following is a dictated translation of the hand-written application to
the U. S. Navy Examination Board during the Civil War by a civilian
physician/surgeon for a position as a medical officer in the Federal
Navy or for promotion to Assistant Surgeon by an Acting Assistant
Surgeon. The actual
applications are in the possession of the author and presented to
enlighten the general public and other researchers as to the education
process before and during the Civil War, the personal history of the
applicants, as well as to show their personal level of medical knowledge
in answering the questions asked by the Navy Board of Examiners.
(Some applicants failed to pass and did not serve or served in the Union
This written presentation was first of a part of a two-part exam consisting of a written
exam and an oral exam.
Many of these applications are rich
with highly detailed medical content offering an interesting perspective
on the medical knowledge and practices of the period.
A broad sampling of these exams is presented to
give you a 'picture' of the type of applicant being examined and
admitted to or rejected by the Federal Navy in 1863. Much more detail
on the individuals and their personal and naval history will be
presented in a forth-coming book by Dr. Herman.
(The actual written exam photos are available, but not presented on
these pages due to the size of the files. An
of a hand-written exam is on the
'List of all Applicants' page)
If you have additional information or images for any of these
A list with links to
all applicants in this survey of U.S. Navy Applicants for 1863
Example of a handwritten exam given by the Navy Examination Board
Applicant: Job Corbin, M.D.
Naval Asylum Philada.
I would most
respectfully submit the following letter in regard to my service in the
My appointment as an Assistant
Surgeon, dates the 9th of May 1861. I reported for duty to
the U.S. Sloop of War Savannah, the 25th of the same month.
I remain on the Savannah until 13th of February 1862. During
this time, the vessel was on blockading duty, attached to the Atlantic
Squadron. I was detached from the Savannah the 13th of
February and ordered to the U.S. Steamer Maratanza, at Boston Masstt.
I reported for duty to this vessel the 17th of February, and
sailed from Boston for Hampton Roads Va. the 20th
of April. From Hampton Roads, the ship was ordered to the York river
and from the York river, to the James. The ship remained on the James
river until July 20, when she was sent to Baltimore for repairs. I was
detached from the Maratanza at Baltimore, the 17th of July,
and ordered to the Naval Hospital at Chelsea Masstt, where I
am at the present time stationed.
I am very
Your obedient servant,
Assist. Surgeon, U.S. Navy
Questions by the Board:
Questions to be answered in writing,
by J. Corbin Assistant Surgeon U.S. Navy
1. What is a fracture, and nature’s
mode of repairing it?
2. What is a difference between a
boil and Anthrax?
3. What are the causes and symptoms
4. What are the properties, uses,
and preparations of Belladonna. [sic]
5. Describe the mechanics of walking
6. Write without abbreviations the
prescription for a compound infusion of Senna.
7. What the cranial nerves + their
8. What are the symptoms + treatment
of Small pox?
9. What is the test for Bile?
Answers by Corbin:
Question 1. What is a fracture, and
nature’s mode of repairing it:
Ans. The fracture is a solution of
continuity of bone, and is repaired by the following process: First, the
formation of a provisional callus. This is the result of an inflamatory
[sic] process in the tissue surrounding the fractured extremities of the
bone. Second, the formation of an intermediate callus between the
fractured extremities and its ossification. The intermediate callus
closes the medullary canal and they part [unclear] closing the canal is
absorbed. The provisional callus is intended by nature as a splint, but
it is not formed in the union of all bones.
2. A boil is a more prominent,
circumscribed swelling, of a lighter red, suppurating more rapidly,
causing less constitutional disturbance and occurring often in
successive crops and in constitutions not so much impaired by vice or
disease. An anthrax is characterized, by its slight elevation above the
surrounding skin, its greater base, its more livid or venous color,
suppurating less slowly, opening at many points, causing greater
constitutional disturbance and occurring in constitutions more impaired
by vice or disease.
