American Civil War Surgical Antiques

Research and Identification

Civil War Era Surgical Sets, Surgeon's Images

Civil War Surgeon Education & Medical Textbooks

Established 1995    .     Dr. Michael Echols Collection


As seen in:  Warman's Civil War Collectibles, Antique Week, Northeast Antiques, Antiques & Collecting publications, and various TV programs


Snowden & Brother, Civil War, U. S. A. Medical Department

Field Surgical Set

A rare authentic Civil War Union Army Medical Department field surgical set manufactured by Snowden and Brother of Philadelphia.  The set is all original instruments by Snowden, and only a couple of minor instruments are missing.  There are no substitutions by other makers or from a different time.  This is a guaranteed Civil War set such as would have been used in the field temporary forward areas during the first year of the war.   There is a Snowden and Brother companion capital hospital set, also for sale, which is the type that would have been used in the rear area better equipped hospitals during the war. 

Note: Field sets are smaller and less extensive than Capital sets.  Capital sets would have been used in rear areas or hospitals.  Field sets were used closer to the front lines, thus the smaller size and narrow compliment of instruments.  This field set is also marked for the U. S. Army Medical Department, which means it was most likely in existence prior to, or very early during the War.

Snowden & Brother (George and Henry) were one of the major suppliers to the U.S. Army before and during the Civil War.  This three layer field set with military latches is typical of military issue sets built just prior to the War for the U.S. Army Medical Department and during the first years of the War before the massive orders for surgical sets were specified by U. S. Army Hospital Department contracts. 

Medical Department sets were purchased by the Regular Army prior to, during, and after the Civil War.  The differentiation of the sets is by the type of instruments and of course the trade label when present.  U. S. Army Hospital Department sets were purchased for use by the hospitals and regiments and are much more numerous than U. S. Army Medical Department sets, which were purchased by and for a much smaller contingent of surgeons.  Very few of these extensive surgical sets survived after the war and those which did survive, were discarded after the advent of sterilization.

The brass plate is engraved for the U. S. Army Medical Department and held in place with two brass pins, which is unusual.  There is no maker label with an address, so accurately dating the set is by configuration of the instruments and comparison to other known sets.  Compare this set to the much larger and more extensive hospital capital set by the same maker.

The set incorporates a normal complement for an amputation set, plus several special instruments usually only found in military sets: a Bucks trocar and male urinary staves for draining the bladder, a curved gullet forceps for removing objects from the esophagus, trepanning instruments for concussion relief, amputation knives and saws, minor surgery knives,  and most important... bullet bullet forceps.

The mahogany case has inlayed brass re-enforcing strips and castings on the corners.  The sliding latches are typical military issue.  There is no key as is typical for military issue.  The size of the case is (4 x 6.5 x 16.5 inches).  There is one removable tray.

There is blood staining of the amputation knives and other instruments caused by 'rusting' from the salt in blood not being removed after use.

This is a set that has been with the same family for many years and not on the antique show circuit where substitutions or adulterations could occur.  It is a 'field' find, not from a dealer or auction house.  The value of such a set is in that it is original and serves as a known standard against which one can judge other similar sets.

This same set will be featured in an upcoming book about the Civil War from 'National Geographic'.

Snowden & Bro. (George P. [1832-?] and Henry C. [1838-?] Snowden become partners, July 1858; William Snowden [1840?] becomes partner , January 1866; Henry C. retires in May, 1872 and sells interest to George) surgical instrument makers (From Edmonson's book)

1858-64: 15 N. 5th

1864-72: 23 S. 8th

Click on any image to enlarge

Mahogany case with military sliding latches and marked "U. S. Army Medical Department"  Note the brass pins in the name place, which is unusual, but seen in Snowden sets from time to time.




Open case with partition and tray removed






Capital and metacarpal saws.  Snowden name imprinted. 


Note the straight amputation blades and large heavy handles.



Scalpel and tenaculeum


The sequestrum forceps above the bullet forceps is 'blued' not polished.


The heavy bullet forceps have the open finger style typical of earlier instruments.



Toothed tissue forceps with hand-cut cross-hatched finger rests.


Aneurism needle showing thread hole.


An esophageal or 'gullet' forceps, not commonly found in smaller sets.  Note the serrations along the edges of the length of the working ends of the instrument.

A silver 'Bucks' trocar for draining the bladder via a rectal insertion.  Note the strap insertion grooves on the shield which becomes a catheter when the trocar is removed.

An early Satterlee's style bone forceps with hand-cut cross-hatched handles which are blued.  The joint face of the forceps is not imprinted as would be expected with U.S.A. Hosp. Dept. instruments later in the War. 


A single trephine with the earlier crown type head rather than the Galt type more common later during the War.


The tourniquet has the blued cast iron buckle frame and the 'T' of the handled is not marked.


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American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques