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 College Index - Lecture Cards  |  Civil War Medical Book Author-Title Index


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

2011 - "The sesqui-centennial of the Civil War" -  2015

The 150th Year Celebration


 Home page  |   Feedback & Contact Dr. Echols  |  SEARCH this site   |  Article Indexes   |   Medical Faculty & Authors

 Civil War Medical Books  |  Medicine Containers   |   1800's & Civil War Surgery Set Displays

Medical College Index - Lecture Cards  |  Civil War Medical Book Author-Title Index

Wanted to Purchase: Items like those on this website, including Civil War surgeon uniforms, medical books, CDV's, surgeon images, diaries, and related medical items ... Contact

Dr. Echols' partial list of Google books for Civil War Surgeon Research


John J. Gibson, M.D. 

U.S. Navy Assistant Surgeon Application


By Norman L. Herman, M.D., PhD.

The following is a dictated translation of the hand-written application to the U. S. Navy Examination Board during the Civil War by a civilian physician/surgeon for a position as a medical officer in the Federal Navy or for promotion to Assistant Surgeon by an Acting Assistant Surgeon.  The actual applications are in the possession of the author and presented to enlighten the general public and other researchers as to the education process before and during the Civil War, the personal history of the applicants, as well as to show their personal level of medical knowledge in answering the questions asked by the Navy Board of Examiners.  (Some applicants failed to pass and did not serve or served in the Union Army.)

This written presentation was first of a part of a two-part exam consisting of a written exam and an oral exam.   Many of these applications are rich with highly detailed medical content offering an interesting perspective on the medical knowledge and practices of the period.  A broad sampling of these exams is presented to give you a 'picture' of the type of applicant being examined and admitted to or rejected by the Federal Navy in 1863.   Much more detail on the individuals and their personal and naval history will be presented in a forth-coming book by Dr. Herman.

(The actual written exam photos are available, but not presented on these pages due to the size of the files.  An example of a hand-written exam is on the 'List of all Applicants' page)

If you have additional information or images for any of these doctors, please contact us.

A list with links to all applicants in this survey of U.S. Navy Applicants for 1863

Example of a handwritten exam given by the Navy Examination Board


Applicant:  John J. Gibson, M.D.


U.S. Naval Asylum,

Philadelphia, Sept. 2, 1863.




I received my commission as Assistant Surgeon in the Navy July 18, 1860, it being dated July 4.  Sept. 5, received in order to report for a temporary duty at the New York Naval Hospital, where I remained until Nov. 1, being then ordered to the U.S. Ship “Cyane” of the Pacific Squadron, reporting on board that vessel Dec. 11.  June 6, 1861, I was ordered to the “Saranac,” and remained there until Nov. 11, 1862.  Was then ordered to the “Narrgansett,” and remained attached to her until relieved and ordered to the U.S., April 5, 1863.  I arrived at New York, April 25, May 16, was ordered to the Receiving Ship “Princeton” at this place, to which vessel I still remain attached.


I have seen twenty eight months sea service, and a little over five months other duty, since I have been in the Naval Service.   USS Cyane, Saranac,  Narrgansett, Princeton, Hartford, Oneida, De Soto


I am very respectfully,

John J. Gibson

Asst Surgeon, U.S.N.


Naval Board of Medical Examiners,

U.S. Naval Asylum,



Questions by the Board:


Questions to be answered in writing, by  Asst Surgeon, John J. Gibson, U.S.N.

1.  How was the fœtus nourished in utero?

2.  What are the accidents or injuries, which require amputation of the thigh?

3.  In what form, + to what extent is mercury prescribed for the cure of Syphilis?

4.  Write the directions for making the Decoctum Sarsaparillae Compositum (U.S) and a prescription (a composite one) for Chronic Bronchitis without abbreviations.

5.  How is the astringent principle of vegetable kingdom isolated _+ what is its characters + uses ––

6.  What are the source in nature of Protein Compounds

7.  What are the weight + dimensions of the heart?

8.  What are the symptoms of pericarditis?

9  State the most approved treatment of yellow fever.


Answers by Gibson:


1.  Early by the vitellary matter contained in the umbilical vesicle, later, it is supposed by the Liquor Amnii.  It may derive nutritive matter from the mother through the placental circulation.


2.  A compound fracture with extensive laceration of the soft parts, or injury of the vessels or nerve.  A gunshot wound fracturing the bone.


3.  In various forms. Mutter recommended the protiodide, Gross thinks it too harsh prefers blue mass, or calomel, or corrosive sublimate.  It is employed to produce ptyalism generally very slowly and just sufficient to show that the system is under the influence of the remedy, except in Iritis when the constitutional effect must be produced as quickly as possible.


4.  It contains Sarsaparilla, Guaiacum wood, Mezereon, and other ingredients which I do not remember.  The particular mode of preparation I do not remember.


                             Antimonii et Potassae Tartratis          grana duo

                             Liqua in paululo aquae ferventis et adde

                             Morphiae Sulphatis                             granum umum

                             Mucilaginis Acaciae                           uncias octo


Signa. A tablespoonful every two, three, or four hours.


5.  I do not know the process.  It is an acid and a pure astringent, may be used in all cases where that class of remedies is indicated.