3. The causes of scurvy are
confinement, moisture, uncleanliness and deficiency of fresh vegetable
diet. It has been thought that it was a deficiency of Potassa in the
food, but it is more probable that it is a deficiency of the vegetable
substance called gluten which is udoubtedly [sic] changed in different
modes of preserving the vegetables. The disease is characterized by the
accompanying symptoms of debility, sullan [sic] appearance of the face,
a tendency to hemorrhage from the gums and mucous membranes, swelling
and oedema of the legs, diarrhoea and an absorption of cicatrices.
4. This is the Atropia Belladonna.
The parts used are the leaves and berries. It is used locally and
internally, and for the most part in neurologic affections. The
preparations are the extract, fluid extract and tincture.
5. The body being in the erect
position and stationery, is so maintained by the Erector Spinae
muscles. The thigh is now flexed on the pelvis and the leg on the
thigh. The heel, is this last act is raised and the foot carry forward
by the extensors of the leg; and simultaneously, the glutei assist,
acting on the superior extremity of the femur. The body, while this is
being accomplished, is balanced by the other leg. In running the same
acts take place more rapidly and the bodies inclined forward, to
Sennae – uniciam
sulphatis sex unciam.
Feniculi drachmam unam
destillatae octarium unum
Misce. fiat infusum,
7. The cranial nerves are divided
into nine pairs; olfactory – a nerve of specific sensation. Optic –
specific sensation. Motores Oculorum – a nerve of motion. Pathetici, a
nerve of motiom. Trigemini – a nerve of sensation and motion.
Abducentis, a nerve of motion. Portio Dura and Portio Mollis, the first
a nerve of motion + the second of specific sensation. Pneumogastric
receives a branch from the Spinal Accessory, which makes it a nerves of
sensation and motion. The Spinal Accessory is a nerve of motion and the
Glossopharyngeal of sensation, and the Hypoglossal a nerve of motion.
8. This is a contagious disease
which is characterized by the appearance of an eruption on the fourth
day. Previous to this, it is characterized by the usual symptoms of
fever. The eruption at first is elevated above the skin, contains a
serous fluid, becomes pustular and umbilicated, and is at its heighth
[sic] about the eleventh when it begins to decline. There are two
varieties of the disease – the distinct and confluent. It is a disease
which is easily recognized after the appearance of eruption, and
previous to this, the severe pain in the back, vomiting, headache,
watery condition of the eyes and the history of the case, would assist
in forming the diagnosis. As the disease cannot be cut short by
medicines, the treatment must be such as to guide the patient safely
through: - that is, attending to diet, ventilation and the various
complications that may arise during its course.
9. Nitric acid, which produces a
grap [sic] green color, and sulphuric acid and sugar, which first
produce a cherry red, this then becomes a lake and [unclear], an opaque
By Asst Surgn Job Corbin
This disease is characterized by a
certain sequences of symptoms, occurring usually in the following order:
first, chills, second fever, in third sweating. After the third stage,
follows the remission, until the patient is again attacked with a
chill. The time from the commencement of remission until the beginning
of a chill, is called the remission and is this, which gives the disease
its type. If the attack occurs daily, it is denominated a quotidian, -
if on alternate days, a tertian, if every third day, a quartan. This
disease has also its time of year, during which, it prevails to its
greatest extent. This is the autumn, when there is usually the greatest
amount of decomposing vegetable matter. It has also its favorite
localities, as the banks of rivers and ponds, and the neighborhood of
marshes and forests. It does not, like yellow fever, prevail in cities
but rather in the rural districts.
