U.S. Navy Assistant Surgeon Application
By Norman L. Herman, M.D., Ph.D.
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 Francis Robinson, M.D.
The place of my nativity is Syracuse, county of Onondaga, state of New York.
The date of my birth is the year eighteen hundred and forty, the month of April, the day the 17th.
My place a study in preliminary education has been in part in Collegiate Institute, in part at high school. My course of study has been principally of the scientific and mathematical. My classical education has been but slight. I have pursued to some extent the study of the Latin and French. But I claim no proficiency in those studies. Neither have I a knowledge of other Languages than the English. In mathematical my studies have been – Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry surveying –. In the scientific my studies have been Chemistry, Natural Philosophy, Astronomy, with the minor and earlier branches of the schools….
The study of Medicine I commenced at Marcellus, N. York. With Dr Israel Parsons of that place, with him I studied one year. Then with Dr. R. W. Pease of Syracuse for two years. I attended lectures at the Medical Department of the University of Michigan two terms and graduated at same college receiving my Diploma March 25th 1863.. Between my first and second lecture terms I was at the General Hospitals in + about Washington, at the Gen Hosp at Falls Church, Virginia and at Harewood Hosp.. During which time I applied myself to the practical operations of prescription and surgery.. I have had something in the way of compounding medicines, but little however aside from what comes in the way of the practitioner. Have never been engaged in the drug buisnes [sic] in a mercantile way.
After graduating at college I practiced medicine in Syracuse about four months, then went to Albany before the medical board and was appointed 1st Assistant Surgeon of the 15th N York Cavalry.
With my preceptors – Drs Pease (now med inspector of Calvary Corps) and Parsons I had all the chances that extensive practice would give.
My address is – Girard Hotel.
I am very respectfully,
Your obet serv't
J. F. Robinson Asst Surg, U.S.A.
October 1st 1863.
Questions by the Board:
Questions to be answered in writing, by J. F. Robinson, Actg Asst Surgn U.S.A.
1. What is a fracture, + nature’s mode of repairing it?
2. What is the difference between a boil, + and anthrax?
3. What is Ergot, its dose, and mode of administration?
4. Describe arsenous acid, its source composition, effects, uses tests etc –
5. Describe the structure and chemical composition of bone –
6. Give a classification of the elements of food – write the directions for supporting a Typhoid fever patient (in a low condition) for 24 hours, giving details as to preparing the food etc –
7. Describe the urethra, its dimensions, structure, diseases, + manner of passing on instrument into the bladder.
8. What are the morbid appearances of mucus + serous membranes?
9. What are the constituents of the blood?
Answers by Robinson:
1. The fracture is forcible seperation [sic, correction marks in pencil] of the constituent parts of a bone. Between the sperated [sic correction marks in pencil] surfaces of a fracture there is thrown out Lymph mingled with much blood.. Around the circumference of the fracture there is deposited a bony encasement, holding for a time the fracture in place. This external deposit is soon absorbed and there begins beneath the Periostium to be formed true bone. The exudate in the center, first thrown out, is soon absorbed and the formation of true bone goes in, advancing from the Periostium untill [sic, correction marks in pencil] the continuity is complete..
2 . Ergot is the product of the Rye. It is a diseased product. The grains are from ½ to 1 inch in length and from 1 to 2 lines in diameter. Blackish in appearance. The dose of the powder is from grs xv to grs xx or xxv or it may be administered in the form of a Tincture – ʓss to ʓi and ʓii or more, according to the case. Ergot is a stimulant – confined in its use to the cases in which its action is required upon the Uterus – its action being especially directed to that organ – Ergot is admissable [sic] in these cases of labor in which there is tardy delivery from insufficient power or action of the Uterus.. or in cases when the soft parts of the mother are rigid or where the caliber of the passages are insufficient for easy delivery – In neither case however is ergot admissable [sic, correction marks in pencil] where there is no prospects of speedy termination of the labor by its use – other treatment to the rigid parts in the one case should preceed [sic, correction marks in pencil] the administration of ergot – and a probable success in the Fetus [sic, correction marks in pencil – probable “Fœtus”] passing through insufficient calibre in the other must be expected –.
