American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

Surgical Set collection from 1860 to 1865 - Civilian and Military

Civil War:  Medicine, Surgeon Education & Medical Textbooks

 Dr. Michael Echols  &  Dr. Doug Arbittier

 

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  Researching Civil War Surgeons & Physicians

United States Army Surgeons

Confederate States Army Surgeons

Contract Surgeons, Civilian Physicians & Surgeons

Research for Identification of doctors

Research notes of Dr. Michael Echols

Please note:  this information is part of my personal notes and is used for research purposes only.  The quotes from various sources are those books used to determine who was and wasn't a surgeon during the War.  It is by no means a complete list of references or all the resources available to determine provenance of a given surgical set, surgeon, or doctor.  Documenting provenance and determining who was or wasn't a surgeon is extremely difficult and can take hundreds of hours of research. 

Please...we are unable to respond to requests for information or research on any surgeon or individual, see:

Medical Officers of the 10th Corps, in front of Fort Harrison, Virginia, April, 1865.

(National Archives)

        Standing L-R:  Surgeon. C.C. Radmore, 114th USCT; Asst. Surg. J. M. Rand, 29th Conn.; D.MacKay, 29th USCT; Unknown officer.

        Seated, L-R:  Surg. J. F. Stevenson, 29th Conn.; Surg. W.A. Conover, USV; Surg. Norton Folson, 46th USCT

 

Identification courtesy of Peter J. D'Onofrio, Ph.D.
 

 

Why this research is so difficult:  "Almost 6,000 regimental medical officers, whose qualifications were initially ascertained at the state level, also served at one time or another in the Union Army. An equivalent number of civilian doctors unwilling or unable to join the Army worked as contract surgeons, either for short periods when necessity dictated or in general hospitals in the cities where they lived."

Researching, doctors, physicians and surgeons on-line

Your best bet, and what I do, is dig deep in Google digital 'Books'.  I look in the regular web search area first, then dive into the digitized books under ‘more’.  That's where you will find the medical college catalogues, medical associations, published papers, and the doctor’s names listed with any additional information, but there are some tricks to get the information to come up in the search.  Read the Google advanced search information to learn how.

Try Dogpile search for multiple search engines.

Army: For Army Surgeon's, look on Google books: Regular Army Officers and their service records are published in Vol 1, Historical Register and Dictionary of the U. S. Army, ... by Francis R. Heitman

 

 

Navy: You can find pre-1900 US Navy officer service records online.

 

Try the doctor’s name with just the first and middle initials and last name plus 'm.d.'.  Put the whole name and m.d. in " " so it looks up just that name.  Try every variation as you see the names listed in lists.  Think 1860, not 2010.

Look for an obituary or biography for the doctor and then work backwards.  With any luck an obituary will list where they went to college, where and if they served in the Civil War, and information about where they practiced.

Try the search with 'dr.' instead of ‘md’ and with just the first name, all kinds of variations of the name will come up depending on what you add or omit.  You have to be very specific with the physicians because the colleges and biography books frequently used just their initials plus last name.  The ‘dr and md’ will only work after they graduated.  Knowing the state and city are a big plus to weed out duplicate names.  Also knowing and entering a date range on Google, e.g. 1840..1860 is a trick you may not know about .  It's the '..' between dates that makes it work for a given range of dates.

If you think the doctor was a U.S. Army surgeon, check the Roster of Regimental Surgeons (see below) in Google digital books.  You can enter just the last name and then see what pops up, and go from there.  (Note: not all surgeons were listed in the Roster, some were in state militias and may not show up in the Roster.  None of the Confederate or contract surgeons will show up in the Roster.  Only Union uniform wearing surgeons are listed in the Roster.)

CSA surgeons are very difficult to find.  Just keep trying everything you can think of in Google and especially Google Books.  Try Cyndie’s List which has links to various surgeon and CSA groups.

No one said this is easy and I’m sorry but I cannot help or do the research for you unless it is for something I am buying from you or you wish to sell to me.

Resources I use to research Civil War surgeons:

Again, start with Google Search, then use Google's digital 'Books' before you look anywhere else.  Searching 'books' is different than searching normally in Google.  If that doesn't turn up the name, then:

  1. First, I look in the List of Battles and Roster of Regimental Surgeons to see if the name is in the list of U.S. Army or Union Surgeons.  This is good starting point most of the time for regimental U.S. Army surgeons, but does not list anywhere close to all the regular army surgeons and assistant surgeons and none of the contract surgeons during the War.  It also does not list any CSA surgeons.  You can find this Roster on Google Digital Books and search there via the Google search within the Roster.

