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.

Monday, September 7, 2015

"The Most Fatal of All Acute Diseases:" Pneumonia and the Death of Stonewall Jackson

By Dr. Matthew Lively, 5-13-13

The Death of "Stonewall" Jackson.
As night fell and a full moon rose in the sky, Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was becoming increasingly impatient. Although he had just orchestrated one of the most successful flank attacks in military history, he wanted more.

It was May 2, 1863, and the second day of the Battle of Chancellorsville was coming to a close. The men of Jackson’s Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, had attacked the unsuspecting right flank of the Union army and had driven it back nearly two miles before confusion and darkness stalled the action. Anxious to continue the attack, Jackson quietly rode beyond his main battle line to scout the position. The men of the 18th North Carolina Infantry, however, were unaware that Jackson was ahead of them in the dark woods. As the general and his staff returned toward the line, the edgy soldiers mistook the riders for Federal cavalry and opened fire. Three bullets struck Jackson—two in the left arm and one in the right hand.

With Union artillery fire showering the road around them, members of Jackson’s staff desperately tried to remove him to safety. Using the woods along the side of the road for cover, the men carried Jackson on a stretcher at shoulder height to clear the tangled underbrush. Suddenly, one of the litter bearers tripped on a vine and dropped his corner of the stretcher. The abrupt tilt caused Jackson to roll off the litter and crash to the ground. The hard fall caused further damage to the artery in his injured arm, and fresh blood began flowing from the wound.

They brought Jackson by ambulance to a field hospital located one mile behind the Confederate line. Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire, medical director of the Second Corps, arrived at the location shortly after the ambulance. Using his finger, McGuire immediately compressed the artery above the wound in Jackson’s arm, stemming the bleeding. He then rode with the general to a larger corps hospital farther to the rear. Still in shock from the loss of blood, Jackson was placed in bed and kept warm, still, and quiet. Two and a half hours later, he was deemed stable enough to undergo surgery. McGuire removed the ball from Jackson’s right hand and then amputated the left arm two inches below the shoulder.

Jackson’s initial recovery from surgery was promising. So much so, in fact, that he was transported 27 miles by wagon to an estate near Guiney Station, Virginia, the following day; the overall plan being to evacuate him by train to his home in Lexington, Virginia, for recuperation. Sadly, however, “the great and good Jackson” would never make that journey alive.

Four days after his amputation, Jackson began to experience chest pain and difficulty breathing. A close examination by McGuire would reveal the problem – pneumonia in the right lung. Despite around-the-clock medical care, Jackson’s health would slowly deteriorate over the next three days, culminating in his death on May 10, 1863.

Pneumonia was often a deadly illness in the 19th century. Sir William Osler, considered by many to be the father of modern medicine, described pneumonia in the late 1800s as “the most fatal of all acute diseases.” During the Civil War, the illness had a mortality rate of 24%, making “inflammation of the lungs and pleura” the third most common cause of death from disease during the conflict. But why?

In scientific terms, the Civil War was fought toward the end of the “Dark Ages” of medicine. Bacteria had yet to be discovered as a cause of disease and, consequently, no antibiotics existed. This lack of scientific knowledge in relation to disease transmission resulted in 19th century physicians having few, if any, useful means by which to combat infections. Without antibiotics to alter the course of a serious infection, bacteria would often enter the bloodstream and lead to the systemic—and many times fatal—condition of sepsis.

Prior to the advancement of the germ theory, the contraction of disease was believed to result from an imbalance in the natural humors, or fluids, of the body—a theory dating back to ancient Greek medicine. Treatment at the time centered on removing the excess fluid from the body that was believed to be causing the disease. Fortunately, the bleeding of patients as a treatment for diseases like pneumonia was losing favor among Civil War physicians, but other harmful therapies survived. The liberal use of cathartics, or medications to purge the gastrointestinal tract, was standard treatment at the time for most diseases, including pneumonia. Depleting an ill patient of fluids through the administration of such “medicines” undoubtedly resulted in more harm than good.

Once it was discovered that Stonewall Jackson had pneumonia, his physicians began treating him with the accepted, albeit misguided, therapies of the 19th century. He was given mercury as a laxative and antimony to induce vomiting. Cupping and blistering agents were applied to his chest to “draw” the pneumonia out of his lungs and to the surface of the skin. More appropriately, he was given opium, typically in the form of morphine, to decrease his pain and make him more comfortable.

Jackson’s physical condition and health at the time were also adversely affected by other factors. The day before his wounding, he had contracted a head “cold,” from which he was still suffering after his surgery. Additionally, Jackson had lost a large amount of blood from his injury, and he likely suffered a bruised lung when he fell from the litter. It was in this bruised lung that McGuire and the other physicians believed his pneumonia developed.

More recently, physicians reviewing Jackson’s case have, at times, questioned whether pneumonia was his actual cause of death. Some maintain instead that Jackson died of pyemia (an early term for sepsis) that came from an infected operative site. On a pathological level, Jackson did have pyemia, but the organisms that cause sepsis must have a source from which to enter the bloodstream. In the case of Stonewall Jackson, the two most likely sources were either his operative site or his pneumonia. Dr. Hunter McGuire repeatedly documented in his later writings that Jackson’s operative site never showed signs consistent with a wound infection. His course of illness was, however, consistent with the natural history of pneumonia when it is unaltered through the use of antibiotics.

So what was the cause of Jackson’s death? In medical terms, “cause of death” is defined as the “the disease or injury that initiated the train of events leading to death.” For Stonewall Jackson, the most likely conclusion—as his physicians maintained at the time—is that pneumonia was the initial disease triggering the sepsis that led to his death.

Matthew W. Lively is a Professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at the West Virginia University School of Medicine. His first book, Calamity at Chancellorsville: The Wounding and Death of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, was released by Savas Beatie LLC in May 2013.


St. Mary's Hospital


St Mary’s became Rochester’s first functioning hospital when it opened its doors on September 17, 1857. The first union soldiers were received at the hospital in 1862, although it would not be until March of 1863 that St. Mary’s would be officially designated a federal “Army General Hospital.” In spite of its official status, by the end of 1863, the hospital had admitted relatively few wounded soldiers most likely due to the high cost of transporting the wounded from the battlefields to western New York.

The district U.S. Surgeon and military inspector, Dr. Azel Backus, advised the Nuns at the hospital to prepare to receive a hundred soldiers in the near future but the federal authorities ordered the soldiers back to their original hospitals. Rochester’s city leaders agreed with Dr. Backus that western New York soldiers would fair better in a western New York hospital and consequently sent a local delegation to Washington in May 1864 to make their case to the U.S. Surgeon General.  Shortly after, official word was received to prepare to receive at once up to three hundred sick and wounded soldiers. On June 7, 1864, the afternoon train delivered 375 wounded soldiers to Rochester, 60 of which were sent to the Rochester City Hospital and the remaining were admitted to St. Mary’s.

In February 1865, there were 398 union soldiers under treatment at St. Mary’s. Over the course of the hospital’s military service, the hospital’s facilities and resources were often overloaded. Frequently, corridors were utilized for patients and tents were pitched on hospital grounds to accommodate the monthly influx of wounded soldiers. Many invalid soldiers came to the hospital in pitiful and desperate states of health. A number of released prisoners from the infamous Andersonville Prison made their way to St. Mary’s in a condition described as “living dead”. Most were nursed back to health “through the patient efforts of the Sisters of Charity.” Appeals to the community for food and supplies were often rewarded with generous donations.

It is difficult to accurately say how many soldiers were treated by St. Mary’s during the Civil War years. Some estimates have claimed four or five thousand patients but the remaining ledgers, evidence, and the final report by the hospital sent to Albany in December 1866 reports that there were  “soldiers treated, 2500.”

Medicine in the Bloodiest War

By Thomas Sweeney, M.D.

The Civil War was the bloodiest war ever fought by the United States. More lives were lost in it than in all other American wars combined, from the Revolutionary War to the Korean War. The Civil War saw the death of some 618,000 souls--the Union 360,000, the Confederates, 258,000.

Disease as a Cause of Death.
The principal killer in the Civil War was not the cannon or the musket but disease; 414,000 died from disease.

The prevalence of disease and the high death rate resulted from a number of factors. A majority of soldiers were from rural areas and had not been exposed to measles and other diseases of urban living. When they did develop these diseases they did not take care of themselves and died from complications. There was ignorance of the cause and treatment of diseases on the part of both patients and physicians. Bacteriology was an underdeveloped science and little known of it outside England and Europe. Malaria and some other diseases were attributed to "bad air" or "vapors" arising out of the lowlands. "Bad humors'' in the blood were also blamed as the cause of other maladies.

Diet was deficient both in camp and in the field. Fruit, vegetables, and milk were difficult or impossible to obtain. Lack of these caused scurvy and other gastrointestinal problems. Filth contributed greatly to dysentery and other maladies that plagued the camps. Most soldiers thought only of convenience in disposing of their waste. Thus many flies accumulated to contaminate the food. Germ-spreading mosquitoes, fleas, and lice tormented the soldiers as well, even worse than the flies.

The common maladies were malaria, typhoid fever, dysentery, and measles. Pneumonia, smallpox, yellow fever, and tuberculosis were less prevalent; but all took a heavy toll of lives. The most frequent killers were typhoid and intestinal infections. Typhoid was probably responsible for one-fourth of all the deaths from disease among Civil War participants. As many soldiers died from diarrhea as from death in combat.

Medicine, the Government, and the Citizens
At the outbreak of the war, the Federal government was unprepared to meet the medical needs of the military. The personnel of the Union medical department consisted of one surgeon-general with the rank of colonel, 30 surgeons with rank of major, and 84 assistant surgeons with rank of 1 st lieutenant.

There was no hospital or ambulance corps. Nursing was performed by inexperienced soldiers, usually those recovering from illness or wounds, temporarily detailed to hospital duty. The members of the medical corps were not assigned to any particular regiment or command, but were assigned or utilized as the need arose.

Civil war hospitals were scarcely places of succor. They tended to be filthy, overcrowded and stinking. The stench was terrible, according to one surgeon. Smallpox and measles added complications. The smallpox was controllable, but the measles got out of hand. Many patients died from pneumonia caused by measles.

Dr. Charles S. Tripler was the first medical director during the Civil War. He and his organization accomplished an immense amount of work but could not cope with such a large number of casualties as occurred early in the war. During McClellan's Peninsular Campaign, for instance, confusion resulted from trying to care for the 100,000 man army involved, and tragic suffering followed.

Dr. Jonathan Letterman succeeded Tripler on July 1, 1862. He was a man of great ability who organized an ambulance corps, improved the field hospital service, and procured a greater quantity of medical supplies.

An organization called "The Sanitary Commission'' was formed in the war emergency by concerned citizens of the North to supplement the medical services of the Federal government. The Commission had its beginnings at a meeting held by the Women's Central Association of Relief in New York on April 25, 1861. Because the methods of the Commission were flexible they were able to meet emergencies well, and often brought supplies to the field days ahead of government stocks. Theirs was the main source of supply at the battles of Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredricksburg.

Fresh vegetables, chloroform, brandy and other stimulants, condensed milk, beef stock, bandages, surgeon's silk, and many other articles are supplied by the Western Sanitary Commission of St. Louis (not connected to the larger eastern group). It was efficient in relief and in fund raising. Workers were both male and female. During its existence the Western Sanitary Commission received about five million dollars in money and fifteen million dollars in supplies, much of it through fund-raising fairs.

No such organizations existed in the South, although there were women' s-aid societies and individuals willing to feed the hungry and nurse the sick.