Structure + Chemical composition of bone. Chemicaly [sic] bone is divided into the earthy and the animal. The earthy is about 2/3ds part of the bone, the animal 1/3d part –.. The earthy consisting of the Carbonate + Phosphate of Lime, the animal consisting of fibres.
The bone as also divided into cellular or spongy and into compact substances, not differing however in ultimate structure – in the characteristic structure which must obtain to constitute true bone –. Throughout the bone and running in the direction of its length are minute canals named Haversion [sic] canals, they communicate with each other by transverse or oblique (mostly oblique) branches. These channels contained blood vessels – around the Haversian canals are concentric Laminae or rings, call by some Haversian rods – Running from the Haveraian canals transversely are minuter [sic] channels terminating in minute cavities – these smaller channels are called canaliculi.. The cavities are termed Lucunae.. Through the Haversian canals, the canaliculi and Lucunae are supplied the nutriment to the bone. The laminae are earthy + animal. The animal consisting of Fibres.. The fibres of the laminae are in different layers, the fibers in each layer being parallel by the different layers intersecting at acute angles.. The cellular tissue of the bone deffers [sic] in no way in the above mentioned particulars from the compact, differing only in the amount of substance contained in a given space..
In the long bone the spongy structure occupies the centre and approach nearer the surface toward the extremities of the same. In the other bones, the short – flat – and irregular, the cellular structure is in the centre –.. In the centre of the long bones are cavities or canals – the medulary [sic] canal lined by the medulary [sic] membrane –
The medulary [sic, correction marks in pencil] canal is filled with fat – the external to the bone is the Periostium – the bone producing membrane –. In early life the bone is cartilage, or rather the part serving the purpose afterward supplied by the bone is cartilage. The cartilage becoming ossified the bone then grows by deposit from the Periostium. Blood vessels from the Periostium being successively covered and by the deposit – making thus the Haversian canals.. – at some point on the bone exists a foramen for transmission of artery supplying the medulary [sic] membrane.. In the long bones this foramen is near the middle of its length. In the long bones a nerve accompanies the artery and vein, in which case amputation may or may not be painful according as a limb is amputated above or below the entrance of the nerve.. If above, sawing through the bone will cause no pain because the nerves supplying the medulary [sic] membrane – has already been cut in cutting through the soft parts, and the connection with sensorium is divided. The Haversian canals – the canaliculi – the Lucunae – the concentric Laminae with its microscopic fibers and their peculiar arrangement of the elements constituting true bone – a structure different from this is not bone hands – Hence the teeth – the various bone calcareous deposits in various parts of the body are said to be bony deposits but not bone, because not passing [correction marks in pencil] the characteristic features above mentioned.
Difference between a Boil + an Anthrax. A Boil is in inflamatory [sic, correction marks in pencil] affection affecting the integument. It consists of the usual irritation – determination – congestion – exudation and suppuration of inflamation [sic correction marks in pencil], with heat, redness, pain, swelling, forming small abscess and opening upon the surface discharges its contents and heals. An Anthrax is a larger
inflamation [sic correction marks in pencil] with a low grade of action, or unhealthy action dependent on constitutional affection.. It is an inflamation [sic correction marks in pencil] difficult to heal, requiring constitutional remedies many times..
Arsenious acid has the composition of, As.O3. It is obtained from its combination with the different metals of Nickel, Cobalt, Iron. It may be found also in some mineral waters. It is the common arsenic of the shops.. Its effects on the system are stimulant and poisonous.. Coming under that description of a poison, that a poison is a substance which without reference to its quantity produces death by its own inherent qualities.. In its stimulant action it is especialy [sic, correction marks in pencil] directed toward the skin – and is used in some skin disorders.