6.  The nitrogenized constituents of animals.


7.  Weight 10 to 13 ounces.  Three to four inches in length, about 3 in breadth and thickness at largest part.


8.  At first pain in region of heart, friction sound on auscultation, irregularity of the hearts action, after effusion, dullness on percussion over a space varying in size according to amount of effusion.


9.  I have not seen the disease.  Authors differ widely, some recommend a vigorous antiphlogistic course, others a course almost entirely expectant.  Medical man with whom I have conversed on the subject, differ as much.  The treatment seems as unsettled as was a few years ago that of Cholera or Typhoid Fever.  I am utterly unable to describe which is the best treatment.


John J. Gibson, Ass’t Surgeon, U.S.N.




Syphilis is a specific, contagious disease, caused by contact of its matter with a mucus or excoriated surface, manifesting itself primarily by ulcer of a peculiar kind appearing generally first on the external organs of generation, and followed by bubo; eruptions on the skin, and disease of mucous membrane, disease of the fibrous, cartilaginous, and osseous structures, of the eye, testis, etc.  Of these, Chancre and Bubo are called Primary (Gross), disease of the skin and mucous membrane Secondary, the others Tertiary.  The Chancre appears in five to ten days after the impure connection, if there is an abrasion it may begin earlier, the Bubo follows in two to three weeks after the appearance of the chancre, the secondary symptoms in two to six months, the others in from three months to as many years.  Chancre is not necessarily succeeded by any other symptoms, but it always precedes the others when they occur.  Neither is bubo a necessary preliminary to the secondary and tertiary symptoms, and the latter may appear without being preceded by the secondary.


Chancre is of two kinds, indurated and non-indurated.  The former is generally single, the latter frequently multiple, whence it (the latter) is supposed to be self propagating.  The appearance of these ulcers is so characteristic, that a person acquainted with it would not be liable to mistake.


Bubo is chancre of one or more lymphatic glands of the groin, occurring always above Poupart’s ligament, non-specific swellings occurring below.


The eruptions on the skin are divided into six classes, Erythematous, Squamous, Vesicular, Pustular, Tubercular and Papular.  Of these the first three belonged to Secondary, the last three to Tertiary Syphilis.  They are diagnosed from non-specific eruptions of a similar appearance, by the history of the case, by the generally having a peculiar color around them, described as coppery.


Disease of the mucous membrane attacks the tongue, lining of the mouth, larynx, pharynx, or nasal fossae.  It consists of whitish patches below the epithelium, ulcers with excavated edges and hardened bases, or an abscess is sometimes formed in the body of the tongue.  When the larynx is the seat of disease, the cartilages will become involved, unless the disease is arrested, when the mucous lining of the nose, the bones will be involved.


Disease of the bones is in the form of caries or Necrosis, those of the face, and subcutaneous ones, as the tibia, olecranon of the ulnar, etc, being generally affected.


Syphilitic Iritis is known by the history of the case.  If doubtful, it should be treated as such.  There is great tendency to adhesion between the iris, and the capsule of the lens.


Syphilitic disease of the testicle is generally later in appearance than any other of the sequelae.  It comes usually in from two to three years after the primary symptoms.  The specific inflammation attacks the body of the testicle, involving the seminiferous tubes, so that if both organs are attacked, impotence is apt to result.


Condylamata, peculiar excrescences, about the arms and genitals, are also a sequel [sic] of Syphilis.


In many of the sequelae of this disease, there are no symptoms by which the surgeon can positively determine the character of the case.  The history will generally aid materially in the diagnosis.  If this be withheld the case is sometimes very embarrassing.


The treatment a primary syphilis is somewhat unsettled.  The sore should be cauterized freely at as early a date as possible.  The employment of mercury is recommended by some, not by others.  As it is in inflammatory disease, the antiphlogistic regimen is used according to circumstances.  If Phagedenic, the system must be supported by tonics and nutritious food.  In this case at least all are agreed that mercury must not be used.  After the slough separates, slightly stimulating lotions are employed.


A bubo is treated as an abscess in any other location.


The specific treatment in the Secondary and Tertiary forms consists in the administration of Iodide of Potassium in doses gradually increased, until large quantities are given daily.  If obstinate, even the anti-mecurialists admit to use of that remedy.  Antimony is also recommended by some.  In iritis, the pupil must be kept dilated, to prevent adhesion.  Condylamata are removed by the knife or caustic, but are very apt to return.  The diet and other accessory treatment must vary according to the judgment of the surgeon, and the circumstances of the case.


John J. Gibson

Ass’t Surgeon, U.S.N.


U.S. Naval Asylum, Philadelphia,

September 2, 1863.

A list with links to all applicants in this survey of U.S. Navy Applicants for 1863

Example of a handwritten exam given by the Navy Examination Board

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

Please request permission before commercial use or publication of any content or photos on this site and credit any use with:  "American Civil War Surgical Antiques"   All content and all original photography on this Web Site is copyrighted 1995 - 2015 and may not be used on any other web site or in commercial print without the expressed e-mail permission from Dr. Arbittier:  Contact   All rights reserved. 


Students doing reports or projects are welcome to use the content of this site without permission, but credits would be appreciated.


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