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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American Civil War Surgical Antiques

Research and Identification

Civil War Era Surgical Sets, Surgeon's Images

Civil War Surgeon Education & Medical Textbooks

Established 1995    .     Dr. Michael Echols Collection


As seen in:  Warman's Civil War Collectibles, Antique Week, Northeast Antiques, Antiques & Collecting publications, and various TV programs

Field Organization of the Medical Department, 1862

 (Edited by Dr. Echols)


In 1861 there were already in the army 2,109 regimental surgeons 3,652 assistant surgeons and in the hospitals scattered through the country 5,500 acting assistant surgeons by degrees things took shape.  (The Medical Department in the Civil War, by Silas Weir Mitchell)

The Union 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.

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 the best documented surgeons and a list of their names is found in the "List of Battles and Roster of Regimental 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

Field Organization of the Union Medical Department in 1862


Operations in Northern Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.--September 3-November 14, 1862.
No. 4.--
Report of Surg. Jonathan Letterman, U. S. A., Medical Director

Medical Director's Office, October 30, 1862.

SIR: In order that the wounded may receive the most prompt and efficient attention during and after an engagement, and that the necessary
operations may be performed by the most skillful and responsible surgeons at the earliest moment, the following instructions are issued for the guidance of the medical staff of this army, and medical directors of corps will see that they are promptly carried into effect:
Previous to an engagement there will be established in each corps a hospital for each division, the position of which will he selected by the medical director of the corps.

The organization of the hospital will be as follows:

1st. A surgeon in charge; one assistant surgeon to provide food and shelter; one assistant surgeon to keep the records.

2d. Three medical officers to perform operations; three medical officers as assistants to each of these officers.

3d. Additional medical officers, hospital stewards, nurses of the division.

The surgeon in charge will have general superintendence and be responsible to the surgeon-in-chief of the division for the proper administration of the hospital. The surgeon-in-chief of a division will detail one assistant surgeon, who will report to and be under the immediate orders of the surgeon in charge, whose duties shall be to pitch the hospital tents and provide straw, fuel, water, blankets, &c., and, when houses are used, put them in proper order for the reception of wounded. This assistant surgeon will, when the foregoing shall have been accomplished, at once organize a kitchen, using for this purpose the hospital mess chests and the kettles, tins, in the ambulances. The supplies of beef stock and bread in the ambulances, and of arrowroot, tea, in the hospital wagon, will enable him to prepare quickly a sufficient quantity of palatable and nourishing food. All the cooks, and such of the hospital stewards and nurses as may be necessary, will be placed under his orders for these purposes.

He will detail another assistant surgeon, whose duty it shall be to keep a complete record of every case brought to the hospital, giving the name, rank, company, and regiment; the seat and character of injury; the treatment; the operation, if any be performed, and the result, which will be transmitted to the medical director of the corps and by him sent to this office.

This officer will also see to the proper interment of those who die, and that the grave is marked with a head-beard with the name, rank, company, and regiment legibly inscribed upon it.

He will make out two tabular statements of wounded, which the surgeon-in-chief of division will transmit within thirty-six hours after a battle, one to this office (by a special messenger, if necessary) and the other to the medical director of the corps to which the hospital belongs.

There will be selected from the division by the surgeon-in-chief, under the direction of the medical director of the corps, three medical officers, who will be the operating staff of the hospital, upon whom will rest the immediate responsibility of the performance of all important operations. In all doubtful cases they will consult together, and a majority of them shall decide upon the expediency and character of the operation. These officers will be selected from the division without regard to rank, but solely on account of their known prudence, judgment, and skill. The surgeon-in-chief of the division is enjoined to be especially careful in the selection of these officers, choosing only those who have distinguished themselves for surgical skill, sound judgment, and conscientious regard for the highest interests of the wounded.

There will be detailed three medical officers to act as assistants to each one of these officers, who will report to him and act entirely under his direction. It is suggested that one of the assistants be selected to administer the anaesthetic. Each operating surgeon will be provided with an excellent table from the hospital wagon, and, with the present organization for field hospitals, it is hoped that the confusion and the delay in performing the necessary operations so often existing after a battle will be avoided, and all operations hereafter be primary.

The remaining medical officers of the division, except one to each regiment, will be ordered to the hospitals to act as dressers and assistants generally. Those who follow the regiments to the field will establish themselves, each one at a temporary depot, at such a distance or situation in the rear of his regiment as will insure safety to the wound, d, where they will give such aid as is immediately required; and they are here reminded that, whilst no personal consideration should interfere with their duty to the wounded, the grave responsibilities resting upon them render any unnecessary exposure improper.

The surgeon-in-chief of the division will exercise general supervision, under the medical director of the corps, over the medical affairs in his division. He will see that the officers are faithful in the performance of their duties in the hospital and upon the field, and that by the ambulance corps, which has heretofore been so efficient, the wounded are removed from the field carefully and with dispatch.

Whenever his duties permit, he will give his professional services at the hospital, will order to the hospital as soon as located all the hospital wagons of the brigades, the hospital tents and furniture, and all the hospital stewards and nurses. He will notify the captain commanding the ambulance corps, or, if this be impracticable, the first lieutenant commanding the division ambulances, of the location of the hospital.

No medical officer will leave the position to which he shall have been assigned without permission, and any officer so doing will be reported to the medical director of the corps, who will report the facts to this office.

The medical directors of corps will apply to their commanders on the eve of a battle for the necessary guard and men for fatigue duty. This guard will be particularly careful that no stragglers be allowed about the hospital, using the food and comforts prepared for the wounded.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

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:


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

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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.


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Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016