious problems with infection.

By far, the most common of wounds to be dealt with, were caused by gunshot. The Minié Ball made a hideous wound, often changing shape as it entered the body and dragging in dirty clothing; upon hitting bone it caused shattering which in turn increased the severity of the damage. Approximately 71 per cent of gunshot wounds were on arms, legs, hands or feet.
There was a difference of opinion amongst Union surgeons about the need to amputate damaged limbs or attempt to repair and try to save them, however, for the staff at the field hospitals time was short. If in doubt the limb was removed. Abdominal wounds were far more serious and the percentage of soldiers surviving them was far less than those losing a limb; bowel and stomach wounds being the most serious.

One of the problems for the wounded was that the transportation from the primary care station to a general hospital was crude and unsanitary; if the wound had not been infected on the battlefield it was almost certainly contaminated en route in ambulance, train or boat. The transportation personnel were more interested in speed of delivery than the comfort of the soldiers in their care.

The officers in charge of advance field hospitals confined the treatment of the wounded to stopping haemorrhage and to bandaging. Tourniquets or compresses were applied, liquor in the form of whiskey or brandy given to counteract shock, and the patient was usually given an opium pill or a dose of morphine. Bandaging of wounds became less common as the war progressed as it was found that they became soiled and contaminated and were causing problems as they were cut away. Splints to be used on fractured limbs were usually cobbled together using fence rails or board, ambulances were furnished with "Smith's Anterior" a suspended splint in ambulances but many staff did not know how to use it correctly. One contribution to medical science was the Hodgen Splint, invented in 1863 by Surgeon J Hodgen. This was a splint that provided room for examination, prevented contraction and allowed drainage of the wounds without disturbing the break. The basic design is still in use today.

The wounded were brought to the field hospital and laid out on straw; the less serious cases would be dealt with by a "dressing surgeon" who together with a medical orderly would operate a triage system passing over the mortally wounded and getting the most needy to the operating table. Pressure of the work load and the primitive conditions of the field units often meant that recommended procedures often were by-passed. It was thought that it was important to operate before infection could set in, but to avoid work whilst the patient was in deep shock. However, there was not the luxury of time available to the surgeons, the operating table had hardly been swilled down after one case before the next was brought in.

The management of the cases after surgery was relatively simple and consisted of rest, the relief of pain by opiates, doses of liquor or quinine to "support the system" and the application of cold compresses to keep down inflammation.

These quick operations broke all the rules of modern asepsis, cleanliness was almost impossible and the field stations soon became a gruesome spectacle as the surgeons worked through the hundreds of cases brought to them. From a Spotsylvania hospital a surgeon wrote home to his wife that he had been steadily operating for four days and that his feet were badly swollen. "It does not seem as though I could take a knife in my hand today. Yet there are a hundred more cases waiting for me. The poor fellows beg for the chance to have an arm or leg taken off. It is a scene of horror as I ever saw."

Pain relief came in the form of opiates; in the state of shock and under the influence of the anaesthetic the pain of the initial surgery was mitigated. It was as shock subsided and infections took hold that the misery of pain was suffered. The poor handling and rough transportation did not help in any way to ease the wounded soldiers plight. Opium was administered in tablet form and often morphine was rubbed into the wound. The hypodermic syringe became more common in the later years of the war and morphine was then injected.

The problem of infection was never really solved; surgeons had little understanding of the healing process and thought that the pus-producing infections were the normal process of tissue repair. When wounds healed without this action as it is now expected to do so, it was thought unusual. Thus large amounts of fatalities occurred due to Septicaemia, Pyaemia and the now unknown "hospital gangrene". The doctors at the time expected this as they were common in the civilian hospitals at the time.

Surgeons reports and letters tell a dreadfully gruesome account of the work that they had to do, the lack of water, the untrained orderlies and the work load are all mentioned time and time again.

I would be wrong to dismiss the efforts of the doctors and medical staff as being poor, throughout the whole of the war huge resources and improvements were made. The medical budget of 1864 exceeded the total amount of money spent on the pre-war army. Medical knowledge was on the verge of major breakthroughs and I consider the numbers of wounded that survived horrific injuries that would even now cause major concern, a testament to the efforts of the Medical Staff and the Sanitary Commission.


