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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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


Henry C. Nelson, M.D. 

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: Henry C. Nelson, M.D


Naval Asylum, Philadelphia, Pa.


September 23rd 1863.




On the 9th day of May 1861 I received my commission as an Assistant Surgeon in the United States Navy, and on the 19th of the same month I reported to Capt Hudson at the Charlestown Navy Yard for duty on board the Receiving Ship “Ohio”, where I remained being associated with Surgeon Wheelwright, Surgeon of the Ship, until the 12th day of June following, when I was ordered to join the U.S. Steam Sloop Susquehanna, then fitting out for the Gulf Fleet.  We sailed from Boston on the 3rd of July and on the morning of the fifth made Cape Henry Va.  Unfortunately, when going into “Hampton Roads,” the starboard engine became disabled, and it was necessary to tow the ship up to the anchorage.  After remaining in the “Roads” for ten days, we were ordered to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for repairs.  These detained the vessel for some time.  On the 23rd of August 1861, we were ordered south and on the morning of the 28th we had the good fortune to reach Hatteras Inlet in time to join in the attack which was to be made on “Forts Hatteras + Clark.” The attack of the first date was unsuccessful; it was renewed on the following morning at an early hour, and at 11 A. M. Augt 29th 1861, the Forts and nearly Seven hundred prisoners fell into our possession.


After the surrender of the above forts the Susquehanna remained off “Hatteras” for some Six or Seven weeks, when we sailed for Charleston for the purpose of rendering the blockade at that place more efficient.  Here we remained until the expedition, under command of Admiral Dupont, passed on its way to “Hilton Head” S.C.  when the ship joined the “Fleet” and took a very active part in securing to the U. States such a valuable harbor as Port Royal.  In the attack on the Forts at this place the ship was very severely disabled, having been struck by the enemy forty times.  Our loss in killed was two; wounded eight.  The slight loss of life was owing to the fact that the “Fleet” made the attack at a closer range then the enemy had calculated, and consequently the most of the shot passed over the vessel.


Two days after this attack the vessel was ordered back to Charleston and remained in that station until the latter part of December.


We returned to Port Royal, remained until the expedition sailed for the capture of “Fernandina” of which place, the Susquehanna participated in.


Returning to Port Royal, after taking in coal, we soon left for Charleston.


In May 1862 we were ordered to Hampton Roads, to assist in the reduction of Yorktown, then besieged by the “Army of Potomac”.  This place was evacuated before the vessel arrived.  On the 9th of May 1862, we were order, together with several other vessels, to attack “Sewells Point” for the purpose of bringing out the “Merrimack”, the object of which was to engage her at endeavour to destroy her.  She came down to the mouth of the Elizabeth river, but would not come out.  On the morning of the 11th following the Commander abandoned her after first setting her on fire so as to ensure her destruction.


In June 1862, the “Susquehanna” was ordered to the blockade off Mobile.  We remained there until the 19th of April 1863, when we sailed for N. York at which place we arrived on the 7th of May – on the 14th of May I was detached on leave; the 23rd was ordered to the Roanoke and July 2nd I reported for duty at the Naval Hospital, N. York where I have remained up to this time.


Very Respectfully

H. C. Nelson Asst Surgeon, U.S.N.            


Naval Medical Board                                                

Naval Asylum, Phila.                                                                                 



[No Q & A in 1863 Examination Book]


Dislocations of the femur


Dr. Nelson


The hip joint is a ball in socket joint and is formed by the union of the three bones forming the ossa innominate of the pelvis, and the head of the fever.  This joint is one of the most moveable in the body, and consequently very prone to dislocations.  The ligaments and muscles of this joint are as strong as any in the whole body, and as a general thing strong force it is required to cause luxation.


The dislocations of the femur are four; viz.  – backwards on the dorsum of the ilium; backwards and downwards into the ischiatic notch; forwards on the pubis and downwards and forward into the obturator foramen.


They are most usually confined to the young persons and those of the middle period of life, because injuries sufficient to produce dislocations in the young, most frequent cause fractures of the neck of the femur in old age.


The causes may be divided into predisposing and exciting.  The predisposing may be said to be, age character of the joint which allows of such freedom of motion, and the condition of the ligaments and muscles


Young persons are more disposed to this injury than the old for the reasons above mentioned; persons of a relaxed habit of body, for the reason that the ligaments and muscle in such subjects allow more freedom of motion in the joint.


The exciting causes are confined to injuries.  These are sometimes trifling and at others severe.


