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 Dr. Michael Echols  &  Dr. Doug Arbittier


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Civil War Medical Purveyors and Store-Keepers

Edited by Dr. Michael Echols

Part One

Created: 9-2009

According to Edmonson in American Surgical Instruments, page 67: "During his tenure as Medical Purveyor of the United States Army, Surgeon Richard S. Satterlee placed contracts with instrument makers, chiefly in Philadelphia and New York for fabrication of cased instrument sets and related surgical equipment for the military.  During the course of the War he requisitioned purchases of over 4,900 amputating and general operating cases; 1,150 cases of trephining, exsecting, post-mortem, and personal instrument; 12,700 minor surgery and pocket cases; and 65,000 tourniquets. 

GENERAL ORDERS NO 48 War Department Adjutant General's Office Washington, April 19 1862 Section. 5:  And be it further enacted that Medical Purveyors shall be charged under the direction of the Surgeon General with the selection and purchase of all medical supplies including new standard preparations and of all books instruments hospital stores furniture and other articles required for the sick and wounded of the army In all cases of emergency they may provide such additional accommodations for the sick and wounded of the army and may transport such medical supplies as circumstances may render necessary under such regulations as may hereafter be established and shall make prompt and immediate issues upon all special requisitions made upon them under such circumstances by Medical Officers and the special requisitions shall consist simply of a list of the articles required the qualities required dated and signed by the medical officers requiring them.

As can been determined by the following information c. 1862, medical supplies were under strict control by the Medical Department and under the supervision of bonded officers.  This information explains who was in charge of the medical supplies during and after the war.  Combined with the information contained in the post-war hospital inventory and receipt for medical supplies, we can follow the process as to how surplus supplies and surgery sets came into the possession of surgeons after the war.

May 20th, 1862


"The Secretary of War is authorized to add to the Medical Department of the Army, Medical Storekeepers, not exceeding six in number, who shall have the pay and emoluments of Military Storekeepers of the Quartermaster's Department, who shall be skilled Apothecaries or Druggists ; who shall give the bond and security required by existing laws for military storekeepers in the Quartermaster's Department, and they shall be stationed at such points as the necessities of the army may require.


General Order No. 55, War Department, Adjutant General's Office, Washington, May 24th, 1862, announced the following regulations, which governed the appointment of Medical Storekeepers :


1st. A board of not less than three Medical Officers will be assembled by the Secretary of War to examine such applicants as may, by him, be authorized to appear before it.


2d. Candidates, to be eligible to examination, shall not be less than 25 years or more than 40 years of age; shall possess sufficient physical ability to perform their duties satisfactorily; and shall present with their applications satisfactory evidence of good moral character.


3d. Candidates will be required to pass a satisfactory examination in the ordinary branches of a good English education, in Pharmacy and Materia Medica; and to give proof that they possess the requisite business qualifications for the position.


4th. The board will report to the Secretary of War the relative merit of the candidates examined, and they will receive appointments accordingly.


5th. When appointed, each medical storekeeper will be required to give a bond in the sum of $40,000, before he shall be allowed to enter on the performance of his duties.


After having complied with all the requirements of the above order, the successful candidates were duly appointed by the President, and commissioned accordingly.


The duties of the position are defined to be "under the direction of the Surgeon General and Medical Purveyors, with the storing and safe keeping of medical and hospital supplies, and with the duties of receiving, issuing and accounting for the same according to regulations."


There is no actual rank for storekeepers; by custom and courtesy those in the quartermaster's and ordnance departments are styled Captain, and the same title is at some posts adopted for medical storekeepers; at others they are simply addressed as " Mr.;" according as custom has established. The absence of any rank is a practical inconvenience, as no civilian in the army can command that subordination and respect from inferiors which attaches to actual and acknowledged rank in a superior.


A uniform has been established by regulations for storekeepers in the department to which they belong, but practically no attention is paid to it, each one wearing what fancy or convenience dictates, without any mark of rank, however.

Having no assimilated rank, they are not in the line of promotion; nor are they or their families entitled to any pensions or bounties under existing laws, should they be injured or killed, or die from disease contracted while in the line of their duty; the position being considered rather a civil than a military addition to the army.


The position of storekeeper is one of considerable magnitude and responsibility, the property passing through his hands, and for which he is accountable while-in his care, amounts to millions of dollars annually.


The law requires him to receive, issue, and safely store it; he must keep an account with each item, and make returns quarterly, accounting for every ounce or yard' or single thing that comes into his possession, and he must be sure, too, that he receives all he is charged with, by looking sharply after those who may be furnishing his depot with supplies; this for his own protection as well as for the Government.