Learn more about Civil War surgery at

Private Bruce Shipman and the Ambulance Corps of the 76th New York

By Robert Moore, Jr.

I take great pride in writing this story of my great-great grandfather, Bruce Shipman, for your journal, and I know that he would be very pleased to be included. He considered his service in the Civil War with the 76th New York as the greatest single event of his life. I literally would not exist if not for certain twists of fate involving the Civil War, foremost among them Shipman's capture at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 — more about that later. But I think the most compelling aspect of the story is that Bruce was such an ordinary guy. He was of average height and build, came from obscurity, did his duty during the war and went back to obscurity afterwards, like thousands of other men. The most unusual thing about his Civil War experience was his participation in the ambulance corps, a very small group of men who had an affect on nearly every man in the regiment at one time or another.

Bruce Shipman was born in 1839 in Springfield, New York, not far from Cooperstown and Cherry Valley. By the age of 16, he was living with a family named Cooper, working for them as a hired hand on their farm. In 1860, he married Nancy Keller, the daughter of a lockkeeper on the Erie Canal, and soon their first child, Ruby, was born.

In April 1861, South Carolina forces fired on Federal Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, but as far as I can tell, Bruce Shipman knew little of politics. He lived with his wife and baby daughter on another man's land, tending fields and livestock which were not his own. He probably read about slavery, states' rights and secession, but what impact these issues made on him remain unknown. Life in Springfield, New York, went on, as a nation was split in two and went to war.

The Union loss at Manassas, Virginia in July 1861 signaled the beginning of a much longer war than anyone had expected. The people of Bruce Shipman's community began to raise a group of soldiers to go and fight. However, the community was small, and as related in the official history of the 76th New York, the Cherry Valley recruits were consolidated with a much larger group of soldiers from the Cortland area into the 76th. The Cherry Valley group composed companies H,I and K; Bruce Shipman served in Company K.

It would be difficult to discover why Shipman decided to join the army. Patriotism, perhaps. It is doubtful that he was an abolitionist or felt strongly about the slavery issue. He enlisted on November 1, 1861, for a period of three years. He was 22 years old, stood 5' 8 1/2" tall, and listed his profession as "farmer." As of November 6, he put on the uniform of a private in the 76th New York Regiment.

Bruce Shipman drilled throughout November and December. On January 17, 1862, the regiment marched to Albany, where they presented their colors before the state Assembly. The troops were then marched across the frozen Hudson River to the Railroad depot at Renssalaer. They arrived in New York City the following day at noon. By the end of January they were on their way to Washington, D.C., where they served in Fort Massachusetts. During the peninsula campaign in the spring of 1862, the 76th stayed in Fredericksburg, Virginia, repairing railroads.

Bruce Shipman got his first taste of battle with the regiment on August 21st, as the unit was held in reserve while an artillery duel was waged over their heads. A week later, the 76th came under heavy shell fire for the first time at Gainesville, Virginia. Shipman fought as a line soldier at Gainesville and South Mountain, Maryland. But by September 17, 1862, at Antietam, Shipman had been detailed to serve in the newly created ambulance corps. It is difficult to imagine today, but at the onset of the Civil War, there was no system in place for the evacuation of the wounded from the battlefield. Ambulances and their hired drivers were under the command of the Quartermaster's Department; stretcher-bearers, consisting of the regimental band and misfit soldiers, were answerable to the regimental surgeons, with no coordination between the two groups.

Union surgeon Jonathan Letterman, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, changed this by establishing an ambulance corps in an order dated August 2, 1862. Under the Letterman system, three ambulances under the command of a sergeant were assigned to each regiment of infantry, two to a troop of cavalry, and one to each artillery battery. Ideally, each ambulance was a four wheeled wagon pulled by four horses, attended by a driver and two privates to act as stretcher-bearers. Each ambulance could carry four wounded men at a time. A second Lieutenant commanded the ambulances of the brigade. By the time of the battle of Antietam, the 76th New York had a sergeant and nine responsible privates detailed to man its three regimental ambulances. Each of these men carried a colt army revolver as a sidearm. The ambulances were gathered and parked by brigade; since the 76th New York was in the Second Brigade, First Corps (composed of six regiments), the brigade ambulance park would have had 18 ambulances attended by 180 men. A medicine wagon and driver, two medical officers, and a hospital steward accompanied each division (composed of two brigades). The Army of the Potomac had an average total of 650 medical officers. Letterman insisted on daily inspections of the ambulances, horses, stretchers, water kegs and other equipment.

