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John Swinburne. He was born in Lewis
county in 1820. He was graduated from the Albany
Medical College in 1846, and opened here an office for the
practice of his profession. He was eminent as a surgeon.
He served in his profession in the
army during the civil war.
He was also at Paris
during the Franco-Prussian war, and received the Cross of the Legion of
Honor for lib notable services. He was a professor in this
college from 1876 to 1880.
John, surgeon and creator of the quarantine station, New York
harbor, was born at Deer River, Lewis, CO., N. Y., May 20, 1820. His
father died when he was twelve years old, and at that early age he had
to face the realities of life, and not only support himself, but
contribute to the support of his mother and sisters. He worked on a farm
during the summer, and attended the public schools in winter. These poor
educational advantages were supplemented by a two years' course at the
Fairfield Academy, and in 1842 he entered
the Albany Medical College, where he was
graduated in 1846, first in his class; having meanwhile entirely
maintained himself. He had such a thorough knowledge of anatomy that he
was at once appointed demonstrator of the college. Dr.
Swinburne filled this position for four
vears and then established a private school of anatomy, which he
afterwards closed in order to attend to the demands of his large
In 1859 and 1861 Dr.
Swinburne read papers before the New York
State Medical Society that were published
in the society reports, mid in the latter year was appointed, by Gen.
John F. Rathbone,
officer in charge of the sick at the
Albany, N. Y., depot for recruits. The need of surgreons on the
battle-field becoming more urgent, the doctor tendered his services to
Gov. Morgan as volunteer surgeon without a compensation, find on Apr. 7,
1862, was duly commissioned, and was ordered by Gen. McClellan to repair
to Savage Station, which was to be an important point in the approaching
From the Medical and Surgical
GENERAL HOSPITAL, Savage Station,
Va., July 24, 1862.
SIR: I address you at this time on behalf of the sick and wounded
soldiers now in confinement in your city and at this place.
I had supposed from assurances received from the medical director
and purveyor of the Confederate Army that we should not be retained
any time within your lines, and hence we remained quiet and have so
continued until forbearance has ceased to be a virtue.
When I send a surgeon to look after the interests of the sick and
wounded you place him in a lock-up, where he can do no good and can
only see patients under guard; only two of these surgeon's have
returned to report, and theirs is a sad one.
I send you a copy of my instructions from General McClellan and then
1. If I can visit the place where the sick and wounded are
imprisoned and again return to this place without any obstructions
2. Are we at liberty to return to our lines in accordance with these
instructions, of course under proper regulations which you shall
specify and arrange?
3. Can I send or take some of our surgeons who are ill to our
transports that they can recuperate? If they stay here they are sure
to die. Yesterday we paid the last sad tribute to a departed surgeon
of our mess; others will soon go unless relieved.
4. Can we have rations suitable for the sick and wounded? I am sure
you do not know the limited and in some instances the absolute bad
character of the food furnished for us all. Up to three days since
the only rations furnished us was flour and bacon. Yesterday we had
rations sent for three days, consisting of good flour, while bacon
and shoulders were absolutely filled with maggots. Now if you judge
this the kind of food furnished your sick and wounded prisoners
North, or is in accordance with the usages of war among civilized
nations, you are mistaken. I have had to buy fresh meats for soups
and bread to supply the deficiency, since we have no means of
cooking flour suitable for the sick. Now I submit that flour and
poor bacon alone are entirely unfit for the sick and wounded, since
many have died from sheer exhaustion or starvation, and many more
will die unless more carefully fed. Many of those taken to Richmond
and retained so long in the depot without proper attention have also
died. Now, sir, all I ask is to have the sick and wounded who have
become the recipients of my care receive the attention due them as
prisoners of war agreeably <ar117_278>to the usages of civilized
people, and that the surgeons to whose care they are intrusted be
treated not as felons but in accordance with the precedents which
have been established and which you publish in all your papers as
the law of the land. If we cannot be fed in accordance with the
common usages of Wary in other words if you have not the material
wherewith to feed us so as to keep us from starvation, I feel
assured that your elevated sense of humanity will assist us to reach
our own lines where we can be attended to. I have seen and attended
your sick and wounded at New York, Philadelphia, Fortress Monroe and
in this hospital, and have never seen any distinction made between
them and our own. Now with the insufficient nourishment supplied us,
our own funds failing, what are we to do? I leave the answer to your
impulses of humanity and ask you in the name of the common
obligations due from man to man that you interpose your dictum and
change the status of our condition.