A noteworthy example was Mrs. Ella K. Newsom of Arkansas, widow of a physician, who took it upon herself to work in various hospitals in the South while providing supplies with her own money. Her acts earned her the title, Florence Nightingale of the South.

Wounds and Amputation
Wounds might be divided among those to head, trunk, and limbs. Head and chest wounds were often fatal; wounds in the abdomen that involved a perforated bowel were almost always fatal.

Amputation was the common treatment for severe wounds to the limbs because of the probability of infection. If the wound had caused loss of a large amount of soft tissue, or if it involved a joint, the limb was always amputated. The same if there was a compound fracture (the bone sticking through the skin). Survival from surgery was more likely if the patient were wounded, and operated on, in places free from animal droppings and other filth. The survival rate from amputation ranged widely from about 15% to 65%.

It was usual to amputate the wounded limb as soon as possible. If it were not removed, the patient often quickly developed ared swelling, which would then drain "laudable pus." Next, a fever would follow and, in a few days, death. In short, the wound would become infected and result in fatal blood poisoning. Simply nothing was known of infection or its prevention. Not until the 1870s would there would be widespread understanding of the nature of bacteria or the causes and prevention of infection.

Not all wounded limbs were amputated. Simple fractures were set and placed in a splint. Wounds without fracture were cleaned of dead tissue and irrigated with various solutions such as potassium permanginate or dilute acid.

Major effective drugs were quinine, morphia, and other opium derivatives. Chloroform and sometimes ether were used as anesthetics. Whiskey was frequently administered to the wounded to induce "reaction." Whiskey was also mixed with quinine and administered daily to suppress malaria. Other drugs were pepsin, various emetics to induce vomiting, cathartics, iodine, and calomel. Dysentery might be treated with oil of turpentine or ipecac, though neither was very effective.

Medicine in the Civil War Ozarks
Medicine in the Ozarks during the Civil War was practiced much as it was elsewhere. Inasmuch as the Ozarks was still a frontier region, some supplies might be difficult to obtain; but both Union and Confederate armies carried supplies and physicians with them. For the most part, the Federal armies here had more supplies than the Confederates, particularly in the latter years of the war. Both sides had volunteer physicians fresh from civilian life, most of whom had no experience with the type of wounds and the massive numbers of wounded they would be forced to handle. A few were veterans of the Mexican War. During and after battles, local civilian doctors might volunteer to take immediate care of the sick and wounded.

Military physicians of both the North and the South were primarily responsible for taking care of soldiers' ailments. If a battle were imminent his responsibility was to set up a field hospital close to the battlefield, but not so close as to endanger the lives of the patients and doctors.

But at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, as a result of the Federal surprise attack, both sides cared for the wounded on the edge of the battlefield while the battle raged. Federal physicians placed their field hospital in a ravine on the north end of Bloody Hill. They did not perform surgery on the field except for the extraction of balls. They sent the wounded to nearby Springfield after bandaging because of the severity of the fight and the shifting positions of the troops.

The Federal force had only two ambulances, so after the battle every available conveyance was used to remove the wounded---baggage wagons, caissons, litters, and six-mule spring wagons. Through a flag of truce, all the wounded who could be moved were taken offbetween 11:30 a.m. and midnight the day of the fight.

Assistant Surgeon H.M. Sprague, U.S. Army, wrote subsequently that the great want in the medical department at the time of the battle was a medical director. "Had the commanding general [Lyon] designated an officer of rank as his medical director, there could have been no reason why nine-tenths of the wounded could not have been cared for and sent to General Hospital [Springfield] by the time our forces retreated." Apparently the physicians were too busy taking care of the wounded in their own immediate area to see this general problem.

In his report, Assistant Surgeon S.H. Melcher of the Fifth Missouri Volunteers wrote, "The flies were extremely troublesome after the battle, maggots forming in the wounds in less than an hour after dressing them, and also on any clothing or bedding soiled by blood or pus. The wounded left on the field in the enemies [sic] hands were swarming with maggots when brought in."

Confederate physicians set up field hospitals soon after the battle commenced. Apparently they used the Ray house and a barn or outbuilding across from the Skeggs house at the spring. Early in the battle cannon shots were fired over the Ray house, so a yellow and green hospital flag was raised on the roof to let the Federals know it was being used as a hospital.

Dr. Caleb Winfrey, a volunteer from Lone Jack, Missouri, on duty with General Price's force left a short journal describing how he went onto the battlefield and carried off the wounded in his buggy. The next day, August 11, Winfrey noted in his journal that he performed numerous operations which included multiple amputations of limbs and extractions of musket balls.

Before the battle, typhoid fever and dysentery had broken out in Springfield. General Lyon ordered Federal surgeon E.C. Francis, U.S.V. (United States Volunteer), to establish a "General Hospital" in the unfinished courthouse on the square to handle sufferers from these diseases. In addition to the General Hospital, churches, hotels, the courthouse, and many private homes were turned into hospitals and filled with the wounded from both sides.

After the battle, the Federals remained but a short time in Springfield before falling back to Rolla, carrying with them everything except medicine, hospital stores, and supplies accumulated for use in the General Hospital. General Franz Sigel ordered surgeon Phillip C. Davis, a U.S. Army physician, to stay with the wounded who were left behind.

The Confederates entered Springfield at daybreak on August 11, 1861. They appropriated what they wanted from the hospital, leaving the Federal surgeons short of supplies. They did just as the Federals had done--brought the wounded from the field in wagons, carriages, litters, merchants' wagons, and every possible conveyance in the absence of ambulances. The process took five or six days. Notations in the General Hospital's log book suggest about 412 wounded from Wilson's Creek. Added to the number already in the building, . the result was overcrowding, and more misery for all.

Dr. Winfrey wrote that on August 12, he and probably the other Confederate surgeons packed their instruments and supplies and, with the wounded, left the battlefield for Springfield. Winfrey stayed in Springfield with the wounded Confederate soldiers, amputating limbs and performing other procedures. He noted that Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson visited Springfield on September 2, but left the same day for Jefferson City. He also mentions the use of chloroform while amputating a leg. (The Federal surgeons wrote that chloroform was all they had; ether was apparently in short supply.)

During 1862 and 1863 three hospitals were in existence in Springfield: The General Hospital (unfinished courthouse), Red Top hospital and the Campbell house hospital on south Jefferson. A convalescent hospital located in the old Berry mansion at Berry Springs was called the New U.S. Hospital. This was located just north and east of Fort No. 5 (east of present Sherman Avenue at Chestnut Expressway). Springfield had thus become a large storehouse of supplies and a central hospital location for the wounded from all over southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas. It remained so throughout the war.

Many ladies of the town volunteered their services and became hospital nurses. Civilian physicians aided in the care of the wounded in Springfield throughout the war, although little is written either of their contributions or those of lay citizens.

Dr. Beverly A. Barret was one who did leave a written account. He had moved to Springfield from Dallas County in 1858. His sympathies were for the South, but for his safety and that of his family he did not express those sympathies openly. Barret wrote of going to the battlefield after the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, some 75 miles southwest of Springfield. He went there with his brother George Barret, a Dr. E.L. Robinson, and another person after obtaining permission from the authorities to search for some of their friends whom they suspected to be among the wounded or dead. They set out on horseback; and long before they arrived at the battleground they began to see signs and effects of war: dead horses, wounded men, and here and there a corpse. Three miles from Pea Ridge they happened upon an old Federal surgeon lying in a cabin, dreadfully wounded by a cannon ball which had taken off a portion of his hip. Although both the old surgeon and the Barret party knew it to be a mortal injury, they dressed the "miserable" wound, shook hands, and went on their way. With great difficulties they found their friends and tried to assuage the suffering of the wounded as much as possible. Dr. Barret hired a sutler's wagon and one horse which he harnessed with his own horse to make a team. They loaded the wagon with the wounded and headed toward Springfield.

As a result of the battles of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, Arkansas, in March and December, 1862, Fayetteville also became a medical treatment center. Hospitals were hastily organized in the town as the wounded were brought in from both battles. The U.S. General Hospital, Western District of Arkansas, was established there. It consisted of the Cottage Branch Hospital, the Seminary, the "School Room," the Masonic Hall Branch, the Ward A. Smith House, and the Methodist Church Branch Hospitals.

Anticipating Confederate General Marmaduke' s attack on Springfield in January, 1863, convalescent soldiers from the hospitals were mustered to help defend the town. Organized by Dr. Melcher, the medical director of several hospitals in Springfield, it was known as the "Quinine Brigade." About 300 boys responded to the call and took up muskets, taking their place with the rest of the soldiers and civilians defending Springfield.

At the time of the Battle of Springfield, Dr. Barret resided on Booneville Street north of the town square. He heard the sounds of picket musket fire, and then cannon fire:
A cannon ball knockedoff our chimney and another hit a tree in the yard near where I was standing. For a few hours fighting was lively, everyone scared....Our house was full of friends from early morning on that memorable day until late in the evening. My wife was lying in bed with a baby boy eight days old. Most of the day I was busy taking care of the wounded of both sides. I dressed many a wound that day never inquiring which side he belonged to. Several arms and legs I amputated also. I remember well amputating the arm of a colonel with no one to assist but a Mrs. Richardson, a very timid and frail woman. It was a success.

My custom is always in amputations as well as other surgery [to] use cleanliness, warm water with Boraic of Soda in it. With my amputations I enjoy great success. I remember well in the fall of 1861 I amputated some young women's arms, from being crushed in mills from mashing sargum sticks and did not loose her [sic]. One or two amputations of the soldiers were at the shoulder joint all of whom recovered speedily. Though we blunder along good results are had in surgery, considering. Brigadier General F.B. Brown, the Federal commander in the battle, was wounded in the left ann by a musket ball. According to the account of Surgeon Melcher, the ball splintered the shaft and fractured the head of the left humerus in the upper arm. It also fractured the articulating rim of the scapula. Dr. Melcher made a V-shaped incision and removed the head and five inches of the shaft of the humerus. Upon healing, the left arm was several inches shorter than the right but still useful.

The contributions to medical care which were developed during the Civil War have been largely overlooked because the nature and quality of care administered is improperly compared to modem standards, rather than to the standards existing at the time. Major advances were achieved however, of which the following is a summary:

1. Development of a system to take care of mass casualties, including aid stations, field hospitals and general hospitals. It was the system used to manage the wounded in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War.

2. The accumulation of detailed records which, for the first time, made possible a complete military medical history. The publication of the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion was identified in Europe as the first major academic accomplishment by U.S. medicine.

3. Pavilion-style general hospitals, well ventilated and clean, which were copied in the design of large general hospitals over the next 75 years.

4. Recognition of the importance of immediate and definitive treatment--including amputations--of wounds and fractures, optimally carried out within the first 24 hours after wounding.

5. Dawning comprehension of the importance of sanitation and hygiene to prevent disease and death in the field.

6. Introduction of female nurses to hospital care and the entrance of Catholic religious orders to the hospital business.

7. Upgrading of the education of physicians as they were introduced to new ideas and standards of care, including the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, anesthetic agents, and new surgical techniques which rapidly advanced the overall quality of American medical practice.

8. Formation of the United States Sanitary Commission, which set the pattern for the development of the American Red Cross.

9. The development of an Ambulance Corps and a new ambulance design that would be copied around the world.

As for Springfield: After the Battle of Spring-' field, the town remained in the hands of the Federals. It was a supply depot, and its hospitals took care of wounded from both southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas. Many federal and state volunteer physicians were assigned to Springfield for the remainder of the war. The presence of medical personnel, experienced auxiliary assistants, and medical institutions laid the foundation for Springfield's development as a major medical center in the succeeding 130 years.