The men selected for duty in the ambulance corps were detached from their regiments as a result of their interest, efficiency, and good moral character. No man could be removed from this duty unless relieved by the medical director of his corps. A man found to be unfit for ambulance corps duty would be put back into the ranks immediately. Ambulance corpsman were distinguished in the field by a 2" green stripe around the hat, and a 2" green half-chevron on each sleeve. Soldiers not in the ambulance corps were forbidden to leave the ranks of their units to carry wounded men to the rear. No officer or enlisted man was allowed to use the ambulances for transportation, for themselves or their belongings (this is one reason why the ambulance corpsmen carried sidearms).

Letterman's system was first tested at Antietam, where it functioned well. In battle after battle thereafter, the efficient ambulance corps evacuated thousands of wounded men from harm's way. Sometimes the wounded men were moved while still under enemy fire, but most of the time a lull, truce, nightfall, or the end of a battle was when the bulk of the evacuations were performed. The battles became progressively more brutal each time the armies clashed. Bruce Shipman picked barely living men up off the fields of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. By the end of 1862 just 225 of the original 1,000 men of the 76th New York were still in the ranks.

On July 1, 1863, the 348 men and 27 officers of the 76th New York entered the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, along with the First Army Corps under General Reynolds. Within a half hour of fighting, 27 men were dead, including Major Grover, and 124 were wounded. The work of the ambulance corps was interrupted, however, as Confederate forces overwhelmed the Union troops, driving them back through the town. Many men were captured, including Bruce Shipman. Held prisoner during the remainder of the battle, Shipman was lucky, for he was not taken south with the retreating army of General Lee on July 4. Instead, he went along with the other prisoners captured on July 1 to a "parole camp" in Baltimore, Maryland. Most Union soldiers taken on subsequent days of the Gettysburg battle were forced to accompany the Confederate Army in their retreat, and eventually ended up at Andersonville.

Bruce Shipman, however, was somehow able to get a furlough from the Baltimore parole camp before his exchange came through, and in August 1863, he went home to upstate New York. His reunion with his wife Nancy and daughter Ruby must have been bittersweet, for his duty would be to return to the army and complete his three-year enlistment, only about half over. The importance of this visit home to me is inestimable, however, since my great grandmother was conceived during the autumn of 1863. In early October, Bruce Shipman returned to the parole camp, was exchanged, and returned to the 76th New York, encamped at Culpepper, Virginia. He witnessed the battle of Mine Run, and the execution of Private Winslow Allen for desertion in December 1863. Pvt. Shipman was given several special duties when active fighting tapered off each winter. At various times he served as the regimental mail carrier, pioneer, and the Major's orderly. Perhaps he was good with horses due to his years as a farm laborer.

On May 5, 1864, Bruce Shipman was lucky once more, as the armies clashed in the Battle of the Wilderness. Because he was detailed to the ambulance corps, he was not in the advanced position of the 76th, which was surrounded by Confederate forces. Nearly half the regiment was captured and sent to southern prisons; enlisted men went to Andersonville.

As Lee's troops dug in for the final act of the war at Petersburg, members of the ambulance corps, including Bruce Shipman, were assigned to the stationary hospitals constructed at City Point, Virginia. An efficient evacuation system for the wounded was instituted, with trains bringing casualties to the James River, where they were loaded on steam hospital vessels for the short trip to City Point. As soon as the army had settled into the routine of Petersburg, Bruce Shipman went AWOL. I believe that he somehow made his way home to Springfield, New York to see his new baby daughter, Jennie, my great grandmother. Perhaps there were complications with the birth, or trouble on the farm. Perhaps his commanding officers even turned a blind eye, or gave him a pass. Officially, he was listed as being AWOL, the only instance of this serious infraction in his entire war record. Within a month he returned to camp at City Point, now with only six months left to go on his enlistment.

