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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David Slone Conant, M.D. 

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From the Bowdoin Alumni:  David Sloan Conant:  Born 1825 in Lyme, N.H., Physician, Lecturer in Anatomy and Physiology 1857-58;  Professor 1858-63;  Surgeon 1863-65;  Prof. of Surg., Univ. of Vermont 1855-65;  Prof. Surg.  N.Y. Medical College 1863-65.  Died 1865 in New York.

Conant, David Sloan (1825-1865)

This teacher and
army surgeon, the son of a carpenter in the little country village of Lyme, New Hampshire, not far from Dartmouth, was born January 21, 1825. Submitting himself to his father's will he learned the trade of a carpenter, like many of his ancestors before him, although he detested the business, for his heart was set on obtaining an education. He worked diligently until the very last day of his twentieth year, became very skilful in his handicraft, and developed into a man of tremendous muscular power. During his leisure hours he read widely and gave much attention to the study of medicine and anatomy, so that with the beginning of his years of freedom, he possessed a fund of book knowledge of medicine and general literature. On the day after he obtained his majority he left his father's shop and studied two years, as of old with energy and ambition, at Stratford Academy in Vermont, and advanced so far that he could have passed a college examination for the sophomore class. He was, however, at this time dissuaded from obtaining a college education, an occurrence which he regretted during the rest of his life.

He began the actual study of medicine with a country practitioner in the town adjoining his birthplace, and in the autumn attended his first course of lectures at the Dartmouth Medical School. Here he attracted at once the attention and enduring interest of a man then celebrated in medicine, Dr. Edmund Randolph Peaslee (q. v.), professor of anatomy and physiology in Dartmouth and various other schools; a man who having unequaled prestige and influence could advance a student of promise. He perceived that Conant was a youth of unusual qualities, he favored him, and Conant kept up to his appearances and his promises by doing well at the work allotted to him. It happened that Peaslee went during Conant's third year in medical lectures to the school at Bowdoin, and from that institution, Conant, who accompanied Dr. Peaslee from Dartmouth, as demonstrator, was graduated in 1851. Lacking money to establish himself in New York, as Dr. Peaslee urged, Conant first settled in his native town for three years as country doctor, studied in spare hours, worked in other spare hours as a carpenter and job- workman, and at the end had saved enough to give himself a living chance in New York for two or three years, if all went well. Indeed, then, all did go well with him. He demonstrated at the 13th Street School, gave private lectures in anatomy, was capable in practice, and in 1854 he took charge of the Mott Street Cholera Hospital, and whilst there wrote several papers on the pathological alterations discovered in the numerous patients.

Immediately after the resignation of Dr. Peaslee from the chair of anatomy at Bowdoin, Conant went there and continued until 1862 when he was elected professor of surgery. He lectured also on anatomy and surgery at the medical school of the University of Vermont from 1855 until his death. He became a member of many learned medical and surgical societies and was a favorite wherever he presented himself. As a teacher he was exact and comprehensive, as a surgeon courageous and skilful, and as a man upright and the soul of honor.
With the beginning of the Civil War he volunteered as a surgeon, and on the field did an incredible amount of surgery, often under embarrassing conditions and with a high percentage of recoveries.

After the battle of Antietam Conant volunteered his services, and owing to his great exertions contracted an intestinal disease which never entirely left him.

He died from septicemia; a small furuncle starting on the side of the nose, then healing, then another following; that healing, a third made its way into the orbit and brain, and he died at his home in New York, October 8, 1865.

He was twice married; first to Miss Mary Sanborn of Strafford, Vermont, and after her death to Miss Mary Larrabee, of Brunswick, Maine, who with a child survived him.

The salient characteristic of Conant was force, properly directed. He could turn a handspring from a tree-stump without a springboard. He was a wonderful boxer. He hit everything hard, driving it home like a nail, but he was never out of breath. He was a handsome specimen of the strong man, not big, but powerful. He lectured delightfully, but he preferred to listen to recitations, to question his pupils to find out just what they did not know, and then he strove to get at them until they should know what they needed for practice in Medicine.

Although brusque in manner he was so good-natured that a second later you forgot and forgave any seeming discourtesy. He read much and absorbed what he read. He operated with mechanical accuracy. His early experience with tools and rules stood him of immense value in surgery. In operating upon his own father, coming down unexpectedly upon the carotid, he ligated it as coolly as if

nothing had occurred. Bold, yet conservative, he would save one limb rather than get rid of fifty by bold operations.

As an incident of his skill in emergency, he was in a railroad accident and was called to a boy badly injured. He took a small case of instruments from his pocket, quickly amputated both legs, dressed the wounds with strips torn from garments furnished by lady passengers, then went on his way; the boy recovered.

He wrote on a case of operation for ovarian tumor, and a paper on monsters (New York Academy of Medicine).

Dr. Abraham Jacobi writes of him: "He was a good teacher of anatomy (and also of surgery) in my old college. I saw little of him. Suddenly he was dead. The regret was that he died of work, meningitis contracted in connection with a septic rhinitis after an operation" (letter to Dr. Kelly of February 25, 1919).

Anecdote Of The Late Prof. David S. Conant.—An instance illustrative of his coolness and boldness may be ariefly adverted to. On one of his visits to his home he found his father suffering from a cervical tumor. The disease had already developed to such an extent as to threaten suffocation by pressure on the trachea, and was manifestly malignant. Satisfied that the danger of sudden death was imminent, he determined to remove as much of the mass as practicable to relieve the pressure. In the course of the operation, he came upon the carotid artery. Without any hesitation he applied a ligature, and then extirpated all of the mass that could be safely removed. This operation gave great relief, and undoubtedly prolonged the father's life some months. It is not every surgeon, however, who could use the knife on his own parent, for at best only a palliative operation. Memorial Address, Prof'. A. B. Crosby, Univ. Vermont Medical Department.

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

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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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Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016