American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

Surgical Set collection from 1860 to 1865 - Civilian and Military

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 Dr. Michael Echols  &  Dr. Doug Arbittier


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 Moses Gunn, M.D.

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Moses Gunn, M. D., was born April 20, 1822, the son of Linus and Esther (Bronson) Gunn, in East Bloomneld, Ontario county, New York. His American ancestors descended from the Gunn clan, in the north of Scotland. After receiving his preliminary education at the common schools, at home, and taking a classical education at the academy. Moses Gunn determined upon pursuing the medical profession, and entered the Geneva Medical College, whence he graduated in 1846. Immediately after receiving his diploma as Doctor of Medicine he started for the West, carrying with him, in a neat trunk, the body of a huge African, whereon his surgical skill could be exercised at a favorable opportunity. There were no "baggage-smashers" upon the Doctors route, otherwise an unpleasant contretemps might have occurred.

Dr. Gunn arrived at Ann Arbor, Michigan, in February, 1846, and at the same time that he commenced practice inaugurated the first systematic course of Anatomical Lectures ever given in Michigan. He had a class of twenty-five or thirty students, and it is presumable that at the first lectures the African was resurrected and scientifically dissected. Upon the organization of the Medical Department of the University of Michigan Dr. Gunn was elected Professor of Surgery by a most flattering majority over, his competitor. But for once the Latin adage, palmam qui mentit ferat, was carried out. He occupied the Chair for seventeen years, until 1867, the first three years teaching both Anatomy and Surgery, and notwithstanding the engrossing duties of his private practice and his professorship, as a recreation, he studied German, in which language he attained great proficiency.

In 1848 Dr. Gunn married Jane Augusta Terry, the only daughter of J. M. Terry, M. D. In 1853 he removed to Detroit, continuing his duties at Ann Arbor, however, and in 1856 received the degree of M. A. from Geneva College, and in 1877 that of LL. D., from the University of Chicago.


On September 1, 1861, Dr. Gunn entered the army, that he might gain a practical knowledge of military surgery, and was with General McClellan's army in the Peninsula campaign of 1862, wherein he rendered efficient medical service.


MAY 5, 1862.--Battle of Williamsburg, Va.
No. 34. -- Report of Col. Henry D. Terry, Fifth Michigan Infantry.
"Our wounded have been well cared for and sent to the general hospital, for which I am indebted to the skill, care, and attention of the
surgeon, Dr. Moses Gunn, the assistant surgeon, Dr. Everett, and the hospital steward, Dr. Adams."


In the spring of 1867 he resigned his position in the Medical Department of the University of Michigan, and moved to Chicago to accept a position in the Faculty of Rush Medical College, as successor to Dr. Brainard, whose death left vacant the Professorship of Surgery, from which time he became identified with the elite of the profession. In appearance Dr. Gunn was distinguished and military; his speech was quick, decisive and always germane to the subject,- and herein lay his secret as a successful professor of Surgery. His lectures were invariably lucid expositions of the subject, while with the scalpel he illustrated his disquisitions. His touch was velvet, his nerves steel ; and, being gifted with a profound memory, exquisite perception and attention to minutia, it is no marvel that he was a skillful and successful surgeon, and a teacher of high reputation. After a protracted illness, he died at his home, surrounded by his family, on the 4th day of November, 1887.

Dr. N. S. Davis, Sr., pays him the following tribute: "Dr. Gunn gained a deservedly high reputation, both as a teacher and practitioner of surgery. Ho was an active supporter of medical society organizations and a moderate contributor to medical literature. Personally he presented an admirable physical development, was affable and kind, dignified and honorable, and enjoyed a just popularity until his death, in 1887."

The Faculty of the Department of Medicine and Surgery, of the University of Michigan, have heard with profound sorrow and regret of the death, on the 4th instant, of Professor Moses Gunn, M. D., LL. D., of the Rush Medical College, of Chicago. And they cannot neglect the regretful duty which this sad event imposes upon them of paying a tribute of respect and honor to his memory, and placing on record a recognition of his former services in connection with this college.