Dr. Thomas Sweeney is a Springfield physician and professional collector of Civil War artifacts. He is an authority on medical aspects of the War.


American Medical Association Founder, Nathan Smith Davis, M.D.


Born in 1817, Nathan Smith Davis founded the American Medical Association when he was just thirty years old. He received his medical training at the Medical College of Western New York and through apprenticeships with individual physicians, as was the custom in the mid-nineteenth century. He received the degree Doctor of Medicine in January 1837, just a few days past his twentieth birthday.

As a young doctor in western New York in 1844, Davis was elected to serve in the New York Medical Society, where he worked to improve medical education and licensure. A year after his election, Davis introduced a resolution endorsing the establishment of a national medical association to "elevate the standard of medical education in the United States." Though considered "impractical, if not utopian" by some, Davis and others led the establishment of the AMA in the following year, 1847.

In 1849 Davis accepted a professorship in Physiology and Pathology at Rush Medical College in Chicago. In 1858 Davis left Rush to form a new medical school, the Medical Department of Lind University, also in Chicago. In 1862 the medical school became the Chicago Medical College, and in 1892 it became the Northwestern University Medical School.

Davis served the AMA throughout his professional life, attending 47 of the first 50 annual meetings. He was elected president of the Association during the Civil War, in 1864-65; and in 1883 he was named the first editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Works authored by Nathan Davis include the "History of Medical Education and Institutions in the United States, from the First Settlement of the British Colonies to the Year 1850", "History of the AMA", and the "History of the Code of Medical Ethics".  These monographs can be found in the AMA Archives digital collections.

Davis practiced until his death in 1904 at the age of 87. At least two Chicago area landmarks bear his name: Davis Street in Evanston and The Nathan Davis Elementary School located at 39th and Sacramento in Chicago.  Today, the AMA annually solicits nominations for the Dr. Nathan Davis Awards for Outstanding Government Service.  These awards, named for the founder, are recognized nationally as one of the most prestigious honors extended to elected officials and career government employees for outstanding endeavors that advance public health.

Helen L. Gilson Osgood, Civil War Nurse (1836-1868)


Civil War Nurse. Helen L. Gilson originally selected teaching for a profession, and she taught until 1858, when throat trouble made it impossible to continue. She then took a position as the governess to the family of Frank Fay, who was the Mayor of Chelsea, Massachusetts.

After the Union defeat at Bull Run, Helen and Fay went to Virginia to aid in treating the wounded and recovering the dead. They both devoted the next three years to traveling to the battlefields for this work. In 1864 Mayor Fay had to go to Baltimore and he directed Helen to go to Petersburg, Virginia and prepare for the expected battle.

At Petersburg over thirty black regiments were engaged, with heavy casualties. The wounded were taken to a temporary facility at City Point. A doctor would later state "It was in no sense a hospital, than a depot for wounded men".

Helen was appalled by the conditions and decided to do something about them. Without assistance she campaigned for the establishment of a hospital for the black soldiers. She was able to convince Major General Ambrose Burnside that this should be done, and the Colored Hospital Service was organized. There were a square mile of tents and hundreds of wounded blacks being cared for at the facility. The Army detailed soldiers to assist Helen at her hospital working as cooks and nurses, as well as many civilian volunteers from the north.

In temperature over one hundred degrees sickness and disease spread and Gilson soon contacted malaria, but she remained at her post until the fall of Richmond on April 2, 1865.

She left the Army and recuperated for awhile and then returned to work for Mayor Fay to assist him in operating an orphanage for three hundred black children.

She married E. Hamilton Osgood in Chelsea, Massachusetts on October 11, 1866. On April 20, 1868 she died in childbirth at Newton Corner Hospital. She apparently was too weak for childbirth due to never having fully recovered from the malaria she contacted during the war. Her child did not survive either.

Woodlawn Cemetery and Crematory
Middlesex County
Massachusetts, USA

Created by: William Sweeney
Record added: Apr 30, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 36562513

Image: Helen Gilson. Gilson served throughout the war and became a beloved figure in the hospitals. Katharine Wormeley said that Gilson was "part nun, part soubrette.

Annie Bell, Civil War Nurse


Although Annie Bell was not native of Union County, she did go to Bucknell University. She is well written about and the University at Lewisburg has much information about her.

She was born in Blair County, Pa. April 9, 1839 to Martin and Eliza Bell. She graduated from Bucknell University in 1858. She was an unpaid volunteer at Harpers Ferry, Dec. 8, 1862. She helped tend the wounded at the Battle of Antietam in Sept. 1862. She did also serve at Gettysburg and then went to Nashville, Tenn. At Gettysburg she was at the 12th Corps hospital on the George Bushman farm where there were 1,200 wounded from July 2 thru Aug. 5th of which 125 were Confederates.

Her cousin was Sarah Dysart. They remained with the 12th corps. Annie Bell spent the last part of her Gettysburg service at Camp Letterman which was established in August, 1863 and located one mile east of Gettysburg on the York Pike. The site was known as Wolf’s Woods. Over half the patients were Confederates. Annie worked in the 4th ward and completed her work at Gettysburg as the chief matron of ward 4. This company closed Nov. 20, 1863, the day after President Lincoln gave his famous address.

Annie was ordered to Nashville, Tenn. and assigned first to the U.S. Hospital No. 1 in 1863. The Battle of Chickamauga had taken place Sep. 1863 as well as the battle of Missionary Ridge, Lookout Mt. and several others that Annie Bell was faced with many dying and wounded men. The 12th Corps began as part of the Army of the Potomac and the 12th was eventually folded into the 20th corps. Annie therefore served both.

The doctors and nurses had many disagreements and Annie had one in Nashville and she resigned. The other nurses were very upset that Annie left and Annie rescinded her resignation. She served General Hospitals No. 1 and 8 in Nashville and served as chief matron in both hospitals. She served in Nashville until the end of the war and was discharged May, 1865 and returned home to Blair County.

Annie Bell married a doctor she met in the service- Dr. George Stubbs of Maine, while nursing in Nashville. She married Sep. 14, 1865 in Annie’s home in Bellwood. After the war they lived in Ohio, Philadelphia and Merion, Pa.

Annie began receiving a pension Nov. 8, 1893. She was one of the first to receive such as they began in 1892. Dr. Stubbs died in 1909 and Annie received her and his pension of each $12 a month for the rest of her life. He is buried near Philadelphia and Annie died Jan. 25, 1916 and is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Image: Union nurse Annie Bell in Nashville

Cancer and Bitterness: Ulysses S. Grant Nurses His Sickness

By Chris Mackowski, 7-8-15

As Ulysses S. Grant’s throat cancer continued to eat away at him through the spring of 1885, he continued to struggle with pain of another sort, too. He was, at the time, in a race to complete his memoirs before the cancer struck him down, but his backwards glance wasn’t cast toward the Civil War only. He could not forget the events of the previous May that had nearly ruined him. His business partners, Ferdinand Ward and James Fish, had swindled him, leaving him and his entire family destitute.

It was, said Grant’s editorial assistant, Adam Badeau, a “shameful story of craft and guile in all its horrible proportions. . . . The shock of battle was less tremendous, the mortal agony was less acute.”

The failure of Grant & Ward was so spectacularly colossal and so nakedly public, everyone knew about it, so Grant never tried to hide it. In fact, he spoke of it quite openly. “In his direct and simple fashion he reviewed the debacle of his fortunes without restraint,” said Century Magazine editor Robert Underwood Johnson, “showing deep feelings, even bitterness as to his betrayal by Ferdinand Ward. . . .”

“No man-of-letters could more openly have worn his heart upon his sleeve,” Johnson said.

Grant’s financial state and his terminal cancer forced him to move on from the debacle, and throwing himself into his memoirs gave him much-needed focus. But even through it all, Grant apparently nursed bitter feelings toward his former partners. Badeau—in the melodramatic fashion characteristic of his own prose—worried about the effects of Grant’s bitterness combined with the grave embarrassment of the swindle itself. “[I]t was only too plain that the mental, moral disease was killing General Grant,” Badeau later wrote; “it was the blow which had struck him to the dust and humiliated him before the world, from which he could not recover.”

Grant’s publisher and friend, Mark Twain, noted a more measured response from Grant, who “never uttered a phrase concerning Ward which an outraged child might not have uttered concerning an offending child,” Twain said. “He spoke as a man speaks who has been deeply wronged and humiliated and betrayed, but he never used a venomous expression or one of vengeful nature.”

For his part, Twain “was inwardly boiling all the time: I was scalping Ward, flaying him alive, breaking him on the wheel, pounding him to jelly, and cursing him with all the profanity known to the one language that I am acquainted with, and helping it out in times of difficulty and distress with odds and ends of profanity drawn from the two other languages of which I have a limited knowledge.”

Fish did not get quite the same venom as Ward merited. Grant later said of Fish, “He was not as bad as the other.”

Although he never truly put the hard feelings to rest, Grant did get his official last word on the matter when investigators took his official deposition on March 26. “In his testimony he spared neither Fish nor Ward,” Badeau recounted; “he felt that this was his last blow, and he dealt it hard.”

Ward was eventually sentenced to ten years in New York’s Sing Sing prison, where he served six and a half years. James Fish, sent to the prison in Auburn, New York, served four years of seven.

Grant, working desperately to finish his memoirs before the cancer finished him, never wrote of the business failure. Perhaps, as his time wound down, he realized his attention was better spent elsewhere, and he refocused his energies. “His mind was absorbed with the one subject of his military autobiography. . . ” a friend noted. “In all matters aside from his book, Grant took but a slight and passing interest.”

(For more on Grant’s final days, see Chris’s forthcoming "Grant’s Last Battle: The Story Behind the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant")

Image: The last photo of Grant ever taken: July 20, 1885

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The Roots of Southern Folk Medicine

By Phyllis D. Light, 5-26-15

Meet Phyllis at the Natural Living Expo, November 14-15 in Marlboro, MA. She will be presenting two workshops and conducting private consultations.

By the time the Pilgrims formed the English settlement known as Plymouth Colony in 1620, the South had already been explored and settled by the Spanish for almost 100 years in present day Florida. Because the Spanish, then later the French and Irish, settled there, it is no coincidence that this southern land is where our only traditional American folk medicine — other than Native American traditional medicine — developed.

The roots of Southern and Appalachian Folk Medicine are strong, deep and varied. The traditions that merged to create Southern Folk Medicine include humoral medicine, Native American plant use, healing knowledge brought from Africa by the slaves, and the folk medicine of the British Isles, especially from Scotland and Ireland.

In additional to soldiers, Spanish expeditions to the New World included healers and physicians who practiced the conventional medicine of Europe, which was based on the works of Hippocrates, Galen and Avicennia. This was known as humoral theory or Greek medicine, and held sway in medicine until the 19th century. Spanish expeditions also included botanists and naturalists to draw and describe the exotic plant and animal life of the New World, historians to chronicle the exploits and adventures of the expedition, and Moorish slaves to do the physical labor required to build a colony.

Particularly influential on the development of Southern Folk Medicine was learning from the Creek and Cherokee Indians the uses of plants for both food and medicine. First Nations people have occupied the South for more than 10,000 years. Their relationship to the land determined their survival. The importance of these healing plants cannot be overemphasized.

