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


John McDowell Rice, 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:  John McDowell Rice, M.D.


I was born in Philadelphia March 19th 1841, and I have passed most of my life since in this city.  After attending school and following my studies under the direction of my father, I entered the Literary department of the University of Pennsylvania September 1855.  Having entered the Freshman Class, I remained four years in College, and graduated in 1859. 


In the fall of the same year I matriculate it in the medical department of the University and attended my first regular course of lectures during the session of 1859 – 60.  I had before this attended some lectures on surgery by Prof. Smith.   I attended three courses of lectures and in the spring of 1862 I graduated and received my degree. 


After spending some weeks in this city and neighborhood, I received permission from the Surgeon General US Army, to appear before a Board of Army Surgeons to be examined for the position of Medical Cadet USA.  On the twenty first day of May 1862, I was examined in Washington, approved, and ordered to report for duty.  My first orders were for Cliffurne [sic] Hospital.  This was just after the battle of Williamsburg, and the hospital was full of Rebel wounded who had been taken prisoners by our troops.  Hardly had I reported for duty when my orders were revoked and I was sent to Colombian College Hospital, and on May 26th/62 went on duty there.  I have been stationed at this Hospital ever since.  In June 1862 I was put in full charge of a ward containing eighty two patients, and besides this I had two hospital tents, with fifteen patients.  These were not convalescents, but in many cases direct from the field.  I have had under treatment at one time 50 surgical cases.  Up to the time I left Washington I have had charge of this ward.                                        


Jno McD Rice.


Questions by the Board:


Questions to be answered in writing, by Dr. Jno McD.  Rice.

1.  What is the Surgical Anatomy of the Carotid Artery?

2.  What is Amaurosis, + how distinguished from Cataract?

3.  How is compression of the brain distinguished from concussion?

4.  Does muscular pressure have any influence in assisting or retarding the circulation and if so, how?

5.  Is there more or less venous to arterial blood, and why are their two venae comites to one artery?

6.  Do the auricles and ventricles contract simultaneously or in what manner?

7.  Is there anything specific in the character of typhus and typhoid fever?

8.  What is the law diffusion of gases?

9.  What is atomic theory?


Answers by Rice:


1.  The Carotid Artery is the main arterial trunk of the neck.  On the right side it springs from the innominate artery, a branch from the arch of the aorta.  On the left side it comes direct from the aorta.  It ascends the neck in almost a vertical direction and when a opposite the upper border of the thyroid cartilage it divides into the internal and external carotids.  The internal ascends to the interior of the cranium where it forms part of the circle of Willis at the base of the brain.  The external carotid gives off branches to the face + neighboring parts and then divides into the temporal arteries.  The Carotid Artery in ascending the neck passes through a complex region which for convenience of description has been divided into triangles.  The two main triangles are on the anterior + a posterior.  The anterior is bounded by the median line of the neck in front, the underline of the jaw, above, + the sterno-cleido-mastoid muscle behind.  The posterior triangle is bounded, in front by the sterno-cleido-mastoid muscle, behind the edge of the trapezius muscle, and below the clavicle.  These triangles are further divided by the omo-hyoid muscle crossing the sterno-mastoid muscle in passing from the shoulder to the hyoid bone.  The artery in the first part of its course lies in the posterior inferior triangle.  It then ascends, passes behind the sterno-mastoid muscle and enters the anterior inferior triangle.  In its course it is enclose in a comon [sic, correction marks in pencil] sheath with the internal jugular vein, and pneumogastric nerve.  The vein lies on the inner side of the artery partly overlapping it, and the nerve posteriorly, and between the vessels.  When the artery is tied in case of its being wounded, the point of selection is generally below the sterno-mastoid muscle, before it passes [“*” in pencil in margin] under it.