The wounded continued to pour into the hospitals. The 76th N.Y. lost 341 men during the war; 175 in combat, 166 of disease. During the course of the war, 110,070 Union troops died in battle, and 94,000 Confederates. The total number of deaths from all causes was approximately 258,000, or 1/10th of the U.S. population at that time.

On November 5, 1864, after three years of service, Bruce Shipman's tour of duty was legally over. He had done his duty to his country, and the end of the war was in sight. He was at home in Springfield, New York when Lee surrendered to Grant five months later. He left the army to return to his family in New York State, and was given his $100 bounty. Perhaps he used it to move his family from the Cooper farm to a farm of their own. By 1865, state census records show that the Shipmans owned their own 200 acre spread. Bruce and Nancy Shipman went on to have five more children, for a total of seven.

Bruce Shipman was returned to obscurity. He died in 1927 at age 88 in Richfield Springs, 20 miles from where he was born. The Civil War, and his role in it, would remain the single most exciting event of his life. The same was true for literally thousands of men, north and south. All returned to the struggles of day to day life after the war. Bruce was luckier than many. He survived the war without a serious mishap, unwounded, un-mutilated, and able to work until the day he died.

I have spent many years researching this story, which was compiled from the official history of the 76th New York, Bruce Shipman's war record and pension papers from the National Archives, census data, the family Bible, and books and articles about the U.S. Army medical department and Civil War ambulance corps. It was my privilege in the late 1980s to work for the National Park Service at the Gettysburg battlefield, and live in a pre-Civil War home in the town. Although my major historical interest is not the Civil War, my ancestor's participation in that conflict makes the war seem very real, and not so distant, to me.

Image: Ambulance corps of the 57th New York - National Archives photo


Civil War Hospital Wooden Lower Leg Splint


This is a factory molded piece of walnut used by physicians during the Civil War period to splint broken or injured lower legs (tibia-fibula). Soldiers would wear these for weeks or months while healing in larger hospitals in Washington and Philadelphia. Made by various manufacturers, they have a wonderfully smooth & exact construction that suits the natural curve of anatomy to the area where they are intended. These came in different sizes, as did soldiers, so there are 3, 4, 5, etc, getting progressively longer and wider. This is a number 6, as we find marked on its backside along with the manufacturer's marking: DAY, Bennington, VT." Such items were made for wrists and knees too.

Civil War Amputation Knife Set


Three bright, shiny, razor-sharp blades from Charriere of Paris in a custom-fit wooden case. Such blades were imported from both France and England during the Civil War. They were used to quickly slice through muscle, tendon, fascia and flesh to get to the bone during limb amputations. A very neat and well preserved set. These are the types of instruments that Jack-the-Ripper used in England later in the century...

The Autopsy of President Abraham Lincoln


On April 14, 1865, the assassin John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln during a performance at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC. After the President passed away on the following morning, his body was placed in a temporary coffin covered with an American flag, and returned by hearse to the White House, accompanied by a cavalry escort. At the White House, an autopsy was performed by Army Surgeons Edward Curtis and Joseph Janvier Woodward. Also in attendance were Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes and a few military officers, medical men and friends. During the autopsy Mary Todd Lincoln sent a messenger to request a lock of hair; a tuft was clipped from the head for her.

Dr. Curtis described the autopsy in a letter to his mother:

"The room…contained but little furniture: a large, heavily curtained bed, a sofa or two, bureau, wardrobe, and chairs….Seated around the room were several general officers and some civilians, silent or conversing in whispers, and to one side, stretched upon a rough framework of boards and covered only with sheets and towels, lay—cold and immovable—what but a few hours before was the soul of a great nation. The Surgeon General was walking up and down the room when I arrived and detailed me the history of the case. He said that the President showed most wonderful tenacity of life, and, had not his wound been necessarily mortal, might have survived an injury to which most men would succumb….Dr. Woodward and I proceeded to open the head and remove the brain down to the track of the ball. The latter had entered a little to the left of the median line at the back of the head, had passed almost directly forwards through the center of the brain and lodged. Not finding it readily, we proceeded to remove the entire brain, when, as I was lifting the latter from the cavity of the skull, suddenly the bullet dropped out through my fingers and fell, breaking the solemn silence of the room with its clatter, into an empty basin that was standing beneath. There it lay upon the white china, a little black mass no bigger than the end of my finger—dull, motionless and harmless, yet the cause of such mighty changes in the world's history as we may perhaps never realize.…[S]ilently, in one corner of the room, I prepared the brain for weighing. As I looked at the mass of soft gray and white substance that I was carefully washing, it was impossible to realize that it was that mere clay upon whose workings, but the day before, rested the hopes of the nation. I felt more profoundly impressed than ever with the mystery of that unknown something which may be named 'vital spark' as well as anything else, whose absence or presence makes all the immeasurable difference between an inert mass of matter owning obedience to no laws but those covering the physical and chemical forces of the universe, and on the other hand, a living brain by whose silent, subtle machinery a world may be ruled.
"The weighing of the brain…gave approximate results only, since there had been some loss of brain substance, in consequence of the wound, during the hours of life after the shooting. But the figures, as they were, seemed to show that the brain weight was not above the ordinary for a man of Lincoln's size."

Dr. J.J. Woodward's autopsy report, April 15, 1865

[A]ided by Assistant Surgeon E. Curtis, U.S.A., I made…this morning an autopsy on the body of President Abraham Lincoln, with the following results:

The eyelids and surrounding parts of the face were greatly ecchymosed and the eyes somewhat protuberant from effusion of blood into the orbits.

There was a gunshot wound of the head around which the scalp was greatly thickened by hemorrhage into its tissue. The ball entered through the occipital bone about one inch to the left of the median line and just above the left lateral sinus, which it opened. It then penetrated the dura matter, passed through the left posterior lobe of the cerebrum, entered the left lateral ventricle and lodged in the white matter of the cerebrum just above the anterior portion of the left corpus striatum, where it was found.

The wound in the occipital bone was quite smooth, circular in shape, with bevelled edges. The opening through the internal table being larger than that through the external table. The track of the ball was full of clotted blood and contained several little fragments of bone with small pieces of the ball near its external orifice. The brain around the track was pultaceous and livid from capillary hemorrhage into its substance. The ventricles of the brain were full of clotted blood. A thick clot beneath the dura matter coated the right cerebral lobe.

There was a smaller clot under the dura matter [sic] of the left side. But little blood was found at the base of the brain. Both the orbital plates of the frontal bone were fractured and the fragments pushed upwards toward the brain. The dura matter [sic] over these fractures was uninjured. The orbits were gorged with blood….

Image: Instruments used in President Abraham Lincoln's autopsy, April 15, 1865
From top to bottom: metacarpal saw, double-ended probe, tongue tie, artery forceps.
National Museum of American History, Behring Center, Smithsonian Institution

Richmond Man Recalls Lincoln's Assassination

By Steve Martin, 4-6-15

Richmond man Harry Hoover was marching down the aisle of Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865, during a performance of "Our American Cousin" when he heard a shot.

Hoover looked up to see one of the best-known actors of the day, John Wilkes Booth, jump from the president's booth to the stage and make his escape in the confusion.

Hoover later would admit, "I was familiar with Booth… I saw him lounging in Ford's Theatre when we were examining the passes, not 30 minutes before he committed his crime."

The following is a composite of what happened, taken from Hoover's 1921 memoirs that are housed at the Wayne County Historical Museum, a reprint of an extensive May 6, 1893, interview with Hoover in the Palladium, and also a June 29, 1926, reminiscence published in the Palladium.

"The 14th day of April 1865, was the date of one of the most terrible tragedies that ever happened in the United States — the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theatre, at Washington City, by that arch-traitor John Wilkes Booth. It has been many long years ago, but it still lingers in my memory as but yesterday.