From 1490-1603, England was making a firm effort to rid the land of the Irish. In the early days, whole clans left Ireland to avoid either death or slavery and took their healers with them. By 1652, over 300,000 Irish men, women and children had been shipped to the Americas for labor. From the Caribbean plantations, the Irish came to the United States via the Gulf and settled in the Deep South. Later waves of free Scots-Irish arrived in ports in the Northeast and made their way down into the Appalachian Mountains during the late 1700s and early 1800s.

From northern and western Africa, people were brought to the American South and Caribbean to work the plantations. Africans who were taken or sold as slaves could not bring their medicine, their plants or their healers with them, but they could and did bring their spiritual framework, rituals and customs, and their innate intelligence.

The last strong influence on the development of Southern Folk Medicine was the Christian religion. The Spanish initially brought priests with their expeditions who believed that Native populations should be converted and brought into the fold. Later evangelical Christians from Europe followed suit with the slaves. Since the Bible was the only book many people owned, it became a reference book for daily living, a guide to good health and spiritual law.

Other influences allowed the fledgling Southern Folk Medicine tradition to develop, evolve and grow unimpeded. These included the plantation system, the Civil War and the Great Depression.

The plantation system was developed in Ireland by the British and brought to America. Each plantation was like a small fiefdom with little or no interaction with the outside world other than neighboring plantations. Here Southern Folk Medicine was used to fight illness, birth babies, take care of wounds and injuries, treat chronic illnesses and nurse children through childhood illnesses. It was the folk medicine — the only medicine — of poor whites and slaves.

The Civil War found the South in a blockade, including a medical blockade. Nothing got in and nothing got out. Regular physicians returned to using herbs as first line medicine at home and on the battlefield. Some of the most useful herb books ever found were written by Civil War physicians.

The Great Depression saw little change in the South because the people and the land were still recovering from the impact of the Civil War. Southern Folk Medicine continued to be the primary tool of mothers and physicians alike during this time of economic depression.

My Beginnings Made Me Who I Am
Growing up in a certain time period in the South meant, amongst other things, living in poverty. This was the time of President Johnson’s war on poverty and Appalachia was viewed as a third world country and ground zero in the struggle. My family could have been on a poster for the program in every sense of the word from the raggedly clothes to the animals hides stretched and tacked on the wall of the house under the front porch. But, when all is said and done, there can be no sorrow or regrets for this was my beginnings and made me who I am. It was this poverty that also helped preserve the only folk medicine, other than Native American Medicine, to develop on this soil.

My grandmother, my father’s mother Rosie, was an herbalist and midwife in a community that didn’t have a doctor nor could afford one. In general, most folks in the area knew enough about herbs to tend to the normal injuries of daily life such as aches and pains, bruises and wounds, and the general malaise that might follow childbirth or the flu. But my Granny knew about herbs as she had been taught by her mother and grandmother and on back to the Civil War. Her family was Creek Indian. My unique upbringing and the type of education I received from the long-dead relatives of my childhood is far superior to the formal education I’ve since attained.

My Granny and other Southern folk herbalists, such as Tommie Bass, viewed the earth quite differently than most people today. To them, the earth, the land, was the source of all that was good and everything we needed to stay alive. Because of the interconnectedness of people and land, we were not separate. The earth gives us food, water, shelter and medicine. If we damage the earth, then we damage ourselves. I am in awe of this simple philosophy that is at once earth-centered and practical, spiritual and mysterious.

From these old-timers, these amazing herbalists and healers of the backwoods, I learned about Southern and Appalachian Folk Medicine. It is a practical system, developed by people who lived in close harmony with the land but were ever mindful of the dangers the land could also present. Its language is land-based, filled with metaphors and similes taken from the Native American, European, and African cultures that originally settled the area.

Southern Folk Medicine Blood Types
Southern and Appalachian Folk Medicine is a constitutional system based upon assessment of blood types and elements. The blood types and elements are in pairs of opposites; once you understand one aspect of the pair, you automatically understand its opposite. There is also a range within each blood type based on excess and deficiency. When the type/element is healthy and in balance, the person has good blood. When the type/element is out of balance then there may be excess or deficiency.

The four elements — fire, water, air and earth — influence the four Southern blood types of bitter, salty, sour and sweet. Each of us is born with all four elements and types within us. It can’t be otherwise because we are the children of this earth and each of these elements is present there. Generally, one element is more outstanding than the other three and is considered the dominant constitution, although sometimes a person might have two elements that are of equal strength.

Although this may sound a bit complicated, it’s really quite sensible and easy to understand. There are no large vocabulary words to learn, because Southern Folk Medicine was conceived in the common vocabulary of its time. It developed, grew, and evolved in the common language of the settlers in America, specifically the Southern states. That means you already know the language, the vocabulary. It is inherent within you and I’m just bringing this to your attention.

Southern and Appalachian Folk Medicine is mind/body/spirit centered, dualistic in nature, and functions within a holistic framework. In addition to assessment of blood types and elements, it also explores the personality. Disease can be self-induced or originate from cold, damp, heat, dirt, pathological invaders, spiritual transgressions or magic.

In Southern Folk Medicine, the body is likened to a tree with a direct correlation between the flow of blood in the body and the flow of sap in trees. In the fall, blood begins to thicken as the weather grows cooler. It sinks downward and pulls inward to nourish, warm, and protect the vital organs during the cold winter. This is why circulation is diminished in the extremities and the hands and feet feel colder. In the spring, the blood thins and begins to rise, moving upward and outward in order to keep the internal organs cooler.

The Qualities of Healthy Blood
Blood is the most important indicator of disorder and imbalance in the body. It is the river of life, carrying nutrients and oxygen to nourish and fuel our cells. In our blood resides our genetic inheritance. Just as importantly, blood can also carry the elements and invaders producing sickness and disease. To be healthy, you must have clean or good blood, and a combination of good inheritance, environment and actions. Blood can also be affected by environmental factors, age, diet, gender and nerves, and influenced by such natural phenomena as the weather, seasons, and the moon and stars.

Blood flows in tune with nature, ebbing and flowing with the seasons. The moon also has an effect on blood much as it does the tides, causing shifts and changes in the flow with each phase of the moon. The moon is an important influence on the folk astrology used by herbalists, farmers, and midwives.

The Earth gives us food, water, shelter and medicine. If we damage the Earth, then we damage ourselves.

In the spring, impurities and pathogens that the body has been harboring over the winter can rise, causing illness in the spring. Summer or fall illnesses may also be contained over the winter when the blood is thick and then manifest in the spring when the blood begins to move again. Spring cleansing of the body is an important aspect of this healing system for moving out illness and helping thin the blood and get it ready for summer.

Blood possesses variable characteristics that can have a marked effect on health. It can be hot or cold, expressed both in temperature or qualities of these states. Blood can rise and fall, be high or low. It can be thick or thin depending not only upon season but many other factors. It can speed up or slow down. Blood can be simultaneously thick in some areas of the body and thin in others. This causes accumulation in areas of the body where the blood is thickened or congested. Blood can be clean or dirty, good or bad. Its flavors are bitter, salty, sour (acid) or sweet.

Blood qualities and flavors change continually throughout life in keeping with our actions, our environment and our attitude and spirituality. Though we may be born with a basic blood constitution (type and element), it may change and flow over the course of our lives, just as our blood does. Understanding blood is all-important — spiritually, psychologically and physically — to the study of Southern Folk Medicine. I wish there was enough space in this article to really convey all the characteristics of each element and blood type, but there’s not. Which element is prone to weight gain? Which element is flighty? Which element is most courageous? Which element can keep a secret? Which element is most prone to high blood pressure, diabetes, or rare and unusual illnesses?

Southern and Appalachian Folk Medicine is a system that developed to define, explain and remedy illnesses in a new world that was being settled by different cultures who all needed to survive in a strange, new land. It is a folk medicine that is as viable as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, or any folk tradition from any other land. Southern and Appalachian Folk Medicine is uniquely our own, providing cultural roots that help define us as herbalists and as a society. It is a truly unique form of healing.

Meet Phyllis at the Natural Living Expo, November 14-15 in Marlboro, MA. She will be presenting two workshops and conducting private consultations.

Phyllis D. Light is a practicing herbalist and health educator with over 30 years of herbal experience. She is traditionally trained in Southern and Appalachian Folk Medicine, beginning with her Creek/Cherokee grandmother in the deep woods of North Alabama, and continuing with her father and other Appalachian elders, including Tommie Bass. She is the director of the Appalachian Center for Natural Health in Arab, Alabama. Visit


Trusting the Water Cure

By W. Caleb McDaniel, 7-24-12

[This is the paper I delivered on July 20 at the 2012 annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic in Baltimore. The (slightly modified) title of the talk was: “Spreading the News about Hydropathy: How Did Americans Learn to Stop Worrying and Trust the Water Cure?” A printer-friendly version can be found in Rice University’s Digital Scholarship Archive.]

Historians of the early republic now understand a great deal about how the post office, the steam engine, the telegraph, and the printing press helped to stitch a growing nation together while simultaneously connecting Americans to a wider world. The “water cure,” a nineteenth-century health reform movement also known as hydropathy, was in many ways the perfect example of how an antebellum “communications revolution” created extensive information networks on even the most obscure topics. After its genesis in Austria in the 1830s and 1840s, by the 1850s the “water cure” claimed a transatlantic following with devotees as diverse as Charles Darwin, Stonewall Jackson, David Ruggles, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and a host of unknown clients from Russia, Germany, Italy, and beyond. By the beginning of the Civil War, the New York City newspaper, The Water-Cure Journal, claimed tens of thousands of subscribers, and over 200 hydropathic establishments dotted the country from upstate New York, to Biloxi, Mississippi, and Salem, Oregon.

Yet health reform movements like the “water cure” also illustrate the two biggest points I would like to make in this talk. First, information networks built by new institutions, technologies, and publications never wholly displaced interpersonal networks as conduits of information. New media has almost always been “social” media, and in the early republic friends and family members remained crucial sources of information who shared and spread the news they liked and steered each other away from what they did not. Leaders and fans of alternative health movements understood this well. The followers of homeopathist Samuel Thomson sent agents into 22 states and territories by 1833 to form “Friendly Societies,” local groups of families and friends who could support each other and share information about botanical remedies. The publishers of the Water-Cure Journal likewise built their subscription base by offering prizes to readers who used their interpersonal ties to bring friends or family members to the cause. Such savvy tactics showed an awareness of how important the social network was to the spread of new ideas.

A second point I want to make today is related to the first: interpersonal communication networks remained important in the early nineteenth century not just as means of circulating information, but as means of cultivating trust in information. The case of the “water cure” helps make this point especially clear, for the dramatic spread of hydropathy was more than just a matter of spreading news and methods. Rather, the spread of hydropathy was the product of countless private decisions by individuals to place their trust in “water cure” therapies–enough trust to try them on their own bodies or the bodies of those they loved.

The ailing American abolitionist Henry Clarke Wright made that decision in the winter of 1843 and 1844, when he traveled to the Austrian water cure establishment run by Vincent Priessnitz in Graefenberg, nestled high in the Silesian alps. Priessnitz was renowned as the inventor of hydropathy, and by the time Wright arrived he was attracting as many as 1700 people a year to Graefenberg. True believers in Priessnitz’s methods for curing illness preached that anyone could practice hydropathy, even in their own home. But Wright, who had suffered for much of the year with a persistent cough, was persuaded to travel all the way to the water cure’s source to consult with Priessnitz himself.