I am, respectfully,
Surgeon in Charge.
OFFICE COMMISSARY-GENERAL OF PRISONERS,
Washington, D. C, July 24, 1862.
Surgeon Swineburne established there
a depot, and was given full powers and command so far as pertained to a
surgeon in charge of the sick and wounded. The army of the Potomac
retreated from Savage Station on June 29th, and thousands of wounded
soldiers were necessarily left on the
battlefield. Although Dr. Swinburne was
free to retreat with the army, as did the majority of the surgeons, he
remained to care for the sick and wounded, braving capture rather than
desert his post. He remained in the neighborhood a month until all the
wounded were removed. He won the esteem of the Confederate authorities,
and paid the same attention to their wounded soldiers as he did to those
belonging to the Federal army. Dr. Swinburne
applied to Gen. Stonewall Jackson for a pass to visit the various
hospitals in the vicinity, where the wounded Federal prisoners were
confined, and the general, in granting the pass in a very complimentary
note, informed him he was not to be considered a prisoner of war, and
that the pass would carry him safely through the lines wherever he
desired to go.
From the Medical and Surgical
CREW'S HOUSE, VA., July 3, 1862.
General R. E. LEE, Commander-in-Chief C. S. Army.
SIR: I am left here by order of General McClellan to look after the
welfare of the sick and wounded, and since there are numbers of them
placed in temporary hospitals extending from Gaines' house to this
place, an area of twelve to fifteen miles, and inasmuch as it is
impossible for me to oversee and insure proper attention as to
medication, nursing, and food, I would therefore propose that some
suitable arrangement be made either for condensing them at Savage
Station, that these ends might be attained, or, what would be still
more agreeable to the demands on humanity, viz, the unconditional
parole of these sufferers. From what I have seen and know of you and
your ideas of humanity I feel assured that this application will
meet with favor, even if the Federal Government does not recognize
the principle of mutual exchange of prisoners. I trust that this
rule ought not to be extended to the unfortunate sick and wounded.
The real prisoners of war should be treated as belligerents, while
humanity shudders at the idea of placing the wounded on the same
footing. Your surgeons have performed miracles in the way of kind
attention both to us surgeons as well as the wounded. If this
proposition does not meet with favor I will, with your approbation,
communicate with the Federal Government that some basis of transfer
may be arrived at. The majority, in fact <ar117_799> all of the
medical directors in your army with whom I have conferred, fully
agree with me as to the humanity of carrying out this proposition.
Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain,
Very respectfully, &c.,
Acting Surgeon in Charge of the Sick.
P. S.--My object of asking an immediate and unconditional parole is
that time should be saved and that the sufferers should be relieved
more speedily, and as in the case of the surgeons' parole, which I
believe was inaugurated by General Jackson, of your army, and
advised by Doctor McGuire, so in this I feel assured that my
Government could not fail to reciprocate the attention and favor.
I am, &c.,
In 1804 he was appointed by Gov.
Seymour health officer of port of New York, and the Republican
legislature at once confirmed the appointment. He was reappointed by
Gov. Fentou in 1867. When he assumed control of the quarantine there
were absolutely no provisions for effectually carrying out its purpose.
There was but one floating hospital, and llii.s vessel was in a leaky
condition. During his administration, 1864-70, lie succeeded in
constructing, at a minimum cost of $750,000, and in face of the greatest
opposition, the present docks and buildings in the lower bay, known as
Swinburne Island and Hoffman Island, both
built on banks that we're near the surface at low tide, and which to-day
constitute the best quarantine in the world. After his retirement from
office, Vol.. VII.—3. and while traveling in Europe in 1870, he
was invited to form the American ambulance corps. From his arrival in
Paris, Sept. 7, 1870, to his departure, March 18, 1871, his efforts and
those of his assistants were such as to excite the wonder of the people
and the admiration of the medical
profession. The ambulance was conducted on the most extensive scale,
with results that far surpassed those obtained by the French surgeons,
and the entire expense was defrayed by Americans
residing in Paris. The French government decorated Dr.