The most common are those sustained by being thrown thrown [sic] from a horse, or a vehicle in motion, as a carriage, rail road car, falls from heights: as down a pair of steps, or from a tree.  Any injury which causes the leg to be violently abducted, adducted, extended or flexed, will cause the head of the bone to be thrown out of its socket.  The femur in these instances acts the part of a lever.  Falls upon the feet and knees are most commonly associated with this injury.  The dislocation will more surely occur if the injury, which causes it, be applied suddenly, as it takes the antagonistic muscles unawares and they are not able to respond in time to prevent the luxation.


Dislocations of the femur are common in “coxalgice,” for in this disease the ligaments and margins of the cotyloid cavity are destroyed, and the head of the bone slips out of the socket spontaneously, because there is nothing to keep it in.  Dislocations in such cases are always backwards.


Symptoms.  In the dislocation upon the dorsum ilii there is a tumor cause by the head of the bone on the dorsum of the ilium.  The patient suffers from severe pain and the functions of the limb are destroyed.  The natural rotundity of the hip is wanting.  The leg is shortened from an inch to two inches.  The shortening depends upon the length of time since the injury.  At first there is, in some cases, very little, on account of the muscles being paralyzed by the severity of the injury.  In determining the length of the limb in such cases it is better to measure from the umbilicus as this is always a fixed point whilst by the old way of measuring from the Anterior Superior Spinous process of the ilium, may be rendered uncertain on account of the oblique position the pelvis sometimes assumes.  The leg is slightly flexed, foot inverted and the ball of the toe resting on the instep of the opposite limb.  The axis of the thigh is directed in a line which crosses the thigh of the sound limb at the junction of the middle with the lower third of the femur.


In dislocation backward into the ischiatic notch, the deformity about the hip is much the same as in the above; sometimes the trochanter can be distinguished, if the swelling is not great.  The leg is increased in late, from half an inch to an inch and a half; the leg is flexed slightly, and inverted.  Pain is sometimes very severe in this injury on account of the head of the femur pressing upon the nerves which pass out through the sacrosciatic foramen.


In dislocation forwards upon the pubes, the head of the bone is distinctly felt in that position; the leg is strongly everted; little change in the length of the limb; leg flexed.  The injury is of rare occurrence.


Dislocation downwards and forwards is known by the limb being lengthened from an inch to two inches; Straight and there is sometimes slight inversion, evertion or neither.  The natural form of the hip is lost.


In luxations of the hip there is always rupture of the capsular ligament and injury of the soft parts, causing hemorrhage, consequently the parts are often much ecchymosed.


The forces to overcome in the reduction of this injury are the contraction of the muscles and resistance offered by the margin of the cotyloid cavity.  The indications in the treatment are to overcome the rigedity [sic] of the muscles so that by a reasonable force the head of the bone may be made to surmount the margin of the cavity and slip into its place.


The rigedity [sic] of the muscles, before the introduction of chloroform and ether, were generally overcome by hot baths, bleeding and Antimony, whilst at the same time a large dose of opium with administered.


Anesthetics have superseded the above remedies.


In the reduction of dislocations the patient should be put fully under the influence of chloroform or ether.  Counter-extension is made by passing a sheet or perineal band, around the injured side, and securing it to a staple in the wall or floor.  Extensions made by a band or she applied either above the knee or at the ankle.  Firm and steady traction should now be made by pullies [sic], or Assistants, and as the head of the bone is disengage from its new bed in the muscles and brought down opposite the cavity, the leg should be everted, the muscles on the inside of the thigh act the part of a fulcrum, and by this means the head of the bone is forced into its natural position.


In the treatment backward into the ischiatic notch the bands should be applied in the same manner.  Traction should be made across the opposite thigh until the bone is forced from its new position.  The fource [sic] should now be altered to that made in reducing the above dislocation, and the bones forced into its position by the same manipulations.


Sometimes it is necessary to place the band under the trochanter, and by passing it over the shoulder of an Assistant he steadies the pelvis with his hands and raises the head of the bone up over the margin of the cavity.


Dislocation forward on the pubes is treated by passing a sheet around the pelvis and securing it to a staple in the floor or wall, another should be applied in the same manner as in counter extension in dislocations backwards.  This secure to a staple in the wall on the injured side.  Extension is made in the same manner as before.  Traction should be made very steady and at the same time the leg should be carried across the opposite thigh.  The perinial band acts as a fulcrum in this case, and the head of the bone is forced outward into its proper position.  Dislocation into the obturator foramen is treated in the same manner as the last.


Reads method of treating dislocation of the hip is by manipulation.  The leg is flexed on the thigh; the thigh on the abdomen.  The leg is now carried upwards to the opposite side of the abdomen it is then carried to the injured side and at the same time outward whilst it is extended and brought down to the straight position.  By this means the head of the bone often slips into its place.


H C Nelson, Asst Surgeon


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

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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