The methods that Wright discovered there shared much in common with other contemporary health reforms–hostility to drugs and “heroic” therapies like blood-letting, distrust of traditional physicians, an emphasis on diet and preventive hygiene, and a belief that restoring the sick to health was mostly a matter of allowing nature take its course. But what distinguished Priessnitz’s ideas from other cures was the belief that applications of water alone could resolve most illnesses, whether they were chronic or acute. Patients like Wright were wrapped in freezing cold wet sheets and then cocooned in thick blankets to relieve fever. Water cure patients sat in water, submerged themselves in water, stood under water as it was poured over them, wore wet compresses, wrapped themselves in dripping sheets, and ate a meager diet washed down, of course, with water.

Needless to say, these experiences were not always pleasant in an Alpine winter. Nine weeks into his stay, Wright described climbing into baths rimmed with ice and confessed to a friend in England that he had developed a “perfect Hydrophobia. I have a horror of cold water. I can’t get warm. But I’m told it is a good sign!” Wright went on to joke with his correspondent, another water cure devotee, about the seeming absurdity of his position. “Oh dear me!” he exclaimed. “Weakness, low spirits, shiverings & shakings, fever, head-ache, tooth-ache, & every other ache, a good sign! Well—I know my lungs are getting well.”

In these lines, Wright pinpointed the paradox at the heart of hydropathy: Priessnitz held that wet sheets and douches worked by bringing the body to a moment of crisis, in which any morbid elements would be expelled. But in practice, this meant that patients who began to feel worse under Priessnitz’s ministrations were often told they were getting better! “Everything is reversed here,” Wright explained, “& you are counted fortunate & happy according to the intensity of your pain & anguish. ‘The cure is taking effect’ is the consolatory response to all your groans & cries of torture.”

Such candid admissions may seem amusing in retrospect, but they point to a problem that historians of the cure have only partially answered: in the heat (or the cold!) of the moment, how and why did water cure patients decide to trust specific treatments and doctors to make them well, even in the face of their own doubts or awareness of countervailing evidence? The experience of another, more famous abolitionist highlights how potentially unamusing such decisions could be. In April 1849, William Lloyd Garrison and his wife Helen Garrison watched with growing concern as their six-year-old son, Charles Follen Garrison, “complained of feeling unwell.” Through several days of vomiting and flu-like symptoms, the Garrisons attempted to treat their son with the water cure, wrapping him in “the wet sheet three or four times.” When that failed, Lloyd later reported in an anguished letter, “we also gave him the homeopathic prescriptions as accurately as we could discover his symptoms described in our books, but without much skill or knowledge.” Finally, after four days, while still “hesitating whether to go for a physician,” Garrison was “advised by a friend to try a medicated vapor bath.”

The same friend “said that his wife would be happy to administer it,” and Garrison quickly agreed, believing that sweating was what Charley needed—a key premise for movements like hydropathy. He therefore agreed to make an “experiment” of the vapor bath, and even helped his friend’s wife strap his lethargic son into a wooden chair positioned above steaming water. Almost as soon as the “bath” began, however, the poor boy became, in Garrison’s words, “perfectly frantic . . . his screams were appalling.” When Charley was removed, fifteen or twenty minutes later, Garrison discovered, too late, that his child had been horribly scalded by steam from the vapor bath, “the skin being entirely destroyed on one side.” A few days later, the injured boy died, leaving his parents enveloped in guilt and grief.

As the Garrisons’ tragic experience shows, decisions to trust alternative therapies and delay other sorts of care could quickly become matters of life and death for nineteenth-century families. Yet Garrison’s story illustrates just how persistent trust in the water cure or similar therapies could be, even in the face of strong countervailing evidence that the cures were not working or were actively causing harm. In this case, as Garrison later explained, “such was my confidence in the judgment of the lady” who administered the vapor bath that “I did not even suspect that she might be raising the steam to an undue height.” As his son screamed in pain, Garrison even “appealed to his little manhood in the best way I could . . . urging him to bear it all with fortitude, as he would undoubtedly be benefitted by the operation.”

All parents face difficult choices when trying to care for a suffering child. But it is still appropriate to ask why someone like Garrison could place so much confidence in the prescriptions or judgments of alternative health practitioners, enough to urge his son to endure an obviously botched treatment? In the case of the water cure, the current historiography answers questions like this only in the most general terms. Scholars have explained the attractions of hydropathy partly by contrasting its relatively passive and hygenic regime with “harsh” conventional techniques practiced by professional doctors. And historians have also shown why hydropathy complemented general currents in antebellum culture, especially to women and reformers drawn to the camaraderie and respite of water cure establishments and the ethic of individual empowerment and non-conformism offered by the cure. More generally, historians of alternative medicine have shown why cures that seem ridiculous now made sense given nineteenth-century assumptions about the body and its operations that patients, physicians, and alternative practitioners all, to some extent, shared. Historians of medicine also point to the charisma and savvy marketing skills of individual physicians as crucial to establishing the credibility of unconventional therapies.

Yet while all of these approaches do much to explain why antebellum Americans in general might be attracted to hydropathy or persuaded to try its methods, they are less successful when it comes to explaining specific decisions by specific individuals like Garrison and Wright. For example, pointing to the perils of professional medicine at the time does not explain fully why a patient might trust the water cure over other alternative therapies, or why patients trusted certain combinations of therapies. As Garrison’s experience illustrates, antebellum Americans attracted to hydropathy seldom chose one therapy, even to address one case of illness. To understand the decision-making matrices that produced their trust in these therapeutic regimes, we need to know more than the things that made the water cure culturally appealing.

It is here, I think, that attention to interpersonal networks of information may ultimately provide insights that an exclusively macroscopic approach cannot. Antebellum Americans who trusted the water cure did not make their decisions in a vacuum or solely with the help of impersonal media like printed books, which, as Garrison’s testimony shows, could fail to offer consolation and help in a moment of crisis. In those moments, most people do—and did—turn to the embodied or empathetic knowledge provided by close friends and family members. Significantly, Garrison tried the vapor bath for his son largely on the advice of “a friend.”

The role that such friends played in shaping decisions like Garrison’s is not easy to measure, primarily because obtaining glimpses into the private decisions of individual patients is more difficult than counting the number of water cure establishments or subscriptions to water cure publications. Garrison and Wright were hardly representative Americans, and may not even have been representative of those who tried alternative therapies like the water cure. Nonetheless, in their cases and others, anecdotal evidence does suggest the importance of close interpersonal ties of kinship and friendship in engendering confidence in hydropathy.

Wright, for example, was largely convinced to visit Graefenberg on the recommendation of his friend Elizabeth Pease, a Quaker abolitionist from Darlington, England, who frequented a water cure establishment at Ben Rhydding and who met many American abolitionists in person during their tours of the British Isles. Wright and Pease were also critical to Garrison’s decision to try the water cure only a few months before Charley’s death. When Garrison, a longtime adherent of homeopathic treatments, became ill in the spring of 1848, he initially considered using sarsaparilla. But, as he told his good friend Pease, “dear Henry is urging me very strongly to go to Dr. [David] Ruggles’s Water Cure Establishment in Northampton,” and Pease added her own strong endorsements of that advice, writing later that year that she hoped “hydropathy may do as much for thee as under the blessing of God, it has done for me.”

Garrison and Wright were not the only American abolitionists whom Pease ultimately persuaded to trust or try the water cure. In 1847 she also recommended the cure to the invalid wife of Boston abolitionist Wendell Phillips, who told Pease in August 1847 that “your cordial description of Ben Rhydding would almost draw Ann across the water. She looks longingly on the Cure, & may try it yet.” When Wendell and Ann Phillips did ultimately go to Northampton to seek help from David Ruggles, the African American hydropathist, Wendell gratefully informed Pease of their decision “to try your own valued water cure.” And Garrison’s own eventual decision to go to Northampton also highlighted the importance of a valuable friend like Pease, the only correspondent to whom Garrison confided the details of Charley’s gruesome death, in prompting individual decisions to act. In a letter of introduction to British abolitionists written for his friend Maria Weston Chapman, who was about to cross the Atlantic, Garrison noted that Pease would be “highly gratified on hearing that I am at last trying the ‘Water Cure.’” And in the same letter, he wrote, in reference to Pease, “what would the world be without such friendship?”

A world without such friendship may very well have been a world in which the “water cure” had a less extensive and enduring reach. To be sure, advice from friends was no guarantee that someone would trust hydropathy, any more than exposure to an issue of the Water Cure Journal might have been. Garrison had been “prevailed on” by friends to try the water cure for years before he actually did so. Another Boston abolitionist associated with Garrison confessed in a letter to an Irish abolitionist that his family remained “a sad set of misbelievers” in the “hydromania” of friends like Pease and Wright. For every example of someone converted to the water cure by the recommendation of a friend or relative, one could probably find another example of someone like the abolitionist John Brown, who had “little faith in the water treatment” even though his sons were devoted readers of the Water Cure Journal and his wife visited Ruggles’s water cure establishment. Indeed, the authors of personal testimonials published in the Water Cure Journal often boasted of their persistence in trusting the water cure against the advice of their skeptical friends and family, or spoke vaguely of having “heard of the Water-Cure” from no one in particular.

Nonetheless, beneath these proud statements of individual self-reliance and skepticism, I suspect there are numerous experiences more akin to Garrison’s and Wright’s, like the decisions of abolitionists Abby Kelley and Stephen Foster to try the water cure only after urging from family and friends, or the decision of Susan Helen DeKroyft, a popular nineteenth-century author who began losing her eyesight in 1845 and published a book of letters about her long search for a cure. DeKroyft’s journey began at the New York Institution for the Blind, but there she was subjected to a battery of conflicting advice of what she should do. “Last summer,” she wrote, “the advice of all the doctors was, ‘Go to the springs; showering and bathing will do more for you than medicine,’” while still others advised that she try a water cure establishment on Long Island. “To that various objections were raised,” not least from DeKroyft herself, who was skeptical of hydropathy “until a friend gave it a very satisfactory trial.” This friend, equipped with her own douche bath and water cure apparatus in her home, allowed DeKroyft to try the method “with much benefit both to my general health and eyes.” Another “good friend” proved critical to her later decision to go to Long Island after all.

I have sketched the outlines of a problem that I believe still warrants examination: how did antebellum Americans decide to trust particular information and recommendations about the water cure enough to submit to its rigors? I have also suggested that an answer may lie in the interpersonal means by which news of the water cure reached them. Both the problem and the answer are only visible, however, if we take seriously the difficult and sometimes agonizing choices that patients had to make about therapy for themselves and their loved ones.

After all, when antebellum Americans like Garrison chose to apply the water cure in their families, it was not a light decision. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton once said in the case of her own son’s sickness, which she treated with the water cure, “I am anxious beyond endurance” and “feel guilty when I have a sick child.” In the face of such powerful emotions of anxiety and guilt, simple belief in the proposition of the water cure may well have needed the endorsement of other patients who were close friends or kin. Helen DeKroyft suggested as much when she confessed that “sometimes the simple, unvarnished story of a patient, tells more in favor of the doctor than all of his long and well-written essays upon Materia Medica, Theory and Practice.”

To confirm that DeKroyft’s insight was more widely shared would require more research than I have presented today. But examining the importance of inter-patient and interpersonal networks in the spread of the water cure may prove useful for two groups of historians. For historians of medicine who are usually focused on relations between doctor and patient, the water cure may present a case in which networks and friendships among patients proved critical to the cure’s expansion and credibility. Meanwhile, for historians of the communications revolution in this period, the water cure suggests the need for continued attention to the micro-historical scale of information exchange. Infrastructral changes deserve most of the credit for the circulation and spread of news about hydropathy, but understanding why particular people made personal decisions to act on information received may require looking at ties closer at hand.