"Mr. And Mrs. Lincoln were there; General Grant had been invited by Laura Keene who was playing in 'Our American Cousin,' but General Grant was called away that evening, which probably saved his life...

"A patrol guard, consisting of sixteen members, were just passing down the aisle of the theater when the fatal shot was heard, and the screams of Mrs. Lincoln, and the jumping from the private box to the stage of the assassin John Wilkes Booth, and his escape behind the scenery. The play was scraped… [and] the news that Lincoln was shot threw the large audience into great pandemonium of excitement. In order to restrain the excited throng from crowding in upon those bearing the bleeding form, we were forced to bring our guns to a charge bayonet… It was all we guards could do to form a passage out of the theater and across the street to the Peterson House.

"It was around 10 o'clock and ten minutes when the fatal shot was fired, but early as the hour was, and as late as the usual hour for retiring in Washington City is, quite a number of people were in bed. These did not stop to dress, but men, women and children in their nightclothes were on the street… It was the most terrible night that we guards ever endured. Thousands of excited people gathered around that little building and we had to use our bayonets to keep them from coming into the house. The scene of excitement which we found all around us cannot be described. Men and women forgot the restraints of society and gave vent to their excited feelings… There was no rest for anybody in Washington that night. The wildest rumors were in circulation and the bravest knew not what to expect… I remember the feeling of extreme weariness that stole over us as the chilly dawn finally reddened the sky, but we were too much excited to rest much, and I do not think I slept more than four hours out of 72 following the assassination.

"Mr. Lincoln died at 7:22 early on the 15th of April. Thousands of people lingered around the building until Mr. Lincoln had expired and the body taken to the White House.

"That morning the Calvary were sent in search of the assassins, and soldiers were on constant duty in the city, with instructions to shoot anyone who acted disrespectfully of the dead president. I myself [unintelligible] of no fatalities, but every person felt a keen sorrow at the fatal tragedy.

"The morning [of the second day] I was detailed as a guard at the White House where the mortal remains of the martyred president lay in state. I hoped to be one of the guards of honor to accompany the cortège to Springfield, Illinois, but I was destined to disappointment. A few hours before the funeral in Washington, I was detailed as one of the guards for the prison, where Mrs. Mary E. Surratt, David E. Herold, George A. Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, alias James Thornwall Powell, were soon ensconced.

"In a few days John Wilkes Booth had been captured. He had gone to Dr. Samuel A. Mudd's in Maryland. The doctor would not permit Booth to stay in his house but permitted him to occupy his hay mound in his livery stable, where our cavalry found him, and demanded his surrender. But Booth refused to surrender. A torch was applied to the stable and in his escape from the flames he was shot and killed by J. Boston Corbett, who afterwards died in an insane asylum [exposure to mercury at the hatter's trade caused his mental dementia]. The body of Booth was brought to Washington and placed on a boat in the Potomac River… His remains were known to be en route back to the scene of his crime.

"I remained on duty until about two weeks before the execution [of the conspirators]. The prisoners and the guards were not permitted to speak to each other. All communication was by means of signs and gestures. Even in the courtroom this absolute silence was maintained between the accused and the guards. The Military Commission which tried the accomplices in the assassination of President Lincoln reported that David E. Herold, George A. Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, alias James Thornwall Powell, and Mrs. Mary E. Surratt to be hanged by the neck until they were dead. Dr. Samuel A. Mudd was sentenced to life imprisonment.

"One night while on guard at the door of Mrs. Surratt, we were ordered to remove one of the large marble slabs from the floor of the jail, and executed the order. Beneath the place where this had rested, in the darkness of the night, was dug a grave for John Wilkes Booth, a hole deep and dark and dank… I shall not say that Booth is buried there, as the official report says no. It has been said that his body found its repose in the muddy stinking ooze of the Potomac. I know that when I was released from duty one evening this slab was still up and this black hole still yawned. I saw government workmen take up a marble slab in the courtyard of the prison, dig a grave and deposit a body therein. I always thought it was the body of John Wilkes Booth. Next morning that slab had been replaced and the floor looked as if it had never been disturbed. A spot of blood on a slab nearby was said to have been caused by the bleeding of a finger mashed in replacing the stone...