To Dr. Gunn is due in a large degree the credit of the original organization and conduct of this school. From his studeut observations he realized fully the superior advantages that accrue to a medical college of high grade; these advantages, in a measure, consisting of libraries, museums, and collections of apparatus and materials to aid in the study and teaching of physics and other subjects auxiliary to medicine. And when he learned that Michigan, which had just thrown off her territorial organization and had been admitted into the union Hs a State, had provided, in the constitution submitted to the popular vote for ratification, for the establishment of a State University which should contain, among others, a college of medicine and surgery, he recognized, on the instant, that here was an opportunity for the organization of a medical college on broad and firm foundations.


He felt also, in view of the rapidly increasing population of the Northwest and its boundless possibilities for development in everything which contributes to or constitutes an educated and civilized State, that if such a school were properly organized and discreetly managed it was certain to become an assured success. Under this conviction, which was not a sudden impulse of the moment or the dreamy speculation of a visionary enthusiast, but was the logical outcome of previous and well- matured thought, he acted immediately, aud, although he had graduated an M. D. only six months previously and was without acquaintance or influence in the new State, he determined, with a courage almost audacious, to go to Ann Arbor where the young university had been located, and if by any possibility he could accomplish it, to take a part in the founding of the required college.


Like a prudent general in entering on a siege, he began his approaches from a respectful distance, and his first move was to announce a public course of lectures on anatomy, especially in its applications to surgery. The lectures were to be illustrated by dissections and demonstrations upon the human body, for he had very wisely brought with him from the east material for this very purpose. To these lectures he invited physicians in the near vicinity, officers of the already established Literary Department of the University, advanced students, and any others who might be interested in the subject. While engaged in this work, which proved very successful, he busied himself also in the matter of the required medical school of the University, and on appropriate occasions urged its establishment and made suggestions as to its organization and control. It soon became evident that he understood the whole question and was himself ably qualified to take part in it. His name was frequently suggested in connection with it, and although it met with a formidable opposition on the ground that he was a stranger and unknown in the State, his fitness for the place had been so abundantly shown that he was appointed by the Regents as a member of the first faculty. This was the realization of his cherished desire and purpose and the great opportunity of his life, and now, with an energy and determination akin to the courage he had previously manifested, he devoted his entire time and attention to the task before him, and soon he became a power among his associates and was influential in shaping the policy and management of the school. As it steadily grew in size and importance additional teachers were required, and with keen discrimination he called to the aid of himself and his original colleagues lieutenants who were thoroughly qualified for the special work assigned them. Under these associated leaders and their successors, the college maintained a steady growth, and Dr. Gun had the happy satisfaction and the rare good fortune of seeing the little institution which he had so largely guided and sustained in its infancy develop into one of the largest, most influential and successful medical colleges of the country.


From the Med. and Surg. History database:




Moses Gunn was elected dean for the 1858-1859 academic year. Gunn was born in New York in 1822, and in 1844 he attended the Geneva Medical College in New York. There he was mentored by Professor of Anatomy Corydon L. Ford, who eventually succeeded him as dean at Michigan. Ford remained at Geneva to teach, but the ambitious young Gunn left for Ann Arbor after graduating in 1846. Just prior to his departure, Geneva College received a cadaver, an unclaimed body from the Auburn State Prison. Since it arrived too late to be used in class, the body was given to Gunn for teaching purposes. He brought the cadaver with him to Ann Arbor and performed a dissection in front of guests. This was the first such demonstration in Ann Arbor, and possibly all of Michigan. His series of lectures were so well attended and successful that in the fall of 1846 Gunn taught anatomy at a private medical school in Ann Arbor. Gunn and Silas Douglas started the school while waiting for a Medical Department to be created at the University of Michigan.

