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 Sylvanus Plympton, 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 S. Plympton, M.D.


I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the thirteenth day of March, 1838.


I was a pupil at the Hopkin’s Classical School in Cambridge until I was sixteen years old.  Three years were then spent by me in the country under a private tutor.  During this time my attention was directed to the study of the common English school branches, afterwards to Algebra, Geometry, Natural Philosophy, Ancient Geography, Latin and Greek.  I read Caesar’s Com. on the Gallic War, Cicero’s Orations, and seven books of the Æneid of Virgil.  In Greek I went only through the reader.  In the spring of 1857 I returned to Cambridge and entered a private class in medicine under the jurisdiction of the Lawrence Scientific School.  The teachers were Drs Jefferies and Morril [sic, Morrill] Wyman and Drs John Ware and Prof. [Josiah] Cook [sic, Cooke].  There were given me opportunities to study Chemistry and the drugs as well as the other branches of medicine. 


I remained under their tuition for three years taking at the same time three courses of lectures in the Harvard Medical School where I receive [sic] a diploma in the Fall of 1860.  I then went to New York and listened to a course of lectures at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.  This institution gave me a diploma in the Spring of 1861.  I then was examined for a position in Bellevue Hospital, and having been admitted, remain there my full time of eighteen months.  This institution also gave me a diploma in October 1862. 


I then applied for the position of Acting Assistant Surgeon in the United States Army and in that Service have I remained up to this time.  While attending lectures in New York I paid attention to the eyes under Drs [Henry D.] Noyes and [C. R.] Agnew and at Mott’s Ophthalmic Hospital.  I have no knowledge of Modern languages except that obtained at school viz French and German grammar.


Henry S. Plympton


Naval Asylum Philadelphia

March 2nth 1863


Questions by the Board:


Questions to be answered in writing, by Henry S Plympton.

1.  What is flooding, and the means employ’d to arrest it?

2.  Give the rationale of union of the long bones.

3.  Write a prescription (Latin) for a cough mixture, without the use of symbols or abbreviations. 

4.  What is a difference between an artery and a vein.

5.  Why does the blood returned from the extremities to the heart. [sic]

6.  Where the essential constituents of food.

7.  Symptoms and treatments of Acute Laryngitis.

8.  What preparations of opium are used in medicine?

9.  What is Anthrax?



1.  Flooding is the hemorrhage supervening upon childbirth.  To arrest it the woman should be kept in the supine position, ice should be placed upon the abdomen or hot water first and then ice.  If the uterus does not then contract I should give one or two drachms of the tincture of ergot.  If it should still continue I should introduce my hand into the uterus and remove the clots and any membranes which I should probably find there, this would be a last resort.  Then I might even introduce ice into the uterus but this is rarely to be tried.  If the afterbirth or placenta should not have comeaway however and the hemorrhage were great I should remove it by the hand if the patient showed signs of weakness.  Cold water poured from above onto the abdomen and kneading the uterus externally have often been used but the application of ice is full as good and neater.


2.  When a long bone has been broken without being exposed to the external air its ends are first covered by a lot of blood which has come from the ruptured vessels.  This must first be reabsorbed and its place filled by a fibro-albuminous deposit containing cells with nuclei.  The latter develop into cartilaginous fibers united to the end of the bone.  This is the ligamentous union.  This bond of union is next the seat of the deposit of earthly matter which radiates from the formative cells and from the exposed periostium.  Pieces of periostium removed from the bone and grafted into vascular tissue will there form bone.  The periostium grows from both cut or broken ends covering thus the new bone.


3.       Recipe

               Tinctura Hyoscyami

               Tinctura Lupulin

               Tinctura Cubebæ

               Spirti Aitheris Compositi     ana (vel utrinque) uncias duas

               Acidi Hydrocyanici Diluti   drachman unam et semissum



4.  The coats of an artery are much the cure than those of the vein having a larger amount of elastic fibrous tissue.  The former when not containing blood retains its form, the vein does not.  The vein contains valves above (or on the side nearest the heart) all considerable branches.  These prevent the reflux of blood from the heart and assist passively in advancing it by resisting the backward flow when the vessel is compressed by muscular action.


5.  The blood is driven to the heart by a vis a tergi in the capillary system, by muscular action, aided by its valves, and perhaps by a contraction of the tube itself which is thought to be stimulated by the contained fluid.

6.  Food to support animal life contains Oxygen, Hydrogen, Carbon and perhaps Nitrogen, so combined that, if it is of inorganic origin, it can be changed to an organic compound by the fluids with which it comes in contact in the body, or easily divided into its ultimate principles.  Neither one of these substances will support life alone nor in excess.


7.  Acute laryngitis is characterized, first by dryness of the lining membrane; then by the effusion of serum beneath it, causing dyspnoea; then the lining membrane becomes ulcerated and sloughs.  This ulceration if not arrested will implicate the cartilages and muscles of the part.  Unhealthy granulations spring up which may obstruct the canal or may slough.  In the first stage the œdema of the rima may be seen, and relieved by the lancet.  In the second the loss of voice with expectorations of bloody debris will point to the locality of the disease.  Pain in the part also now increases.  This subsides in the sloughing stage.  The nitrate of silver treatment, locally applied, with wines internally, is the best in the nonspecific form.  When syphilis is the first cause mercurials are required.  In the latter stages Laryngotomy or Tracheostomy may be required but should not be attempted if it is possible to avoid it as the tube can rarely be removed afterwards.  Sometimes also this operation is required in the first stage.


8.  Pulvis Opii vel Germanam [?] Opii. Extractum Opii Aquosum. Tinctura Opii. Vinum Opii.  Extractum Opii Fluidum Aquosum. Tinctura Opii Camphorata.

Morphia. Morphia Sulphas. Quinidia. Cinchomine.


9.  Carbuncle is an inflammation in the areolar and subareolar tissues characterized by swelling, redness, then white shining tense appearance with sharp pain.  As the tumor increases it becomes circumscribed, coneshaped, red and fluctuating at its apex.  There has here been an effusion of fibrinous material, cells and albumenoid substance.  This mass has broken down in the center, being but feebly organized, and pus has been formed about this mass which thus acts as a foreign body.  This must be removed but even then the disease is not half cured as it would be in a boil as there has been so large a mass of half organized material placed about it which cuts under the knife like the intervertebral cartilage or like citron.  This muscle all be thrown off by nature or the use of acids or Venira paste.  This disease is generally found in old persons or vitiated constitutions.  The favorite seat is on the spinal column.  It sometimes takes on a cancerous nature, repeatedly recuring [sic] and containing cancer cells.


Henry S. Plympton

Naval Asylum, March 5th 1863.


Certificate of Physical Capacity


I declare on honor that my health at this time is good and robust, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, I am free from any accidental or constitutional defects and without any predisposition to Epilepsy, Phthisis, Gout, Apoplexy, or chronic disease of any kind.


I am not at present affected with varicocele, disease of the urinary organs, hernia, or hemorrhoids, nor am I aware that there is anything hereditary in my constitution which would hereafter be likely to incapacitate me for the arduous duties of a Medical Officer of the Navy.


All my organs of sense are without imperfection


Henry S Plympton

Candidate for the office of

Assistant Surgeon in the Navy

of the United States.


U.S. Naval Asylum.


March 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

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