The tests for Arsenious acid our various – one of which is March’s [sic, correction marks in pencil, “Marsh’s”] test. By the blow pipe..
The solution being put in a retoit and a Hydro-chloric Acid being added with pieces of metallic zinc and closed by stoppers with blow pipe attached + there will issue from blowpipe Arseniuretted Hydrogen, which gas may be lighted, the Hydrogen being burned – forming a water and metallic arsenic deposited on any piece of earthen ware –... The reactions in this test viz
Sol of aresenious acid
As.O.3HO + HCl + Zn = As.H + ZnO + H
As.O3.HO + HCl + Zn = As.H + 4(ZnO) + HCl
As.H issues out blow pipe –
HO. H – unites with O to form water
As is deposited on plate – Black – –
Classification of the Elements of food.
We may make four divisions of aliment –
1st The albuminoid – food containing Nitrogen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, called also the Nitrogenous, it’s important element being Nitrogen.
2nd Oleoginous – such as contain much carbon and Hydrogen – substances supplying material for combustion – for maintaining the animal Heat + Carbon and Hydrogen combining with the oxygen in the blood forming Carbonic acid + water – such as oils and fats –
3rd The Starchs – substances containing starch
Starch being convertible into sugar in the Duodenum, or when it meets with Bile and pancreatic juices, supposed also to be changed somewhat on it [sic] way to sugar in the mouth while saliva is acting upon it – but ceases upon entering the stomach – commencing again on entering the Bowel. The sugar ultimately supplying the material for combustion, our purpose of it at least –.. 4th The Sacharine [sic] –
Supporting treatment in Typhoid Fever –
The condition in Typhoid Fever is prostration and exhaustion requiring the most nourishing food – such as are easily convertible into the tissues of the body –. The Albuminoid are the ones to be chosen for this purpose.. Such as Beef tea, egg, hog, Wine Whey, etc.
Directions — Boil with gentle heat 1 lb Beef cut into fine pieces with one Pint of water. Boil down to O ss. Give to patient every 4 hours ℥ iii or more according as he can bear
Rx eggs No 6
Vini Gallici Oss
milk O i
M. ft mist – boil gently – S ℥ iii every 3 or 4 hours.
The Urethra, dimensions – structure – manner of passing an instrument into the bladder.
The urethra extends from the neck of the bladder to the extremity of the Glan Penis – its dimension are while passing through Prostatic gland – about one and a half or two inches – the membranous portion about one half inch from bulb of urethra led to glans penis 4 to 6 inches – in which it varies at different points – near the orifice in Glans Penis there is an enlargement – the Fossa Navicularis – at the bulbous portion there is an enlargement – the rest of the track is about 2, 3 or 4 times in diameter..
Its diseases are inflamations [sic] – stricture – gonorrheal inflamation [sic].. The manner of conducting an instrumentation into the bladder is to follow that course of the urethra, it is necessary to be cautious at the bulbous portion lest the instrument get caught and lacerates the bulbous portion through. Enter it perpendicular – then depress the end without raising again at the point of entrance into the bladder –
Morbid appearances of the mucous and serous membrane –
Slight degree of inflamation [sic] of both causes increased redness.. More intense inflammation of mucous surface causes a darker appearance than the serous membranes, Disease of mucous surface gives a different appearance from the serous on account of the different glands situated in mucous surface –. Inflammation of serous membrane presents a more regular appearance, mucous membrane may appear different in different places.
Constituents of the blood..
The blood is made up of a solid and a liquid [unclear] – water, about 720, corpuscles 160 – fibrin 3 to 5, salts and extractive matters. The corpuscles of the white and the red. The red are the smaller, but the more numerous. The blood is otherwise divided into Liquor Sanguinis – and Clot.
The Liquor Sanguinis consisting of water with the salts and extractive matters.. The clot consisting of the corpuscles and fibrin.
Your Ob’t Serv’t
J.F. Robinson, Assistant Surgeon, U.S.A.
October 3rd, 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
Contact Dr. Arbittier or Dr. Echols
Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016