Enough clerical assistance is allowed to perform the great amount of labor necessarily accumulating; system and economy are, however, rigidly enjoined, and no unnecessary expenses of any kind are allowed in the settlement of accounts with the Treasury. As he is responsible for the stores passing through or in his hands, he is also responsible for the honesty and efficiency of those employed by him, and can therefore appoint his own clerks.


When a requisition is received from a Surgeon in charge of a hospital, or of a regiment in the field, having first obtained the approval of the Medical Director of the Department in which it is located, it is at once packed—all the supplies being conveniently put up for issue according to the Supply Table—and marked ready for shipment, each package also being marked with the name of the class to which its contents belong. A packer's list, giving in detail the contents of each package, is sent by mail, together with an invoice and blank receipt, to be filled up similar to the invoice and returned by the receiving officer.


It so happened that four of the six medical storekeepers appointed as above authorized, were assigned to duty as Acting Medical Purveyors; this added largely to their duties and responsibilities ; as they then became purchasing and disbursing officers, purchasing supplies in yearly value from half to two millions of dollars, and paying to the various claimants against the Army Medical Department, perhaps as much more, but with no extra compensation or emolument.


Scientific knowledge is not much called into play; what is most required is a thorough business knowledge, a familiarity with the various customs of ordinary business transactions, sound judgment, and intimate acquaintance with the regulations, laws, orders, and circulars of the medical department.


The purchase of medicines proper is a small part of the expenditures of the medical department, when compared to the purchase of Dry Goods, Hardware, Groceries, Liquors, Books and Stationery, &c., required in supplying hospitals, so that a varied business knowledge is necessary, to keep in view the constant market changes in the price and also in the quality of supplies required. I do not wish to convey the idea that an acquaintance with drugs is unimportant, but which is on the contrary absolutely necessary; hence the wisdom of appointing practical druggists to the positions.



CIRCULAR NO 7 Surgeon General's Office May 7 1863




1 Medical Purveyors are charged under the direction of the Surgeon General with the selection and purchase of all medical and hospital supplies for the Army.  In all cases of emergency they may provide such additional accommodations for the sick and wounded of the Army and may transport such medical and hospital supplies as circumstances may render necessary


3 Medical Storekeepers are charged under the direction of the Surgeon General and Medical Purveyors with the storing and safe keeping of medical and hospital supplies and with the duties of receiving issuing and accounting for the same according to regulations Medical and hospital supplies transferred to Medical Storekeepers by Medical Purveyors will be receipted for as invoiced without breaking packages provided the number of packages correspond with the invoice that they are in good shipping condition and that there be no reason to suppose the contents broken or defective


4 Medical Purveyors will be responsible for the quality of the medical and hospital supplies purchased by them and they are directed to have surgical instruments made in the best manner of the best materials and according to patterns approved by the Surgeon General Each instrument is to be inspected and each chain saw tested on fresh bone by them or under their supervision before being paid for or issued


9 Medical Purveyors and all other medical disbursing officers will also render direct to the Second Auditor of the Treasury within one month after the expiration of each successive quarter a quarterly account current of moneys received expended &c during the quarter Form 3 with an abstract of disbursements Form 4 and proper vouchers Form 5 A duplicate of the account current and of the abstract will be forwarded at the same time to the Surgeon General


25 The transfer of surgical instruments issued to Medical Officers for their personal use is positively forbidden Each Medical Officer will retain those instruments in his immediate possession so long as he remains in the Army and will be held responsible for their complete and serviceable condition and for their ea y accessibility at all times If the instruments be lost destroyed or damaged they must be replaced or repaired as soon as possible by requisition upon the nearest Medical Purveyor setting fully the causes of such loss or damage If the loss or damage be from the unavoidable casualties of the service the expense of replacing or repairing the instruments will be paid by the Medical Department if from any other causes such expenses must be paid by the Medical Officer


26 When a Medical Officer leaves the Army he will deliver his instruments to the nearest Medical Purveyor taking receipts therefor in detail and if transportation be required he will take receipts for the package containing the instruments from an officer of the Quartermaster's Department


28 The Surgeon General Assistant Surgeon General Medical Inspector General and Medical Inspectors are allowed the same instruments as Staff Surgeons


29 These instruments will be accounted for to the Surgeon General on the 31st December annually Form 11 in which the true condition of each must be stated and if any be lost or damaged a report of the facts and circumstances attending such loss or damage must be given


30 Amputating trephining exsecting general operating and pocket instruments that do nut correspond in detail with the sets prescribed by regulations w ll be accounted for on the regular property returns as amputating trephining exsecting general operating and pocket sets without designating the special instruments comprising each set or making a special return thereof