Swinburne a chevalier of Ihe Legion of
Honor and with the Red Cross of Geneva in acknowledgment of his
services. After he returned from Europe he settled at
Albany, where he had an extensive
practice. He was elected mayor of that city in 1880, and a member of
congress in 1884. He also established the
Swinburne Dispensary, wherein 10,000 persons were yearly treated
entirely at his expense. As an expert he was, perhaps, more frequently
called to the witness stand, in the most
important medico-legal cases, than any other member of the
medical profession in the stale. Dr.
Swinburne's biographer has written that "There is something phenomenally
grand in the active, self- denying and busy life of
John Swinburne as a surgeon in the battle
field; as a health officer contending with the terrible diseases of
cholera, smallpox and yellow fever, saving the people from their
destructive ravages for years, and finding the means not only to check
but to suppress these diseases ; as a philanthropist, establishing
sanitariums, hospitals, and dispensaries for the care and treatment of
the poor. His quiet benevolence, yet bold aggressiveness in lighting
error and corruption in high places, both in professional and official
stations, has given his life a charm unequaled in the past, and lias won
for him the admiration of the masses of the people." He died at
Albany, N. Y., March 28, 1889.
His biography has been
compiled and published by the Citizens'
Association of Albany, N. Y.
From the Medical and Surgical
Medical/Surgical History--Part II,
Chapter IX.--Wounds And Injuries Of The Upper Extremities.
Section IV.--Injuries Of The Shaft Of The Humerus.
Dr. JOHN SWINBURNE (Treatment
of Fractures of Long Bones by Simple Extension, Albany, 1861, p. 33)
proposes to treat all fractures of the shaft of the humerus by extension
and counter-extension. He describes his method as consisting in the use
of a thin lath or board (FIG. 573) surmounted by a crutch piece, which
supports a heavily padded axillary belt (1) secured by tapes (2 2). For
convenience in packing, the splint may be folded by the hinge (3). At
its lower end some holes are bored (4). The crutch is fitted accurately
into the axilla (FIG. 574) and the tapes (3) are carried around and
fastened over the shoulder (7). "This crutch apparatus extends from the
axilla along the inside of the humerus to about six or eight inches
below the elbow. Strips of adhesive pleater (2) are placed
longitudinally about the lower end of the humerus so as to form a loop,
through which is passed a cord, and thence through a hole in the lower
end of the instrument (1) six or eight inches below the elbow; by
tightening this cord, extension is made to the normal length of the
bone, when it will be seen (FIG. 574) that the arm appears as natural as
its fellow. All that now remains is to surround the arm and splint with
an occasional strip of adhesive plaster to steady the limb at the seat
of fracture. The object of con-nearing the elbow to the apparatus at so
great a distance, is that the angle of extension shall not be too
obtuse, otherwise it would draw against the splint."
Dr. SWINBURNE sometimes places the splint externally and lets it extend
above the shoulder (FIG. 575), so as to make counter-extension more in
the axis of the limb. "The splint does not go below the elbow, but is
fastened to it by adhesive plaster (2) after full extension is made."
The auxiliary belt is passed through holes in the splint (4). Strips of
adhesive plaster (2 2) are placed circularly at intervals "to prevent
any kind of lateral motion in the parts." The arm thus dressed is kept
in a sling (FIG. 576). "These forms of apparatus," the author says,
"have succeeded most admirably, and are well adapted to the treatment of
fractures occurring in any portion of the humerus, from the surgical
neck down to within two inches of the elbow Joint."
(Drawings of the appliances are shown in the Med. and Surg. History.)
personal edited research notes of Michael Echols, the source of which
may or may not be completely documented)