"I am still the youngest old man in Wayne County.
"Harry Hoover"

Image: Harry Hoover


Civil War Death Toll Keeps Rising


It has long been recognised by many historians and scholars alike that the death toll of the American Civil War was in the region of 618,222. These figures were gained through casualty figures and official statistics gleaned at the time. However, brand new research recently compiled following the release into the public domain of Census data material of the time has concluded that these statistics may well be far below the actual casualty rates that occurred during the Civil War. This may reflect opinions of other Civil War historians of both the 19th and 20th century who have long argued that the figures are far too low. Indeed, immediately after the Civil War, Francis Walker, Superintendant of the 1870 Census, estimated that the number of male deaths was "not less than 850,000".

Post war accounts of the Federal Army drawn from regimental musters and battle reports compiled by Provost Marshal General James Fry estimated that 279,689 men died in the War but this was quickly raised to 360,222 as a result of widows and orphans representations of lost ones. The Union Surgeons Office documented 304,000 deaths who died during actual service. However, Francis Walker argued that "Tens of thousands were discharged to die: tens of thousands died within the first few months of discharge and tens of thousands more lingered through the first or second year". He concluded "500,000 will surely be a moderate estimate for the direct losses among the Union Armies". Post war accounts of the Confederate Army proved impossible. The Provost Marshal Fry report indicated only 133,689 from incomplete returns and estimates. Francis Walker roughly estimated that taking into account those who fought, longer service and a relative lack of food, medicine and skilled physicians stated " It is difficult to see how anyone could, upon reflection, place the losses of the Confederate Armies at less than 350,000 men".

Researcher J. David Hacker of the Binghamton University of New York has just produced research that indicates the number of people killed in the War should be nearer 750,000 or even as high as 850,000. In other words, a further 20,000 casualties (over 20% higher than the number frequently quoted). David Hacker based his research on the breakdown of Census material recently released that identifies every individual on his or her age, race and birthplace rather than grouping them as an aggregate number of people in a specific age group. He then established the population trends for deaths in the decades before, during and after the Civil War. He then compared the census data for 1850-1860,1860-1870 and 1870-1880 and discovered that the number of civilian deaths amongst native born men in the 1860-1870 period, encompassing the Civil War years, was far lower than would be expected based on similar trends among native born women. As a result, he reasoned that the difference between the two, 750,000, represented the number of men killed in the War.

Many scholars have long suspected that the original casualty estimates were less than accurate. A major factor being that neither side had standardised personnel records. Both sides lacked systematic recording procedures. Battle, Hospital and Prison records were incomplete and inaccurate. Many soldiers of both sides were buried unidentified. There was no means of officially informing the family of a relatives’ death. If a Union or Confederate Soldier did not come home after the War, his family would have presumed him dead but his respective Country may not have counted him at all. In addition, the Confederates had very poor records and without national pensions for widows and orphans, there were few documents for cross checking. James McPherson, the Civil War Historian said of the new figures that "My guess is that most of the difference between the estimate of 620,000 and Hackers higher figure is the result of underreported Confederate deaths".

So what? Well, the new estimate may involve looking at the American Civil War in a very different light. This new figure reveals that 1 in 10 men died and not 1 in 13 as previously thought. The total number of casualties would now exceed all other American Wars combined. Far more women were widowed and far more children orphaned. The American Civil War shaped the whole of American history in the decades to come. Maybe, it affected people and communities far more that we thought.
Stewart "Goober" Douglas.
Sources J. David Hacker, Binghamton University of New York.
The above article appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, Spring 2012

The Founder of Mother's Day Later Fought to Have It Abolished

By Jonathan Mulinix

Years after she founded Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis was dining at the Tea Room at Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia. She saw they were offering a “Mother’s Day Salad.” She ordered the salad and when it was served, she stood up, dumped it on the floor, left the money to pay for it, and walked out in a huff. Jarvis had lost control of the holiday she helped create, and she was crushed by her belief that commercialism was destroying Mother’s Day.