Trauma and Surgery: "The Smell of Ether, the Odor of Blood"


Popular but generally incorrect images of Civil War medicine involve surgery-amputations without anesthesia, piles of arms and legs, the surgeon as a butcher. By modern standards, wartime surgery was limited. Despite the lack of both surgical experience and sanitary conditions, the survival rate among those who underwent the knife was better than in previous wars. Amputation was not the only surgical recourse available. Surgeons also extracted bullets, operated on fractured skulls, reconstructed damaged facial structures, and removed sections of broken bones.

As bullets hit their victims, shattered bone and shredded flesh became the calling cards of the minie ball. Most of the surgeons who had come from civilian practices had little or no experience in dealing with such wounds. They quickly became aware of the surgical options: remove the limb, remove the fractured portions of bone, or clean the wound and apply a dressing. Union surgeons documented nearly 250,000 wounds from bullets, shrapnel, and other missiles. Fewer than 1,000 cases of wounds from sabers and bayonets were reported.

Major General Daniel E. Sickles, Union Third Army Corps commander, was struck by a cannonball during the battle of Gettysburg. Sickles was on horseback when the 12-pound ball severely fractured his lower right leg. Sickles quieted his horse, dismounted, and was taken to a shelter where Surgeon Thomas Sims amputated the leg just above the knee. Shortly after the operation, the Army Medical Museum received Sickles' leg in a small box bearing a visiting card with the message "With the compliments of Major General D.E.S." The amputation healed rapidly and by September of 1863 Sickles returned to military service. For many years on the anniversary of the amputation, Sickles visited his leg at the museum.

Sickles' exploits extended beyond the Civil War. He was the first defendant to successfully use the temporary insanity defense in the United States. In 1859, Sickles was found not guilty of the murder of his wife's lover, Philip Barton Key, the son of the composer of the national anthem. Sickles had shot Key in Lafayette Square in Washington in a jealous rage after learning of the affair. Sickles served as a secret agent for President Lincoln and was appointed Ambassador to Spain by President Grant.

Anesthesia was an important surgical advance introduced a few decades before the Civil War. Ether or chloroform was applied to a cloth cone that was placed over the mouth and nose of the patient. The patient became stuporous in a matter of minutes. This state lasted for more than enough time to perform an amputation, which took about 6 minutes to complete. Union surgeons used anesthesia in more than 80,000 operations.

Since anesthesia was available, Civil War surgeons attempted new operative procedures to contend with some of the severe wounds they encountered. One such procedure, reconstructive surgery of the face, involved suturing together the soft tissues of the eyelids, nose, and mouth. Sometimes extensive rebuilding of the underlying bone with splints and surgical fixtures was required. Surgeons performed more than 30 of these operations.

Private Carleton Burgan, B Company, Purnell's Maryland Legion, age 20, was admitted to the general hospital in Frederick, Md., on Aug. 4, 1862, with pneumonia. He was given calomel, a strong mercurial drug. On Aug. 6, doctors discovered that the calomel had caused an ulcer on Burgan's tongue. The ulcer soon spread to his cheek and the roof of his mouth. The ulcer became gangrenous. The gangrene disappeared on Aug. 27, but it had destroyed Burgan's upper mouth, palate, right cheek and right eye. The bone of his right cheek was removed to halt any further spread of the gangrene.

Burgan's condition made him a candidate for reconstructive surgery. Dr. Gurdon Buck of City Hospital in New York performed a series of operations to rebuild Burgan's face. Dental and facial fixtures were crafted to fill in the missing bone and support the skin. Burgan's case was the first involving total facial reconstructive surgery. He went on to live a normal life, with minimal visual and physical reminders of the damage.

Although fortunate to be unconscious during surgery, soldiers who underwent the knife often received a nasty visitor a few days later-infection. Any open wound almost always became infected. The unwashed hands of the surgeon, the non-sterile surgical instruments used on a succession of men, and the dirty sponges used on an entire ward of wounded soldiers all introduced infectious bacteria into wounds. These infections often resulted in gangrene and death.

Private Julius Fabry, K Company, 4th U.S. Artillery, age 38, was shot in the left knee at the battle of Deep Bottom, Virginia, on Aug.16, 1864. His leg was amputated just above the knee on the following day. The thigh bone became infected and Fabry's pain was treated with morphine for the next 6 years. Pus drained regularly from the infected bone. In 1870, the infected bone was remove at the hip joint. In 1878, Fabry reported no trouble with the stump, but he was unwilling to use an artificial limb. Fabry died in 1894.

Surgeons frequently treated arm and leg wounds by amputating. The grisly wounds caused by bullets and schrapnel were often contaminated by clothing and other debris. Cleaning such a wound was time-consuming and often ineffective. However, amputation made a complex wound simple. Surgical manuals taught that an amputation should be performed within the first two days following injury. The death rate from these so-called primary amputations was lower than the rate for amputations performed after the wound became infected. Union surgeons performed nearly 30,000 amputations.

Patients undergoing amputation were first anesthetized. A tourniquet was applied above the site of the proposed amputation. The skin and muscle were then cut with amputation knives several inches above the fracture site. The muscles were pulled up to expose the bone. An amputation saw was used to cut through the bone. Once the cut was completed, large arteries were pulled out from the stump tissue with a tenaculum and tied off to prevent bleeding. The skin muscle was then released and the tissue sutured. Two types of amputation were commonly used. A circular amputation involved cutting straight through the skin to the bone and resulted in a stump that was circular in appearance. A flap amputation required the tissue to be cut leaving two flaps of skin that were used to create a stump. Fingers and other small bones were amputated using the smaller metacarpal saw.

Prosthetic limbs were designed and built to help amputees regain some of their former capabilities. Some of these devices were custom-made while others were mass-produced.

Private Columbus Rush, Company C, 21st Georgia, age 22, was wounded during the assault on Fort Stedman, Virginia, on March 25, 1865 by a shell fragment that fractured both the right leg below the knee and the left kneecap. Both limbs were amputated above the knees on the same day. He recovered quickly and was discharged from Lincoln Hospital in Washington on Aug. 2, 1865. In 1866, while being treated at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City, he was outfitted with artificial limbs.

Surgeons treated some shoulder wounds with a technique known as excision, also termed exsection or resection. Post-operative photograph of  Kegerreis. The fractured bone was removed, the tissues sutured, and the limb left to heal. Excision gave the patient limited use of the arm and usually full use of the hand. Prosthetic braces worn over the shoulder allowed nearly normal function of the limb for some patients.

Private J.P. Kegerreis, Company B, 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, was wounded at Petersburg, Va. on June 17, 1864 by a minie ball. The ball entered his neck, punctured his windpipe, and passed through his right shoulder joint and out his back. Keggereis was tagged for amputation at the field hospital but tore off the tag and crawled among the less seriously wounded. Three days later, while at City Point Hospital, his wound was treated and found filled with maggots. His neck wound healed in a month, but his shoulder wound was infected. In the winter of 1865, the infected bone was removed by excision. The wound healed slowly, and he was discharged in May of 1866. In December of 1867, a surgeon removed a large piece of bone from the joint and the bones of the arm later fused on a semi-flexed position. He was able to lift 135 pounds with his injured arm.

Conservative treatment was employed in the cases of flesh wounds or minor bone fractures. The wound was cleaned of bone fragments, clothing, and other debris and dressed with bandages. Local anesthetic was often applied. Conservation left the limb intact, but the use of unsterilized instruments, unwashed hands, and dirty bandages often introduced infection.

Corporal G.W. Stone, Company A, 12th Massachusetts was wounded at Fredericksburg, Va. on Dec. 13, 1862, when a conoidal ball penetrated his right eye and lodged behind his left eye. His only exterior symptoms were a small wound to the lid of his right eye and the slight protuberance of his left eye. His left eye continued to function normally. Corporal Stone complained only of a slight headache. The wound to his right eye healed well, and within in three weeks, he was allowed to walk about the city with a hospital pass. Suddenly on Feb. 6, 1863, he developed chills. Fever and delirium followed. He died at midnight on Feb. 15, 1863.

Private John Tucker, 17th Maine, age 20, was wounded by a shell explosion at the battle of Chancellorsville, Va. on May 3, 1863. The shell removed a large portion of the skin and muscle of the buttocks and lower back. Applications of wet lint doused with disinfectant lotion were used to treat the wound. Several days later he contracted tetanus and was treated with olive oil applied to cotton batting and with doses of morphine. He survived the tetanus. By 1870, part of the wound remained an open ulcer that drained a thick pus. The doctor recommended the new technique of skin grafting to heal the wound but it is unknown if Tucker underwent the operation.

Head wounds were not always fatal. A soldier's prognosis was best when bone splinters were removed and the wound was left to heal. In more severe wounds, trephination was used. Trephination involved drilling a circular hole into the skull to relieve pressure from bleeding or to remove fragments of bone pressing on the brain. Trephinations were fatal in over half of the 220 operations performed by Union surgeons.

To perform a trephination, the patient was first anesthetized. The tissue surrounding the trephination site was then pulled back and the trephine placed on the site. The trephine was turned in a circular motion to slowly cut through the bone. Care was taken not to cut the tissue surrounding the brain. An instrument called an elevator was used to raise sections of fractured bone away from the brain. A Heye's saw was used to remove protruding bone fragments.

Private J. Luman of Company A, 122nd Ohio Volunteers was wounded at the battle of Mine Run, Va. on Nov. 27, 1863, when a minie ball passed through his skull. He was treated in the field hospital for several days before being evacuated to the 3rd division hospital in Alexandria. By Dec. 8, Private Luman was comatose, and Surgeon E. Bentley applied a trephine and removed the splinters of bones associated with the wound. He condition failed to improve and he died five days later.

Corporal G.H. Swift, Company C, 18th Massachusetts, was injured at the battle of Chancellorsville, Va. on May 3, 1863, when a musket ball fractured the top of his skull. Surgeons attempted to trephine the wound but halted the procedure upon discovering that the inner surface of the skull was not fractured. Corporal Swift died on May 17.

The thread through Barnum's abdomen is visible in this photograph Chest and abdominal wounds were nearly always fatal. Treatment of abdominal wounds often involved pushing in protruding organs and suturing the wound. Food was withheld because fecal material leaking from the intestines caused contamination. Opium was often administered to halt the action of the digestive system. Abdominal wounds were fatal in almost 90 percent of the cases reported by Union surgeons. Chest wounds were cleaned and the wound was sutured.

Major General Henry A. Barnum of the 12th New York was injured at Malvern Hill, Va. on July 1, 1862, by a musket ball that passed through his left lower abdomen. The ball penetrated his intestines and hip bone. The wound was considered fatal and he was left in a field hospital. A few days later he was captured and taken 18 miles to Libby Prison. Fifteen days later he was transported 17 miles and exchanged. In October, the wound was opened and several bone fragments were removed. He was promoted to Colonel in January of 1863 and sent back to the field. A year later, Barnum visited a private physician who pushed a probe through the wound causing a large abscess to drain. In order to keep the wound draining, the physician threaded a probe with a strip of oakum and passed it through the wound. Barnum wore a thread through the wound his entire life. He was promoted to Brigadier General and was also injured in battles at Kenesaw Mountain and Peachtree Creek, Ga.. Barnum died of pneumonia at the age of 65 still wearing a thread through the wound.

Image 1: Shell wound of the wrist, circa 1863, by William Schultze, a medical illustrator on staff at the Army Medical Museum.

Image 2: Confederate surgeon Julian Chisolm developed this anesthesia inhaler. His design allowed the administration of chloroform through the nostrils, reducing the amount of anesthesia needed to induce unconsciousness.