The attack may come on
without premonitory symptoms, or they may have existed for some days, as
a coated tongue, loss of appetite, headache, pain in the lumbar region,
lassitude, when the patient is seized with a chill, which generally
lasts from three to six hours according to the type. During the chill
the patients face is pale, his skin is covered by minute elevations,
cutis anserina, his teeth clatter, though the temperature of the body
may not be below the natural standard and his skin even feel hot to a
bystander. After a few hours, reaction takes place. The chilliness
alternates with an agreeable sensation of warmth. This is the beginning
of the second stage, and the ending of the first and beginning of the
second is not abrupt. Flashes of heat and cold alternate with each
other, until the patient no longer feels chilly unless by some sudden
movement in bed. He is now in the second stage. His faces flushed.
Skin is hot and dry. He complains of severe pain in the head and small
of the back. Pulse is accelerated, perhaps from seventy five to ninety
per minute. He has no appetite great thirst, and oftentimes whatever is
drunk, is immediately rejected. The irritation of the stomach is often
a common symptom. In order, now comes the third stage which is
characterized by sweating. The severe pain in the head and back
subsides. The skin feels less dry. The pulse becomes slower and a
gentle perspiration shows itself on the forehead. This is the beginning
of the third stage, which, when well marked, bathes the patient in a
profuse perspiration, so that the sheets of the bed are wetter. After
this stage the patient feels weak but comparatively comfortable. He may
have a very good appetite. This is the remission, and during this
period symptoms indicating febrile action remain. This fact in the main
distinguishes this disease from Intermittent Fever. This disease does
not always pursue the regular course above described. Sometimes the
first stage is not so well marked and often the remission is very
imperfect, especially after the disease has continued for some days. It
then resembles a continued fever which may be of Typhoid character
depending upon the physical condition of the patient. There are other
very important symptoms in this disease which it will be proper to speak
of in this place. The chill of the beginning is severer than those
following and in some cases is very transitory. Irritation of the
stomach and vomiting are often very troublesome. During the disease the
skin is sometimes of a yellowish hue and sometimes of a bronze. The
bowels are some times constipated but usually moved by cathartics. The
stools are often a dark color, showing a disordered biliary secretion.
Prognosis. This is usually
favorable. Persons attacked with this disease seldom die, unless it be
complicated with some other affection.
can be readily diagnosed in some cases where the symptoms occur in a
regular order, but it is often very difficult of diagnosis [sic]. Its
diagnostic symptoms are the continuance of the fever between the exascebations [sic, correction marks in pencil]. The irritation of the
stomach and vomiting, and in many cases the yellowness of the skin. It
is said that it may be mistaken for Hectic Fever and Pyemia; but this is
hardly possible, as usually the condition of the patient is the origin
of the former and in the latter. The previous history of the case will
render the disease evident. When this disease has become of a continued
form, it will be very important to study its previous history and learn
of it in its course it has shown a remitting character.
There is in the milder cases
principally confined to the exacerbation and remission. It may be
proper during the chills, to assist in promoting a reaction and during
the febrile stage to administer some refrigerant as the effervescing
draught. It is during the remission, that means are to be employed to
cut short the disease and the most effectual remedy to accomplish this,
is the Sulphate of Quinine. This may be given in doses of two to four
grains, every hour or three hours, if it should be required. Other
remedies are recommended as having antiperiodic properties, as Salicin,
Arsenic, and Cinhora [sic, should Cinchora], etc. By some it is not
thought proper to cut short the disease by the administration of
medicines. It is stated the Quinine may do harm if given during the
fever of a remission and that the physician should first endeavor to
procure on intermission. If in the courses of the disease there should
be excessive vomiting, the effervescing draught or ice, if it can be
obtained, may be given. If the disease assume [sic] the typhoid form
and it must be treated with tonics and stimulants. If there should be
much tenderness over the stomach indicating a slight gastritis, a
blister to the epigastrium would afford relief. The bowels should be
kept regular by cathartics and the comp. cath. pills or the blue mass in
sufficient doses are very appropriate medicines. The diet should be
such as is easily digested. During the treatment of Remittent Fever,
many special symptoms will [unclear] which will require a special
treatment in themselves, and in the treatment of each case of this fever
a modification of treatment will be required.