During the Civil War, Anna's mother, Ann Jarvis, cared for the wounded on both sides of the conflict. She also tried to orchestrate peace between Union and Confederate moms by forming a Mother's Friendship Day. When the elder Jarvis passed away in 1905, her daughter was devastated. She would read the sympathy cards and letters over and over, taking the time to underline all the words that praised and complimented her mother. Jarvis found an outlet to memorialize her mother by working to promote a day that would honor all mothers.

On May 10, 1908, Mother's Day events were held at the church where her mother taught Sunday School in Grafton, West Virginia, and at the Wanamaker’s department store auditorium in Philadelphia. Jarvis did not attend the event in Grafton, but she sent 500 white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower. The carnations were to be worn by sons and daughters in honor of their own mothers, and to represent the purity of a mother’s love.

Mother’s Day quickly caught on because of Jarvis’s zealous letter writing and promotional campaigns across the country and the world. She was assisted by well-heeled backers like John Wanamaker and H.J. Heinz, and she soon devoted herself full-time to the promotion of Mother’s Day.

In 1909 several senators mocked the very idea of a Mother’s Day holiday. Senator Henry Moore Teller (D-CO) scorned the resolution as "puerile," "absolutely absurd," and "trifling." He announced, "Every day with me is a mother's day." Senator Jacob Gallinger (R-NH) judged the very idea of Mother's Day to be an insult, as though his memory of his late mother "could only be kept green by some outward demonstration on Sunday, May 10."

This didn't deter Jarvis. She enlisted the help of organizations like the World’s Sunday School Association, and the holiday sailed through Congress with little opposition in 1914.

The floral industry wisely supported Jarvis’s Mother’s Day movement. She accepted their donations and spoke at their conventions. With each subsequent Mother’s Day, the wearing of carnations became a must-have item. Florists across the country quickly sold out of white carnations around Mother’s Day—newspapers told stories of hoarding and profiteering. The floral industry later came up with an idea to diversify sales by promoting the practice of wearing red or bright flowers in honor of living mothers, and white flowers for deceased moms.

Jarvis soon soured on the commercial interests associated with the day. She wanted Mother’s Day “to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” Beginning around 1920, she urged people to stop buying flowers and other gifts for their mothers, and she turned against her former commercial supporters. She referred to the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.”

In response to the floral industry, she had thousands of celluloid buttons made featuring the white carnation, which she sent free of charge to women’s, school and church groups. She attempted to stop the floral industry by threatening to file lawsuits and by applying to trademark the carnation together with the words “Mother’s Day,” though she was denied the trademark. In response to her legal threats, the Florist Telegraph Delivery (FTD) association offered her a commission on the sales of Mother’s Day carnations, but this only enraged her further.

Jarvis’s attempts to stop the florists’ promotion of Mother’s Day with carnations continued. In 1934, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Mother’s Day. They used a painting colloquially known as Whistler’s Mother for the image, by artist James Whistler. Jarvis was livid after she saw the resulting stamp because she believed the addition of the vase of carnations was an advertisement for the floral industry.

Jarvis’s ideal observance of Mother’s Day would be a visit home or writing a long letter to your mother. She couldn’t stand those who sold and used greeting cards: “A maudlin, insincere printed card or ready-made telegram means nothing except that you’re too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world.” She also said, “Any mother would rather have a line of the worst scribble from her son or daughter than any fancy greeting card.”

Jarvis fought against charities that used Mother’s Day for fundraising. She was dragged screaming out of a meeting of the American War Mothers by police and arrested for disturbing the peace in her attempts to stop the sale of carnations. She even wrote screeds against Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise money (for charities that worked to combat high maternal and infant mortality rates, the very type of work Jarvis’s mother did during her lifetime).

In one of her last appearances in public, Jarvis was seen going door-to-door in Philadelphia, asking for signatures on a petition to rescind Mother’s Day. In her twilight years, she became a recluse and a hoarder.

Jarvis spent her last days deeply in debt and living in the Marshall Square Sanitarium, a now-closed mental asylum in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She died on November 24, 1948. Jarvis was never told that her bill for her time at the asylum was partly paid for by a group of grateful florists.



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