Horses of the Civil War Leaders


The battle chargers of the general officers of the Confederate and Federal armies during the American Civil War, wrote their names upon the scrolls of history by their high grade of sagacity and faithfulness. They carried their masters upon the tedious march and over the bullet-swept battlefields, and seemed to realize their importance in the conflict. The horse of the commanding officer was as well known to the rank and file as the general himself, and the soldiers were as affectionately attached to the animal as was the master.

General Grant's Horses
When the Civil War broke out, my father,(1) General Grant, was appointed colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteer Infantry and on joining the regiment purchased a horse in Galena, Illinois. This horse, though a strong animal, proved to be unfitted for the service and, when my father was taking his regiment from Springfield, Illinois, to Missouri, he encamped on the Illinois River for several days. During the time they were there a farmer brought in a horse called "Jack." This animal was a cream-colored horse, with black eyes, mane and tail of silver white, his hair gradually becoming darker toward his feet. He was a noble animal, high spirited, very intelligent and an excellent horse in every way. He was a stallion and of considerable value. My father used him until after the battle of Chattanooga (November, 1863), as an extra horse and for parades and ceremonial occasions. At the time of the Sanitary Fair in Chicago (1863 or '64), General Grant gave him to the fair, where he was raffled off, bringing $4,000 to the Sanitary Commission.

(1) This account was furnished at the author's request by General Frederick Dent Grant, U.S.A.--TFR

Soon after my father was made a brigadier-general, (August 8, 1861 ), he purchased a pony for me and also another horse for field service for himself. At the battle of Belmont (November 7, 1861), his horse was killed under him and he took my pony. The pony was quite small and my father, feeling that the commanding general on the field should have a larger mount, turned the pony over to one of his aides-decamp. (Captain Hyllier) and mounted the captain's horse. The pony ,was lost in the battle.

The next horse that my father purchased for field service was a roan called "Fox," a very powerful and spirited animal and of great endurance. This horse he rode during the siege and battles around Fort Donelson and also at Shiloh.

At the battle of Shiloh the Confederates left on the field a rawboned horse, very ugly and apparently good for nothing. As a joke, the officer who found this animal on the field, sent it with his compliments, to Colonel Lagow, one of my father's aides-de-camp, who always kept a very excellent mount and was a man of means. The other officers of the staff "jollied" the colonel about this gift. When my father saw him, he told the colonel that the animal was a thoroughbred and a valuable mount and that if he, Lagow, did not wish to keep the horse he would be glad to have him. Because of his appearance he was named "Kangaroo," and after a short period of rest and feeding and care he turned out to be a magnificent animal and was used by. my father during the Vicksburg campaign.

In this campaign, General Grant had 'two other horses, both of them very handsome, one of which he gave away and the other he used until. late in the war. During the campaign and siege of Vicksburg, a cavalry raid or scouting party arrived at Joe Davis' plantation (the brother of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy) and there captured a black pony which was brought to the rear of the city and presented to me. The animal was worn out when it reached headquarters but was a very easy riding horse and I used him once or twice. With care he began to pick up and soon carried himself in fine shape.

At that time my father was suffering with a carbuncle and his horse being restless caused him a great deal of pain. It was necessary for General Grant to visit the lines frequently and one day he took this pony for that purpose. The gait of the pony was so delightful that he directed that he be turned over to the quartermaster as a captured horse and a board of officers be convened to appraise the animal. This was done and my father purchased the animal and kept him until he died, which was long after the Civil War. This pony was known as "Jeff Davis."

After the battle of Chattanooga, General Grant went to St. Louis, where I was at the time, critically ill from dysentery contracted during the siege of Vicksburg. During the time of his visit to the city he received a letter from a gentleman who signed his name "S.S. Grant," the initials being the same as those of a brother of my father's, who had died in the summer of 1861. S.S. Grant wrote to the effect that he was very desirous of seeing General Grant but that he was ill and confined to his room at the Lindell Hotel and begged him to call, as he had something important to say which my father might be gratified to hear.

The name excited my father's curiosity and he called at the hotel to meet the gentleman who told him that he had, he thought, the finest horse in the world, and knowing General Grant's great liking for horses he had concluded, inasmuch as he would never be able to ride again, that he would like to give his horse to him; that he desired that the horse should have a good home and tender care and that the only condition that he would make in parting with him would be that the person receiving him would see that he was never ill-treated and should never fall into the hands of a person that would ill-treat him. This promise was given and General Grant accepted the horse and called him" Cincinnati." This was his battle charger until the end of the war and was kept by him until the horse died at Admiral Ammen's farm in Maryland, in 1878. (2)

About this time (January, 1864) some people in Illinois found a horse in the southern part of that State, which they thought was remarkably beautiful. They purchased him and sent him as a present to my father. This horse was known as "Egypt" as he was raised, or at least came from southern Illinois, a district known in the State as Egypt, as the northern part was known as Canaan.

(2) "Cincinnati" was the son of "Lexington," the fastest four-mile thoroughbred in the United States, time 7:19 3/4 minutes. "Cincinnati" nearly 'equaled the speed of his half-brother, "Kentucky," and Grant was offered $10,000 in gold or its equivalent for him, but refused. He was seventeen hands high, and in the estimation of Grant was the finest horse that he had ever seen. Grant rarely permitted anyone to mount the horse --two exceptions were Admiral Daniel Ammen and Lincoln. Ammen saved Grant's life from drowning while a school-boy. Grant says: "Lincoln spent the latter days of his life with me. He came to City Point in the last month of the war and was with me all the time. He was a fine horseman and rode my horse 'Cincinnati' every day."--TFR

General Lee's "Traveller"
The most famous of the horses in the stables of General Lee, the Confederate commander, was "Traveller," an iron gray horse. He was raised in Greenbrier County, near Blue Sulphur Springs, and, as a colt, won first prize at a fair in Lewisburg, Virginia. When hostilities commenced between the North and the South, the horse, then known as "Jeff Davis," was owned by Major Thomas L. Broun, who had paid $175 (in gold) for him. Lee first saw the gray in the mountains of West Virginia. He instantly became attached to him, and always called him "my colt."

In the spring of 1862, this horse finally became the property of the general, who paid $200 in currency for him. He changed the name of his charger to "Traveller" and from the date of purchase it became almost a daily sight to see the commander astride the gray, riding about the camp.

There were a number of battle horses in Lee's stables during the war. There were "Grace Darling," "Brown Roan," "Lucy Long," "Ajax," and "Richmond," but of them all "Traveller" became the especial companion of the general. The fine proportions of tiffs horse immediately attracted attention. He was gray in color, with black points, a long mane and long flowing tail. He stood sixteen hands high, and was five years old in the spring of 1862. His figure was muscular, with a deep chest and short back, strong haunches, fiat legs, small head, quick eyes, broad forehead, and small feet. His rapid, springy step and bold carriage made him conspicuous in the camps of the Confederates. On a long and tedious march with the Army of Northern Virginia he easily carried Lee's weight at five or six miles an hour, without faltering, and at the end of the day's hard travel seemed to be as fresh as at the beginning.

The other horses broke under the strain and hardships; "Lucy Long," purchased by General "Jeb" Stuart from Stephen Dandridge and presented to Lee, served for two years in alternation with "Traveller," but in the fall of 1864 became unserviceable and was sent into the country to recuperate.(3) "Richmond," "Ajax," and "Brown Roan" each in turn proved unequal to the rigors of war.

(3) "Lucy Long," second to "Traveller" in Lee's affections, was recalled from the country just before the evacuation of Richmond; but during the confusion she was placed with the public horses and sent to Danville, and Lee lost all trace of his war-horse. A thorough search was made, and finally, in 1866, she was discovered and brought to Lexington to pass her days in leisure with General Lee and "Traveller." After a number of years the mare became feeble and seemed to lose interest in life, and when "Lucy Long" reached about thirty-three years of age a son of General Lee mercifully chloroformed the veteran war-horse of the Army of Northern Virginia.

But "Traveller" sturdily accepted and withstood the hardships of the campaigns in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. When in April, 1865, the last battle of the Army of Northern Virginia had been fought, the veteran war-horse was still on duty. When Lee rode to the McLean house at Appomattox Court House, he was astride of "Traveller," and it was this faithful four-footed companion who carried the Southern leader back to his waiting army, and then to Richmond.

When Lee became a private citizen and retired to Washington and Lee University, as its president, the veteran warhorse was still with him, and as the years passed and both master and servant neared life's ending they became more closely attached.(4) As the funeral cortege accompanied Lee to his last resting place, "Traveller" marched behind the hearse, his step slow and his head bowed, as if he understood the import of the occasion.

(4) During the life of "Traveller" after the-war, he was the pet of the countryside about Lexington, Va. Many marks of affection were showered upon him. Admiring friends in England sent two. sets of equipment for the veteran war-horse. Ladies in Baltimore, Md., bestowed another highly decorated set, and another came from friends at the Confederate capital, Richmond. But the set that seemed to most please "Traveller" was the one sent from St. Louis, in Missouri.

General McClellan's Horses
While General McClellan was in command of the Army of the Potomac, in 1862, he had a number of war-horses. The favorite of them all was "Daniel Webster," soon called by the members of the general's staff "that devil Dan," because of his speed with which the staff officers had great difficulty in keeping pace. During the battle of the Antietam the great horse carried the commander safely through the day.

"Daniel Webster" was a dark bay about seventeen hands high, pure bred, with good action, never showing signs of fatigue, no matter how hard the test. He was extremely handsome, with more than ordinary horse-sense. He was a fast walker, an important requisite in a commander's charger, but a disagreeable quality for the staff officers whose horses were kept at a slow trot. After McClellan retired to private life, "Dan" became the family horse at Orange, N.J., where he died at the age of twenty-three. McClellan said: "No soldier ever had a better horse than I had in 'Daniel Webster.'"

McClellan also had a charger named "Burns," a fiery black, named after an army friend who gave the horse to McClellan. His one failing was that at dinner time he would bolt for his oats regardless of how much depended on McClellan's presence on the battlefield at the critical moment, as in the battle of the Antietam. Running at dinner time became so much an obsession with "Burns" that McClellan was always careful not to be mounted on him at that hour of the day.(5)

(5) The Editor has vivid recollection of "Little Mac" in April, 1862 (then at the height of his popularity), during a ride from Fort Monroe to Big Bethel, being the first day's march of the Army of the Potomac toward Yorktown, Va. The writer commanded the escort (a squadron, Second U.S. Cavalry), and during the ten or twelve miles of the route covered at a gallop, between double lines of infantry, halted for the moment to permit the commanding general to pass, the air was literally "rent" with the cheers of the troops, filled with high hopes of an early entrance to the Confederate capital. As the brilliant staff, headed by the young chieftain of magnetic presence, with bared head, mounted on "Black Burns," swept along amid clatter of hoof, jingle of equipment, and loud hurrahs, the thought came to the writer that thus the "Little Corporal" was wont to inspire his devoted legions to loud acclaim of Vive l'Empereur. (T. F.R.)

General Sherman's Horses
General Sherman's best war-horse was killed early in the Civil War, at the battle of Shiloh, where he led the right wing of the Federal army against General A. S. Johnston's Confederate legions. Two of his other chargers were killed while being held by an orderly. Of the many horses that carried Sherman through the remaining years of the struggle, two had a particular place in the general's affections--" Lexington" and" Sam." The former was a Kentucky thoroughbred, and his fine action attracted the admiration of all who saw him. When the Federal forces finally entered and occupied Atlanta, in 1864, Sherman was astride of "Lexington "; and after peace was declared, in ]865, the general rode the same horse in the final review of his army in Washington.

