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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Medical Education During the Civil War

By Dr. Michael Echols

(The following are the personal edited research notes of Michael Echols, the source of which may or may not be completely documented)

Topics: medical lecture cards, education, medical text books, Civil War education, graduation or admission catalogues

During the period just before the Civil War, a physician received minimal surgical  training. Nearly all the older doctors served as apprentices in lieu of formal education. Even those who had attended one of the few medical schools were poorly trained.  The perception that 'doctors' or 'surgeons' knew how to do amputations or any other kind of surgery is just wrong.  Perhaps the practicing surgeons in medical institutions were experienced at doing various procedures, but the average student who had just graduated was severely limited in surgical experience.  As the Civil War started, there were very few experienced surgeons to handle battlefield wounds.  The Union Army had to 'screen' the applicants who wanted to serve because so few were qualified. 

In Europe, four-year medical schools were common, laboratory training was widespread, and a greater understanding of disease and infection existed.  Many U.S. medical students attended medical school in Scotland, England, or Europe.

The average medical student in the United States, on the other hand, trained for two years or less, received practically no clinical experience, and was given virtually no laboratory instruction. Harvard University, for instance, did not own a single stethoscope or microscope until after the war.   Until tuition was instituted in 1871 at Harvard, salaries of Medical School professors were raised through the sale of lecture tickets.  See a list of medical schools in existence prior to and during the Civil War.

Another important point about medical students in the 1800's is how few graduated verses how many attended in a given year.  Very few actually graduated.  If you look at the current year's registered students at Albany Medical College catalogue in a given year, and then look back at how many actually graduated notice how few finished and actually graduated.  The large number of students on any given year could be explained by both a high attrition rate, but also by students who wanted to refresh their knowledge since lectures were sold on a ticket basis and lecturers/doctors were paid by these ticket purchased for most of the 1800's.

University of Pennsylvania, Medical Department  | ExamplesExamples  | Examples  | Catalogue 1873-4

University of New York, Medical Department, 1858, faculty, and graduate list 1841 to 1858, surgeons who served in the War

Homeopathic and Allopathic Physicians during the Civil War

Fraudulent Medical Colleges in the 1800's


Civil War Surgery: The truth about what surgeons did and did not do during the War


Medical student's notebook from 1888, Univ. of New York,  Medical College

Click on any image to enlarge

Lecture Ticket for Principles Practice & Operations of Surgery 1862 by Alfred C. Post, M.D.

1861:Bellevue Hospital Medical College opens at New York with New Jersey-born physician Lewis Albert Sayre, 41, as the first U.S. professor of orthopedic surgery.


Faculty of Bellevue Hospital 1864



Below is a series of CDV's in this collection of the Faculty of Bellevue Hospital during the Civil War years

Faculty list for 1864-65 Bellevue Hospital (click to enlarge)

These doctors/faculty are some of the individuals who published the texts used by the Union surgeons during the Civil War


Lecture schedule for 1864-65 Bellevue Hospital (click to enlarge)

Typical Civil War medical topics: Anatomy, Physiology, Materia Medica, Pharmacy, Therapeutics, Pathology, Physic, Practice of Medicine, Surgery, Medical Jurisprudence, Medical Police, Hygiene


Lecture tickets for famous Civil War surgeons: Dr.'s Hamilton and Wood

See Surgical Manuals by the most famous surgeons of the War



Civil War lecture tickets for Alexander Mott, MD., George Blackman, MD


Extended list of pre-1866 Medical College Lecture Tickets


Photographs of 1850's surgeon/professors at Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia

When the war began, the Federal army had a total of about 98 medical officers, the Confederacy just 24. By 1865, some 13,000 Union doctors had served in the field and in the hospitals; in the Confederacy, about 4,000 medical officers and an unknown number of volunteers treated war casualties. in both the North and South, these men were assisted by thousands of women who donated their time and energy to help the wounded.1  1. Source: The Civil War Society's "Encyclopedia of the Civil War"

Also see notes on the Army Medical Dept. 1866 to extensive information about the medical staff in 1866.

The Civil War doctor, Surgeons as they were called, ranged from the brave and brilliant to drunks and quacks. The uneven quality was the result of political influence in the appointment of some medical officers and wildly varying state-to-state standards in some cases. One state required no medical degree from prospective surgeons on grounds that "scholarship" was no "measure of practical ability", which may explain the former barbers and similarly qualified men occasionally commissioned as surgeons. The quacks deceived the public by their irresponsibility. The qualified doctors deprived the public by their excessive responsibility. They were so obsessed by quackery that they distrusted new innovations, even when they were based on scientific theory.

Use of chloroform and ether during the Civil War on the battlefield.

In addition to the Army Surgeons, there was the contract surgeon, who many times was not sufficiently trained to be accepted by Army standards to be an officer. Contract Surgeons were paid sometimes as low as $30.00 a month while an Army Surgeon might receive as high as $100.00 to $130.00 a month depending on his rank and length of service. During the War, 5,500 were engaged for periods of 3 to 6 months with only about 1,500 serving at any one time. Many of the doctors still practiced saddle bag medicine. The greatest share of the doctors at the beginning of the war had never seen or treated a gunshot wound in their life.

Additional research regarding American Civil War medical libraries

Confederate education during the Civil War at Medical College of Virginia:

The medical school remained operational during the civil war, the only southern medical school still in existence which graduated students during the civil war. Just prior to the outbreak of the war, Hunter Holmes McGuire led 300 fellow southern medical students from the Jefferson Medical School in protest for the way they were treated, and most (140) subsequently enrolled at the Medical College of Virginia. During the Civil War McGuire also distinguished himself both as a humanitarian and surgeon to Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. At the wars end in 1865, he became the chairman of the department of surgery.

The capital of the Confederacy had numerous and the largest hospitals in the South. Among them was Winder Hospital with a capacity of 3000 beds, and Chimborazo Hospital the largest with 8000 beds and most famous hospital in the South. Opened in 1861, Chimborazo Hospital was led by James McCaw, which at the time was the largest military hospital on the continent. Some estimate that 75,000 patients were treated there during the Civil War with an overall mortality of only 9%. Most of the records relating to medical care in Richmond were burned in the great Richmond fire just before its fall in April, 1865. Richmonders set the fires themselves to prevent seizing of alcohol, tobacco, and other valuable pillory. The Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal includes numerous accounts of head injuries treated at Chimborazo Hospital due to shrapnel and bullet wounds. 

Notes from: VCW University

A list of all the medical schools in existence during and before the Civil War.  This would help determine the education of a given surgeon and eliminate those schools not in existence during the War.

Civil War related medical books currently in this collection

Medical Book Collection Index     

Medical Book Collection.: 1 | 1a | 2 | 2a | 3 | 3a | 4 | 4a | 5 | 5a | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 9a | 10 | 11 | 12



Authorized Medical Books adopted by the Surgeon-General, U.S. Army for Field and Hospitals,, published by J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1862  Plus military medical books by the same publisher, 1862

A List of Civil War era published MEDICAL AUTHORS & FACULTY

Bailliere's medical publications, 1861

Lippincott's military publications, 1862

Civil War era medical books purchased by the U. S. Army Medical Department

Civil War related medical books currently in this collection

Medical Book Collection Index

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.


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


Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016