Civil War Instrument Makers and Suppliers of Surgical Sets
By Dr. Michael Echols
Some of the minor surgical instrument suppliers to the Civil War effort may only show up as having been a supplier since they built military sets for the state militias and not just the federal Army as is discussed below:
Links to Civil War maker information, addresses, and dates
Martin Kuemerle (minor)
Louis V. Helmold (minor)
D. W. Kolbe (minor)
Snowden & Bro. (major)
Jacob H. Gemrig (major)
Hermann Hernstein & Son (major)
George Tiemann & Co. (major)
Horatio G. Kern (minor)
A. H. Wirz (minor
Julian Tiencken (minor)
Also see the list of maker labels of the above makers
Federal government purchased sets during the Civil War:
There are two major groups of Federal government contract-ordered military surgery sets used during the Civil War:
First, the Army Hospital Department, was a subdivision of the Medical Department. From 1861 to 1865, the U. S. Army Hospital Department sets, were specifically made for use during the Civil War. Yes, there were a few Hospital Department marked sets which existed outside the War years, but they are easily identified and dated by the contents. (Note: There are U. S. A. Hosp. Dept. marked sets used during the Mexican War of 1846, so the trick is to correctly identify the maker and production dates. The Army Medical Department before the Civil War was a small bureaucracy, which consisted of less than 100 doctors, most of whom were not performing surgery on a regular basis as there were no wars, so there were not that many surgical sets needed.)
Secondly, there are U. S. Army Medical Department sets, which were used by Army surgeons before, during, and after the Civil War. With Medical Dept. marked sets you have to figure out when the set was made via the maker address or style of the case and instruments, but the vast majority of these sets were purchased immediately before or during the first year of the War. The Medical Department engraved sets may have just been a matter of the small group of doctors in the pre-war Medical Department ordering military surgical sets out of a different military budget than the budget created to run the whole War effort and assigned to the Hospital Department bureaucracy.
At the start of the Civil War, the Army Medical Department consisted of one surgeon-general (colonel), thirty surgeons (major) , and eighty-three assistants (lieutenant). Three of these surgeons and twenty-one assistants resigned "to go South," and three assistants were dismissed for disloyalty. In August, 1861, ten additional surgeons and twenty assistants were authorized, and a corps of medical cadets was formed, not to exceed fifty in number, to be employed under the direction of medical officers as dressers in hospital. (Refer to: 'THE MEDICAL DEPARTMENT' By Major Charles Smart, Surgeon U. S. A. for further details.)
A minor category of 'government', but not 'Federal', military sets are those purchased by the state volunteer militias. These sets are a minor source of military 'style' sets purchased by various state voluntary militias existing prior to and during the Civil War. These state groups, which were later mustered into the Regular Army, could have ordered military-style sets for their own use prior to or even during the War. The instrument makers made sets for the state militia groups before the War or during the first year before the Med. or Hosp. Dept. purveyors ordered the 4,000 sets for the Federal Army. This would account for the small number of military sets we see from regional makers like Rees, Brinkerhoff, Goulding, Otto, Shurtleff, etc. These regional makers could have provided military-style sets for their local militia volunteers, but were never under contract to supply the main-stream sets ordered and used by the Union Army during the War due to their inability to supply the large numbers or quality of instruments.
Remember, the vast majority of instrument makers in 1861, other than someone like Tiemann, were not geared for large scale production, but rather crafted individual hand-made instruments which were custom ordered by the surgeon or put-up in cases for sale as a design by 'doctor so-and-so'. Other 'makers' imported instruments from England and France to assemble sets as requested by a given doctor or retail outlet such as a pharmacy or apothecary dealer.
It is possible any given military group could have contracted with any given instrument maker to provide a set of instruments for their group with military latches and military dedicated instruments. The markings or lack there-of on the brass plates or instruments would be the telling point. Only the official Union ordered sets would be engraved and marked as U.S.A. Hosp. Dept or Medical Dept. All others would be either unmarked or otherwise marked depending on the owner. This may account for some un-marked or inconsistently marked brass plates on military 'style' sets during or prior to the War years.
If you have a military style or other set you think may be from the Civil War and want it evaluated, please contact Dr. Echols and he will help you figure it out correctly, especially before you buy one!
See: Identify Civil War era sets. Also, there are several resources on this site to help you identify the earliest sets used during the War via the 1861 Army Supply Table.
State Volunteer Militia Surgeons:
Before the War started, there were state militias and each militia had 'medical' staff of some sort. Unfortunately the state militias did not necessarily qualify their medical officers and some if not many were simply medical wannabes: druggists, preceptors, and individuals who 'attended' a medical lecture or two. Yes, some were qualified surgeons as the literature proves, but there were qualifying boards which vetted these individuals before they were allowed to be designated as military surgeons in the Union Army and most likely by the Confederate medical staff. The boards who qualified these doctors as surgeons were often staffed by teaching faculty at leading medical colleges. Among the famous surgeons and faculty who performed this vetting service were: Alexander Mott, M.D. and Joseph Janvier Woodward, M.D.
See a discussion of the State Volunteer Militia, by Major Charles Smart, Surgeon U. S. A.
There are surgical sets, military and civilian issue (as previously discussed), which were provided to and/or owned by surgeons who were part of State Volunteer Regiments or some division, and who may have brought their own surgical sets when they were mustered into the Regular Army. As mentioned above, these sets would not be marked for the U.S.A. Hospital Department because the sets were provided to or owned by a state militia or surgeon and not by the Federal Government. Of course it would be difficult to prove unequivocally if a given set belonged to the surgeon unless engraved or heavily documented. This is a very difficult area to prove or disprove. But there are two or three sets in this collection in this category. See a Tiemann military set, which belonged to Norman Smith, M.D. with the 6th. Mass. Volunteers.
Contact Dr. Arbittier or Dr. Echols
Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016