  2. Second, I look in a CD which contains the AMA list of Deceased Physicians prior to 1904 to see if the doctor's name is listed.  Again, relatively few physicians are listed, but frequently I can find contract surgeon's names in this list with graduation dates which are consistent with a doctor being available during the War years.  You can access this database via: 

    Genealogy.com  at  http://www.genealogy.com/507facd.html

  3. Third, I look in a DVD with all the records of the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion.  You can obtain this DVD from Philip Oliver at the Guild Press of Indiana for about $165.  Just Google the name.  It's worth ten times that amount if you are a researcher or serious collector as it covers thousands and thousands of pages of data.  The only problem is only the names of surgeons who were written up in the M & S H are listed.  There were thousands of surgeons/physicians who were not written up or cited.

This is the most comprehensive single reference source for Civil War research, comprised of almost 200,000 pages of material, requiring a DVD to store the massive databases.

The single disc contains all of the material on our separate Civil War related DVD products, including:
• Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies
• Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies
• Map Atlas of the Official Records (high resolution)
• National Archives Guide-Index (5 volumes)

As well as the important and hard to find Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion - exclusive to the DVD.
Order also from Civil War America:  http://www.civilwaramerica.com/

  1. Fourth and finally, I go back to Google Digital Books with any information I found via the above methods and vary the names, words, and phrases in your search.  The more books that are digitized by Google, the better this gets and I'm constantly astounded at the great amount of information I can find on-line via this resource.

Note: (June 2010) If you want to research individual names of surgeons, I also suggest you check the web site run by Cornell Library MOA at: http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/moa/moa_browse.html  This site will let you search the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion.  ...NO, I CANNOT DO IT FOR YOU!


When confronted with a surgical set or other item which one wishes to identify and link with a given surgeon be prepared for a daunting task.  There is no single source which gives you 'the' answer.  There are a multitude of reasons for the difficulty in identifying a given doctor as having been a "Civil War" doctor.

When the Civil War began, the Army Medical Department had a standing corps of medical officers, but no where near the number needed for the demand generated by the early battles of the War.  As volunteers were processed and accepted for duty, the number of doctors increased greatly, but not all were accepted as Army Regulars, some were hired as contract doctors, especially the assistant surgeons.  Few were experienced knife wielding surgeons.

As quoted from the republished book by Wells and Strait  "List of Battles and Roster of Regimental Surgeons", Edited by Ira M. Rutkow, M.D., ( Google Norman Publishing for a copy of this information)  preface, Vl:

The Northern medical services were organized into seven categories:

1. Surgeons and Assistant Surgeons of the United States Army.  This was the regular Medical Corps and consisted of men in the service when the war began.  The War began with only 90 medical officers, but was drastically expanded as the war commenced.

2. Surgeons and Assistant Surgeons of Volunteers.  These were former "brigade surgeons" created by Congress to supplement the work of the regular staff surgeons.  A total of 547 commissions were issued.

3. Regimental Surgeons and Assistant Surgeons, commissioned by state governors rather than congress or the President.  There were 2,109 Surgeons and 3,882 Assistant Surgeons.  (Note: these are some of the best documented surgeons and a list of their names is found in the "List of Battles and Roster of Regimental Surgeons", but the list is by no means complete for the Union surgeons.

4. Acting Assistant Surgeons, United States Army.  These physicians were known as the 'contract' surgeons.  They held no commission but received pay as first lieutenants.  There were a total of 5,532 Acting Assistant Surgeons; most of which worked in the general hospitals in the North.  They also continued their civilian practice at the same time.  (Note: of all the so called "Civil War" surgeons, this group is the most difficult to identify.  Without personal correspondence or other documents, it is very difficult to pinpoint any contract surgeon as being a 'Civil War' surgeon.  Ownership of a given surgery set can help by dating that set via the makers address during the War.)

5. Medical officers of the Veterans Corps.

6. Acting Staff Surgeons.

7. Surgeons and Assistant Surgeons of the Colored Troops, who received presidential commissions.  They were assigned to the Black troops

The Medical Service of the Confederate States Army (CSA) is documented in Cunningham's Doctors in Gray.  It is reported the Army and Navy of the CSA had 3,237 surgeons or assistant surgeons.   These figures exclude contract physicians who were paid on a part-time basis while still in private practice.  Unfortunately all official records of the Confederate States Army (CSA) Medical Corp were destroyed at the end of the War.  However there are references to various CSA surgeons in the twelve volume: Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. 

The following account (quotes) of Civil War surgeons is from the very fine book: American Surgery: An Illustrated History by Ira M. Rutkow, M.D. page 125 (again, available from Norman Publishing):

"Competent or incompetent, surgically skilled or not, vast numbers of doctors were needed  to treat the army of injured.  So great was the demand that more than 12,500 physicians from the North and 3,000 for the South, not including unknown numbers of volunteers, were called into service in either field or civilian hospitals. 

Most of the men who served as regimental surgeons and assistant surgeons were commissioned by state governors rather than by the Congress or President Lincoln.  Full surgeons served as captains or first lieutenants and were paid $155 and $105 per month, respectively.

