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 Crawford Spear, 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 Crawford Spear, M.D. 



September 10, 1863.




I have the honor to inform you that I reported for duty on the USS Frigate Roanoke, in May 1861, at New York, and remained attached to her until she was put out of commission in March 1862.  During this cruise we did blockade duty at several places along the Atlantic Coast.  I served was Surgeons Clymer and Gilchrest on board the ship.


After leaving the Roanoke I joined the U.S. Gunboat Mahaska at Portsmouth, N.H.  She was attached to the North Atlantic Blockading squadron and was stationed in the James and York rivers.


In March 1863 was detached from the Mahaska and ordered to the U.S.S. Frigate Minnesota where I remained until a few weeks since when I was ordered home for examination.  I served with the Fleet Surgeon W. Maxwell Wood while attached to the Minnesota.  The ship remained at anchor off Newport’s News, Va. all the time I was attached to her.


I am, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

John C. Spear,

Assistant Surgeon.



James M. Greene, U.S.N.,

President of Naval, Medical Board,

Naval Asylum, Philadelphia.


Questions by the Board:


Questions to be answered in writing, by  Asst Surgn John C. Spear.

 1. How is the fœtus in utero nourished. [sic]

 2. What is syphilis, and how do Surgeons class the symptoms?

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

 4. Give the morbid appearances in the different stages of Pneumonia.

 5. What are the constituents of the urine?

 6. Give the symptoms of Diphtheria.

 7. Give, the forms of cell genesis + describe the nature + offices of cells—

 8. Write a prescription for compound infusion of senna without abbreviation

 9. Describe the nature, physiological effects medical properties, preparations + uses of Belladonna


Answers by Spear:


1. The foetus in utero is nourished during the first part of gestation from the ovum, and the last part from the mother by means of the placenta and its connections.


2.  Syphilis is a disease the result of a specific cause.  It is contagious by contact and commences by a peculiar ulcer, which will, is not destroyed, usually infect the system and produce a number of other symptoms.  Surgeons class the symptoms as follows: Primary, secondary and tertiary, or primary and constitutional.


3.  Mercury for the cure of syphilis is most frequently prescribed in the form of the iodide, biniodide, chloride, bichloride, or in the form of blue mass.  In the treatment syphilis it is enough to affect the system vary slightly by this agent.


4.  In the first stage of pneumonia the lung is congested and its color is more red then in health, and lymph is effused into the aircells; in the second, the lung is very much congested and looks like the healthy liver, in color, and the air cells are closed; in the third, the lung looks like liver tissue partly covered with pus.  Abscesses form in this stage.


5.  The constituents of urine are as follows: In health – water, mucus, urea, urate of soda, phosphate of lime, phosphate of magnesia and urate of ammonia, and perhaps several other salts in small quantity.  In disease – in addition to the above mentioned, constituents, there may be albumen blood, pus, cells, uric acid, oxalate of lime, and phosphates of lime, magnesia, ammonia, and grape sugar.


6.  The patient is usually attacked with a chill and fever; and exudation appears in the throat and air tubes, commencing below and going upwards, and this exudation will appear on any wounded or ulcerated surfaces about the body; there is often swelling and suppuration of the salary glands; the disease is one in which there is great prostration.  This affection is a blood disease and not be local disease of the throat.


8. [sic] Cells are formed either by the division of a primary cell, or according to some, from a matter called “blastoderma”.  Cells are of different kinds, some are composed of a membrane or cell wall, enclosing the cell matter, while others are more complex.  The whole body is developed from, and nourished by cells, and all the secretions and excretions are made by these agents.


8.  Recipe

          Sennae unciam unam,

          Magnesiae sulphatis uncias duas,

          Olei menthae piperitae, guttas, decem, et

          Aquae fluidas uncias octo – fiat infusum.


9.  Belladonna is obtained from the leaves of the atropa belladonna.  When given to a person in health, it produces marked dilatation of the pupils and sleep.  It is a cerebral stimulant, an expectorant and a narcotic without producing constipation of the bowels.  The preparations of belladonna are the extract and tincture.


John C Spear, Assistant Surgeon


Naval Asylum, Philadelphia,

September 12, 1863.


Hospital Gangrene


Hospital gangrene is a disease which attacks wounded surfaces, ulcers and the like, and is found generally in the hospitals where a number of wounded are crowded together.



The disease sometimes commences with a chill and fever.  A wound which was previously healthy suddenly appears red, irritated and inflamed, and the patient complains of a burning pain in the disease spot.  In a short time the tissues about the wound commenced to ulcerate and slough.  The areolar tissue is the part first attacked and if the disease is not soon arrested the sloughing process will extend along the course of the muscles along the wound, destroying the cellular tissue composing the sheath of the muscles.  The discharge from wounds affected with this disease, is irritating, bloody and of a peculiar odor.



It has been observed that this disease is never found except in hospitals where the wounded or diseased are crowded together in small rooms, badly ventilated, and filthy.  These then are perhaps the conditions which produce the cause of Hospital Gangrene.



Some suppose it is caused by a cryptogamic growth which finds its way to the wounded surface, and by its presence and growth, causes the disease.  This opinion was advanced or, rather suggested, a few months since, by Dr. [William Ludwig] Detmold of New York, during an epidemic of hospital gangrene in one of our army hospitals, near Washington.  Dr. [Joseph Janvier] Woodward examined with a powerful microscope a number of cases, but he concluded that the growth was the result and not the cause of the disease.  The growth found in scald-head is, by some recent pathologists believe to be only the result, and not the cause of that affection.  This may be the case in hospital gangrene.  If not arrested by medical treatment it will spread over a large ward in a very short time, and from this fact it is usually considered contagious.  Concerning the nature of this disease we must confess that we know nothing.



The diagnosis is easy.  The sudden attack, the burning pain, the characteristic sloughing and ulcerating process, the peculiar discharged and the appearance of the same disease in a number of others about the same time, will generally be sufficient to make a correct diagnosis.



This is influenced very much by different epidemics.  It is a disease in which treatment can do very much to save life.  Generally it is considered a very serious affection, and is much feared both by the surgeon and patient.  The disease was very fatal in the army hospital above referred to, but in the army hospitals of the West, the surgeons have been very successful, losing but very few patients.



The first and most important step is to remove the patient from the infected wards into new, clean quarters where there is a good supply of fresh air.  It's nothing else can be obtained put the patient in tents, and not many together.  No bedding, nor clothes of any kind should be brought to the new quarters from the infected building.  The wounds and dressings should be well cleaned before the patients are placed in the tents.  All wounded man, even if not attacked, should be removed from the old wards.  The next thing to be done is to destroy the specific character of the disease by the application of some a medical agent, and one of the oldest and best is nitric acid.  It should be diluted and applied so as to come in contact with all the disease surface however deep seated.  The acid, where timely and properly applied, generally converts the disease mass, after sloughing has taken place, into a healthy, granulating surface, which should then be treated as an ordinary ulcer, or granulating wound.  Other caustic agents have been used and recommended, as sulphuric acid, caustic potash, and the nitrate of silver.  Tincture of iodine was at one time much lauded as an application in this disease.  Dr. Goldsmith, Surgeon U.S.V. has used, in the army hospitals, the bromide of potassium as an application, and after a large experience with it he considers it almost a specific in hospital gangrene; others, however who have used it think it inferior to nitric acid.


The patient should have a good diet; tonics and stimulants are also usually required, but of course their administration would depend upon the general condition of the system at the time.  Perhaps it would be well to remember that the disease it is asthenic and tonics and stimulants might be useful at an early period.


John C. Spear, Assistant 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

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. 


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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