After the regents made their decision to found the Medical Department, Gunn was appointed as the third faculty member at the University of Michigan. At Pitcher’s recommendation, he was made professor of anatomy and surgery in 1849 at age 27. Gunn’s research at Michigan included an investigation of which particular tissues cause hip and shoulder joint dislocations. He worked on a method of guiding these dislocated parts back into position by gently directing the bone back through its course of escape from the socket. Gunn’s results were published in the Peninsular Medical Journal.

Though Gunn initiated a tradition of excellent anatomy instruction at Michigan, he was also interested in surgery. A capable, determined man, Gunn became professor of surgery in 1854, holding the title until 1867, when it was taken over by his long time friend and colleague Corydon Ford. Gunn served as a surgeon for 11 months in the Civil War, seeing active duty during General McClellan’s peninsular campaign. Gunn resigned from the University in 1867 after the sudden death of his son by drowning, and moved to Chicago with his family. There he became chair of surgery at Rush Medical College until he died in 1887. C.B.G. de Nancrede wrote of Dr. Gunn that:

Altogether he presented an impressive figure of a man of physical and mental power, of one who must investigate everything presented to his senses, who quickly observed, classified his impressions, deciding upon the respective merits and proper relation even of passing events, a man of an alert and enthusiastic temperament, ready and eager to digest new ideas, yet one whose judgment restrained his zeal within due bounds… A man thus opulently endowed by nature and trained by a life of continuous effort to excel, could not fail to command at the very outset the attention and confidence of any audience, and to exert an actively compelling influence over them. [Nancrede, C.B.G. de. “Moses Gunn, A.M., M.D., LL.D.” Michigan Alumnus 12 (1905-06): 364-374].

Gunn’s friendship with Corydon L. Ford proved to be an asset for the University. Like Gunn, Ford earned such respect and distinction in the Department that he was elected dean in 1861, and returned to the post from 1879-1880 and 1887-1891. Ford earned his M.D. from the Geneva Medical College in 1842, where he then taught anatomy from 1842-1848. He came from a family of farmers, but paralysis of one leg as a child made it impossible for him to pursue this vocation. He used a cane the rest of his life, and had he not been dealt this setback, he most likely would have followed his family’s line of work in farming. This would have, as Alonzo Palmer wrote in 1886, deprived “the profession of medicine and the science of anatomy in this country of what many have reason to believe its most successful teacher.” Ford began teaching at the age of 17, and in 1834 he started studying medicine in the office of Dr. A.B. Brown of Niagara County, New York. It has been said that Ford’s disability and illness caused him to view the darker side of life, but he was nonetheless compassionate, approachable, and kind.

Ford was greatly respected and admired by his students and colleagues. By the time he was appointed to the chair of anatomy at the University of Michigan in 1854, he was known as an excellent teacher at several institutions. He was described as “an eloquent teacher, able to infuse life within dry bones.” Considered a great lecturer and demonstrator, he was one of the students’ favorite teachers. He had a high skill in dissecting, an ability to make a clear and concise presentation of the material, and an enthusiastic demeanor. Dr. William Mayo, a Michigan alumnus and student of Dr. Ford, said

By his forceful personality and his intense love of his subject he made the too often dull study of general anatomy as interesting as a novel. Contrary to custom, Ford preferred to make his own dissections while he talked, and he did them beautifully and rapidly. When he had finished one he would swivel the table around toward the class with a flourish, pointing upward with his cane to emphasize his words, “Now gentlemen, forget that—if you can.” (Clapsattle, Helen: “The Doctors Mayo,” Atlantic Monthly 68:645-47, 1941)

Aside from teaching, Ford wrote several significant works including “Questions on Anatomy, Histology, and Physiology, for the Use of Students” (last ed. Ann Arbor, 1878), “Syllabus of Lectures on Odontology, Human and Comparative (1884), and “Questions on the Structure and Development of the Human Teeth” (1885). Dr. Ford was given a LL.D. from Michigan in 1881. After giving his last lecture in 1894, he turned wearily to an assistant and said, “My work is done.” He collapsed on his way home, and died the next morning.

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


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American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

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