"Sam" was a large, half-thoroughbred bay, sixteen and a half hands high. He possessed great speed, strength, and endurance. The horse made one of the longest and most difficult marches ever recorded in history, from Vicksburg to Washington, through the cities of Atlanta, Savannah, Columbia, and Richmond. He had a rapid gait, and could march five miles an hour at a walk. While under fire "Sam" was as calm and steady as his brave master. He was wounded several times, while mounted, and the fault was usually due to Sherman's disregard of the horse's anxiety to seek cover. In 1865, Sherman retired "Sam" to a well-earned rest, on an Illinois farm, where he received every mark of affection. The gallant warhorse died of extreme old age, in 1884.

General Thomas J. (" Stonewall ") Jackson, the great Southern leader, had his favorite battle charger, which at the beginning of the war was thought to be about eleven years old. On May 9, 1861, while Jackson was in command of the garrison at Harper's Ferry, a train load of supplies and horses, on the way to the Federal camps, was captured. Among the horses was one that attracted Jackson's attention. He purchased the animal from his quartermaster's department for his own personal use. The horse, named "Old Sorrel," carried Jackson over many of the bullet-swept battlefields and was with Jackson when that officer fell before the volley of his own men at the battle of Chancellorsville. During the swift campaign through the Shenandoah, in 1862, when Jackson marched his "foot cavalry" towards the citadel at Washington, the horse was his constant companion.

In 1884, a state fair was held at Hagerstown, in Maryland, and one of the most interesting sights was that of the veteran war horse, "Old Sorrel," tethered in a corral and quietly munching choice bits of vegetables and hay. Before the fair was ended nearly all the mane and hair of his tail had disappeared, having been plucked by scores of relic hunters. For many years after the cessation of hostilities, Jackson's gallant old war-horse was held in tender esteem at the South.

When the veteran battle charger died, admirers of Jackson sent the carcass to a taxidermist and the gallant steed now rests in the Soldier's Home in Richmond, Virginia.(6)

(6) From the Confederate Veteran

General Sheridan's "Rienzi"
General Sheridan's charger was foaled at or near Grand Rapids, Michigan, of the Black Hawk stock, and was brought into the Federal army by an officer of the Second Michigan Cavalry. He was presented to Sheridan, then colonel of the regiment, by the officers, in the spring of 1862, while the regiment was stationed at Rienzi, Mississippi; the horse was nearly three years old. He was over seventeen hands in height, powerfully built, with a deep chest, strong shoulders, a broad forehead, a clear eye and of great intelligence. In his prime he was one of the strongest horses Sheridan ever knew, very active, and one of the fastest walkers in the Federal army. "Rienzi" always held his head high, and by the quickness of his movements created the impression that he was exceedingly impetuous, but Sheridan was always able to control him by a firm hand and a few words. He was as cool and quiet under fire as any veteran trooper in the Cavalry Corps.

 At the battle of Cedar Creek, October 19, 1864, the name of the horse was changed from "Rienzi" to "Winchester," a name derived from the town made famous by Sheridan's ride to save his army in the Shenandoah Valley. Poets, sculptors, and painters have made the charger the subject of their works. Thomas Buchanan Read was inspired to write his immortal poem, "Sheridan's Ride," which thrilled the North.

From an account of this affair in "Scribner's Magazine," by General G.W. Forsyth, who accompanied Sheridan as aide-de-camp, the following is quoted:

"The distance from Winchester to Cedar Creek, on the north hank of which the Army of the Shenandoah lay encamped, is a little less than nineteen miles. As we debouched into the fields . . . the general would wave his hat to the men and point to the front, never lessening his speed as he pressed forward. It was enough. One glance at the eager face and familiar black horse and they knew him and, starting to their feet, they swung their caps around their heads and broke into cheers as he passed beyond them; and then gathering up their belongings started after him for the front, shouting to their comrades farther out in the fields, "Sheridan! Sheridan!" waving their hats and pointing after him as he dashed onward .... So rapid had been our gait that nearly all of the escort save the commanding officer and a few of his best mounted men had been distanced, for they were more heavily weighted and ordinary troop horses could not live at such a pace."

In one of the closing scenes of the war -Five Forks- Sheridan was personally directing a movement against the Confederates who were protected by temporary entrenchments about two feet high. The Federal forces, both cavalry and infantry, were suffering from a sharp fire, which caused them to hesitate. "Where is my battle-flag.?" cried Sheridan. Seizing it by the staff, he dashed ahead, followed by his command. The gallant steed leaped the low works and landed the federal general fairly amid the astonished Southerners. Close behind him came Merritt's cavalrymen in a resistless charge which swept the Confederates backward in confusion. The horse passed a comfortable old age in his master's stable and died in Chicago, in 1878; the lifelike remains are now in the Museum at Governor's Island, N.Y., as a gift from his owner.

General Stuart's "Highfly"
The battle horse, "Highfly," carried General "Jeb" Stuart through many campaigns and had become his favored companion. The intelligence and faithfulness of the steed had many times borne the dashing cavalier through desperate perils. In the summer of 1862, at Verdiersville on the plank road between Fredericksburg and Orange, in Virginia, Stuart was stretched out upon a bench on the porch of the tavern, awaiting the arrival of General Fitzhugh Lee with whom he desired to confer on the next movement of the cavalry. "Highfly" was unbridled and grazing in the yard near the road. The clatter of horses aroused the Confederate general, and he walked to the roadway, leaving behind on the bench his hat, in which was a black plume, the pride of Stuart's heart. Suddenly, horsemen dashed around the bend in the road and Stuart was within gunshot of Federal cavalry. He was nonplussed; he had expected to see Fitzhugh Lee. Mounting his faithful and speedy bay he soon left the chagrined cavalry far behind, but the foe carried away the hat with its black plume.

General Meade's "Baldy"
In the first great battle of the Civil War, at Bull Run, there was a bright bay horse, with white face and feet. His rider was seriously wounded. The horse was turned back to the quartermaster to recover from his wounds received that day. Later, in September, General Meade bought the horse and named him "Baldy." Though Meade became deeply attached to the horse, his staff officers soon began to complain of the peculiar pace of "Baldy," which was hard to follow. He had a racking gait that was faster than a walk and slow for a trot and compelled the staff, alternately, to trot and then to drop into a walk, causing great discomfort.

"Baldy's "war record was remarkable. He was wounded twice at the first battle of Bull Run; he was at the battle of Dranesville; he took part in two of the seven days' fighting around Richmond in the summer of 1862; at Groveton, August 29th, at the second battle of Bull Run; at South Mountain and at Antietam. In the last battle the gallant horse was left on the field as dead, but in the next Federal advance "Baldy" was discovered quietly grazing on the battle-ground, with a deep wound in his neck. He was tenderly cared for and soon was again fit for duty. He bore the general at the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. For two days "Baldy" was present at Gettysburg, where he received his most grievous wound from a bullet entering his body between the ribs, and lodging there. Meade would not part with the gallant horse, and kept him with the army until the following spring.

In the preparations of the Army of the Potomac for their last campaign, "Baldy" was sent to pasture at Downingtown, in Pennsylvania. After the surrender of Lee's army at Appomattox, Meade hurried to Philadelphia where he again met his faithful charger, fully recovered. For many years the horse and the general were inseparable companions, and when Meade died in 1872, the bullet-scarred war-horse followed the hearse. Ten years later "Baldy" died, and his head and two fore hoofs were mounted and are now cherished relics of the George G. Meade Post, Grand Army of the Republic, in Philadelphia.

General Thomas' "Billy"
The "Rock of Chickamauga," General George H. Thomas, possessed two intelligent war-horses, both powerful and large, and able to carry the general, who weighed nearly two hundred pounds. Both horses were bays; one named "Billy" (after Thomas' friend, General Sherman) was the darker of the two, about sixteen hands high, and stout in build. He was, like his owner, sedate in all his movements and was not easily disturbed from his habitual calm by bursting shells or the turmoil of battle. Even in retreat, the horse did not hurry his footsteps unduly, and provoked the staff by his deliberate pace. "Billy" bore General Thomas through the campaigns in middle Tennessee and northern Georgia. He was on the fields of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, and marched with the Federal host in the advance upon Atlanta. From Atlanta, he next moved to Nashville where his master engineered the crushing defeat to the Confederate arms in the winter of 1864, the last battle in which Thomas and "Billy" participated.

General Hooker's "Lookout"
General Hooker first became acquainted with his famous charger, "Lookout," while the animal Was stabled in New York, and when Louis Napoleon, the French emperor, and an English gentleman of wealth were bidding for its purchase. Napoleon repeatedly offered the owner a thousand dollars for the horse. Hooker finally obtained him and rode him in the campaigns in which he later participated.

"Lookout" was raised in Kentucky, and he was a three-quarters bred, out of a half bred mare by Mambrino. He was of a rich chestnut color, stood nearly seventeen hands high, and had long slender legs. Despite his great height, the horse was known to trot a mile in two minutes and forty-five seconds. When the battle of Chattanooga occurred, the horse was seven years old. It was here that the animal received its name of "Lookout." The grandeur of "Lookout's" stride and his height dwarfed many gallant war-horses and he has been termed the finest charger in the army.

General Kearny's Horses
General Philip Kearny was a veteran of the Mexican War, with the rank of captain. It had been decided to equip Kearny's troop (First United States Dragoons) with horses all of the same color, and he went to Illinois to purchase them. He was assisted in the work by Abraham Lincoln and finally found himself in possession of one hundred gray horses. While engaged in battle before the City of Mexico, mounted upon one of the newly purchased grays, "Monmouth," Kearny was wounded in an arm, which was finally amputated. During the Civil War, Kearny had many excellent animals at his command, but his most celebrated steed was "Moscow," a high-spirited white horse. On the battlefield, "Moscow" was conspicuous because of his white coat, but Kearny was heedless of the protests of his staff against his needless exposure.

Another war-horse belonging to General Kearny was "Decatur,"a light bay, which was shot through the neck in the battle of Fair Oaks or Seven Pines. "Bayard," a brown horse, was ridden by Kearny at this battle, and his fame will ever stand in history through the poem by Stedman, "Kearny at Seven Pines." At the battle of Chantilly, Kearny and "Bayard" were advancing alone near the close of the struggle, when they met with a regiment of Confederate infantry. "Bayard" instantly wheeled and dashed from danger, with Kearny laying flat upon the horse's neck. A shower of bullets fell about the general and his charger. They seemed about to escape when a fatal bullet struck the general.

The leader of the Southern legions in the West, General Albert Sidney Johnston, rode a magnificent thoroughbred bay, named "Fire-eater," on the battlefield. The steed stood patiently like a veteran when the bullets and shells hurtled about him and his master, but when the command came to charge, he was all fire and vim, like that Sunday in April, 1862, the first day of the bloody battle of Shiloh.

Among the hundreds of generals' mounts which became famous by their conspicuous bravery and sagacity on the battlefields, were General Fitzhugh Lee's little mare, "Nellie Gray," which was killed at the battle of Opequon Creek; Major General Patrick R. Cleburne's "Dixie," killed at the battle of Perryville; General Adam R. Johnson's "Joe Smith," which was noted for its speed and endurance; and General Benjamin F. Butler's war-horse, "Almond Eye," a name derived from the peculiar formation of the eyes of the horse.

Source: "Photographic History of the Civil War: Article by Theo. F. Rodenbough, Brigadier-General, United States Army (Retired)

Image: General Robert E. Lee on Traveler


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