These "surgeons" were usually only capable of general medical practice.  Being surgically inept, they frequently botched the simplest of surgical operations and often caused wounded solders more harm than good.  (Note: These are the 'doctors' who gave the Civil War surgeons a bad name in the literature.  Don't forget or confuse this issue with the well trained surgeons who carried the case load of the War on their backs.)

One particular aspect of the Civil War was the untold numbers of civilian medical volunteers who flocked down South after any engagement, supposedly to lend a hand with the operative workload."

The following is a list of sites, books, or organizations where one can search for names and try to verify if a given doctor was or was not a surgeon or assistant surgeon during the War.  Union records are more complete, but Confederate names are archived in various areas, but not to the same extent as the Northern surgeons.  If you have a surgical set you suspect belonged to a Civil War surgeon it is extremely difficult research and very time consuming to do.  Unless you can provide documentation of who owned a given set, it is highly unlikely you will be able to make positive identification.

Army Surgeons from Yale Medical School c. 1864

Union Army surgeons: A History of the Army Medical Department:  Civil War Medicine 1861-1865 by Mary C. Gilletty   1.  (Available directly from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Dept. of Medical History)

"The quality of the Army's contract physicians was important, since during the course of the war more than 5,500 civilian doctors assisted the Medical Department. Many routinely staffed general hospitals while others provided help only in emergencies when it was necessary to locate more physicians quickly. In the last group were some of the nation's most prominent doctors. When a battle resulted in overwhelming numbers of casualties, those who flocked to the scene might include quacks, cultists, and practitioners of questionable ethics, men who were not under military discipline and who could, therefore, come and go as they liked, taking assignments that pleased them and rejecting all others. They often performed unnecessary operations or wrought havoc as they dug about for bullets. As a result of the problems experienced with doctors so casually assembled, the Medical Department decided to call only upon members of a reserve surgeons corps formed by the governors of various states. These gentlemen were paid the salary of contract surgeons and came in if called. They served under Medical Department orders and were required to remain at their assigned posts at least fifteen days, unless officially released sooner." 1

 

Examples of a contract doctor pay documents from the medical department:

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge

   

   

 

"The Medical Department had intended that its detailed and copious records concerning the Union's sick and wounded guarantee the emergence of something of value to medical science as well as to the Army from the most frightful conflict that the nation had ever faced. During the struggle and the months immediately following it, more than 12,000 medical officers- regulars, volunteers, and contract- examined over 250,000 wounds and treated more than 7 million cases of disease. In the course of their duties, more than 300 Army surgeons died from wounds, disease, or accidents."1

 

"Almost 6,000 regimental medical officers, whose qualifications were initially ascertained at the state level, also served at one time or another in the Union Army. An equivalent number of civilian doctors unwilling or unable to join the Army worked as contract surgeons, either for short periods when necessity dictated or in general hospitals in the cities where they lived."1

 

Please...we are unable to respond to requests for information or research on any surgeon or individual, see:

 

Medical Antiques Index

American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques Index
 

Contact Dr. Arbittier or Dr. Echols

 

 

Civil War Medical Collections 

 

Direct links to all medical & Civil War collections on this site                         

American Surgical Sets:

Pre-Civil War:  1 | 2  -   Post-Civil War:  3  -  Civil War 1861-1865:  4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8   INDEX

Medical Text-Books:

1 | 1a | 2 | 2a | 3 | 3a | 4 | 4a | 5 | 5a | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 9a | 10 | 11 | 12    INDEX

Surgeon General's Office Library printed catalogues: 1840 | 1864 | 1865
Medical Lecture Cards: 1 | 2 | 34 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21    INDEX

Medical Faculty and Authors:

INDEX

Navy Surgeon Exams:

1863 Navy Surgeon Applicant Exams with Biographies   INDEX ONE | INDEX TWO

Surgeon CDVs, Images:

Army: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8    INDEX

Navy: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8   

Hosp Dep't Bottles, Tins, 

U.S. Army Pannier:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

Please request permission before commercial use or publication of any content or photos on this site and credit any use with:  "American Civil War Surgical Antiques"   All content and all original photography on this Web Site is copyrighted 1995 - 2015 and may not be used on any other web site or in commercial print without the expressed e-mail permission from Dr. Arbittier:  Contact   All rights reserved. 

 

Students doing reports or projects are welcome to use the content of this site without permission, but credits would be appreciated.

 

Please note: information on this site may not be normally referenced as this is an active and long-term educational research project.  Personal notes may not be properly cited for publication.  Various articles are digitally reproduced under the 'fair-use act' of the copyright laws and are intended for educational purposes only.  Many citations are from Google digital 'books' and can be traced backwards via a search of a unique string in the citation.

 

 Arbittier Museum of Medical History Tour:   1 | 2 | 3

 

Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016