2’d.  Amaurosis is a disease condition of the nervous structure of the eye, in which, though the eye may appear healthy, there is partial or total loss of sight.  It may be caused by a blow or injury to the eye, or it may come on more slowly from disease.  Sometimes it may be confounded with cataract when the latter is not fully developed.  The diagnosis may be made between them by the Catoptic test.  This consists in holding a lighted candle before the eye.  In cataract the lense [sic, correction marks in pencil] being more or less opaque we see but two images of the candle one reflected upon the surface of the cornea + the other upon the anterior surface of the lense [sic, correction marks in pencil].  In Amaurosis the lense [sic, correction marks in pencil] being perfectly clear, there may be seen three images of the candle the third being formed upon the posterior surface of the lense [sic, correction marks in pencil], and in an inverted position.


3d  Compression of the brain may be distinguished from a Concussion by the following diagnostic signs.  In Compression the patient lies perfectly insensible + cannot be roused or made to answer any questions.  In concussion he may be partly roused.  In compression the breathing is labored + stertorous, and the pulse full and bounding, in concussion the breathing is quiet and the pulse feeble.  In Compression the pupil of the eye is dilated, while in concussion it may be dilated or contracted, but generally is contracted


4th  Muscular pressure has considerable influence in assisting the circulation, by compressing the vessels during the contraction of a muscle.  This power is especially exerted upon the veins from the yielding nature of their coats, more than upon the arteries.  When a muscle contracts it lessens the size of the vein and forces the blood along the vessel.  From the veins being supplied with valves the blood cannot pass backwards, so it must flow forwards or towards the heart.  When the muscle relaxes the veins again returns to its normal size.

5th  In the human body the amount of venous blood is greater than that of arterial blood.  Arteries are supplied with two venae comites in order that the circulation may not be interupted [sic, correction marks in pencil] by pressure, from whatever cause it may arise.  If one vein is temporarily obstructed the blood may return by the other and so no mischief result.  If there were but one vein in an expose situation the circulation would suffer, + a stasis of blood take place in the particular part.  Where the artery is more protected we find but one vein accompanying it.


6th  The auricles and ventricles by their contraction propel the blood through the arteries to different parts of the body.  In their contraction the auricles contract simultaneously, and force the blood into the ventricles.  The ventricles contracted the same time and force the blood into the pulmonary arteries and the aorta.


7th  Typhus and Typhoid fever are by the English Authors considered identically the same.  There may be observed however to differ in many particulars [sic].  In typhoid fever we always have a specific lesion which exist as surely as we have the disease.  This lesion does not follow as a matter of course in Typhus fever. 

It consists in the inflammation and ulceration of Peyers glands, called also the agminated glands which are found in the small intestines, most numerous however in the ilium, near the ileo-ccal valve.  This ulceration may even go so far as to produce perforation of the intestine and an escape of fcal matter into the cavity of the peritoneum.


8th  Gases are the most diffusible of all bodies.  They are considered to exist, of particles which mutually repel each other.  If the gas be allowed to escape into a vacuum it diffuses itself equally throughout the whole vessel, into which it may be discharge.  When gas may have a greater or less affinity for another, and may mix intimately with it even though one is much heavier than the other.  This is exemplified in the case of hydrogen and oxygen gases which if put into separate bottles one above the other connected by a tube, and the hydrogen will have descended into the lower bottle and part of the oxygen will ascend to take its place.


9th  By the atomic theory we understand that all bodies are composed of minute particles or atoms which may have a greater or less affinity for each other.  Thus a metalic [sic] bar is composed of particles, side by side.  If a force be exerted at one end it is communicated from the first particle to the second, and so on till it impresses the body with which it may be in contact.  In solids the particles have a greater affinity for each other than the particles of a liquid.

By the atomic theory of light, we understand, that a voluminous body throws off constantly minute particles resembling itself which striking upon the retina produce their impression.  This theory is however now superseeded [sic correction marks in pencil] by the undulatory theory.


Jno McD Rice.


Certificate of Physical Capacity


I declare, on honor, that my health is at this time 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.


Jno. McD. Rice

U.S. Naval Asylum, Philada }

March 31st 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