33 Applications for microscopes by medical officers in charge general hospitals will be favorably considered provided the evidence is satisfactory that the officer will use the instrument the benefit of science and will report the results of his observations to the Surgeon General


34 The dissecting case obstetrical case pocket case for hospitals teeth extracting case medicine case and medicine panniers be issued receipted and returned for as sets without stating their contents in detail


38 All empty boxes cans and bottles in which medical and hospital supplies were received are to be carefully cleansed and preserved from damage Such as will not be required for use in the hospital will be disposed of at either private or sale at least once a year and the net proceeds of such sales be turned over to the nearest Medical Purveyor and be for by him as public funds pertaining to the Medical of the Army At stations near a Medical Purveyor these will be turned over to that officer

(The army surgeon's manual, for the use of medical officers, by William Grace, 1864)



Br Hennell Stbyens, Medical Storekeeper, U. S. A.

The duties of procuring and issuing the medical supplies of the army are devolved, under the direction of the Surgeon General, upon the Medical Purveyors, who are Medical Officers, detailed for that duty, there being, in our army, no officers appointed for that specific purpose.


Soon after their appointment, four of the Medical Storekeepeers were assigned to duty as Medical Purveyors, and two of them still occupy that position, out of the five remaining in the corps. The relative duties of Medical Purveyors and Storekeepers will appear from the following extracts from official orders.


"Medical Purveyors are charged, under the direction of the Surgeon General, with the selection and purchase of all medical and hospital supplies for the Army. In all cases of emergency they may provide such additional accommodation for the sick and wounded of the Army, and may transport such medical and hospital supplies, as circumstances may render necessary. In all cases of emergency they shall promptly issue supplies on special requisitions made directly upon them, and such special requisitions shall consist simply of a list of the articles and quantities required, and be dated and signed by the Medical Officer who makes the requisition. The nature of the emergency most be stated, otherwise the requisition will be referred to the Medical Director.


Except in the " cases of emergency," referred to in the preceding paragraph, Medical Purveyors and Medical Storekeepers will issue medical and hospital supplies only on the order of the Surgeon General, the Assistant Surgeon General, or a Medical Director.


Medical Storekeepers are charged, under the direction of the Surgeon General and Medical Purveyors, with the storing and safe-keeping of medical and hospital supplies, and with the duties of receiving, issuing, and accounting for the same, according to regulations.


Medical Purveyors and Medical Storekeepers will be held responsible that the medical and hospital supplies issued or transferred by them, are well packed ; that each article is designated by the name of the maker or vender; and that each package is legibly and correctly marked with the address of the officer for whom it is intended, and with its weight and contents, whether medicines, hospital stores, instruments, dressings, books and stationery, bedding, clothing, or furniture and appliances.


Medical Purveyors and Medical Storekeepers will give bonds in such sums as the Secretary of War may require, with security to be approved by him. Medical Officers, temporarily assigned to duty as Acting Medical Purveyors, are not required to give bonds."


Besides procuring and issuing medical supplies, Medical Purveyors are disbursing officers; being charged with the payment of accounts against the Medical Department, and also of contract Surgeons, and the civilians employed in hospitals as cooks and nurses. The principal purveying depots of the army are located in New York and Philadelphia, each depot having connected with it a laboratory, where, as far as possible, the supplies required are manufactured, and put up for issue. The other depots are divided into Department and Field depots; the former being located at the most central point of each military department, the latter being in close proximity to the scene of active operations ; and drawing their supplies from the former, who, in their turn, are supplied from the principal depots. Like every thing else connected with the army, its medical supplies are on the most liberal scale.


"The standard of medical and hospital supplies for the Army is the Supply Table. It is not the design of the Department to confine medical officers absolutely to that table, either in variety or quantity, but only to establish a standard for their guidance in making requisitions for supplies, leaving individual preferences to be indulged at the discretion of the Medical Director or the Surgeon General. Neither is it supposed that the quantities of the table will always meet the necessities of unusual emergencies, as during epidemics, or in unhealthy seasons and localities ; and medical officers who allow their supplies to be exhausted through any such contingencies, without timely notice of their approaching necessities, will be held to a strict accountability."  AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHARMACY, JANUARY, 1865.


Dr. Richard Satterlee, New York Purveyor's Office

Continuation of information on Purveyors and Medical Storekeepers 

Article on government sale of Civil War hospital inventory to surgeons

Article on sources of Civil War military surgical sets

The Medical Staff and Materia Chirugica" from the Med. & Surgical History


Medical Antiques Index

American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques Index

Contact Dr. Arbittier or Dr. Echols



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American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

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