Monday, November 3, 2008

"A Lucky Night at Fort Carbuncle" (Highlights from a Civil War-Era Medical Journal)

("Hat Tip" to good friend and fellow scientist Phil Rosner for the title of this post!)

As a research scientist, I spend part of my day searching or browsing through scientific and medical journals. For one, it helps me keep up with the latest advances and methods in my fields of study. It also proves helpful when I'm looking for hints or advice with a particular scientific challenge that I am facing.

It should not be a surprise that surgeons - and other men and women of science - participating in the Civil War shared the habit. It's just as interesting, for me, to peruse period medical journals as it is for me to study modern ones.

I've recently added a period issue to my collection: the July 6, 1861 edition of American Medical Times. The Times was something of a weekly digest of the various medical journals of the had a few original articles, but in the main consisted of copied material of the most interesting reports from the likes of the Medical and Surgical Reporter, Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, etc.

The lead article in this issue was the first in a series of reprinted lectures by (future Surgeon General) William A. Hammond on venereal disease chancres (ewwwwww!). Still, there are some gems in his lecture, including this line:

"A Mexican woman who was under my care, with a large inflamed chancre of the fourchette, had connexion in one night with seven dragoons, all of whom escaped disease."

Now, there's a story there (and thus the title of this post)!

With the Civil War already several months underway, the Times also included a regular installment entitles, "Army Medical Intelligence." This particular issue had several entries, including:

  • Recent Appointments

  • A lengthy report from Surgeon A. B. Crosby on "A Month in a Volunteer Camp," in which he details his early-war experiences with the First (1st) Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteers

  • A medical report from Camp Hamilton, near Fortress Monroe, VA

  • A report from Dr. John Swinburne on the Albany (New York) Military Hospital

The journal also includes a very interesting original editorial on "The Physician as a Citizen," in which they plead with the country's medical professionals to lay aside the pretensions "of high bred physicians" to whom "patriotism and treason are...meaningless terms" and who "regard only scientific attainments as the test of membership in their exalted social state."

The American Medical Times put out a call to the country's medical men to instead come to the aid of the Union "in the present crisis of our National Government," using as examples, Dr. Benjamin Rush - hero of the American Revolution - as well as the surgeons' peers in Europe, where "medical men regard it as a proud distinction to be engaged in the service of the State."

Of special interest is that they recognized that preventive medicine - what the editors called the "practical application of the principles of sanitary science to the art of the living" - could be one of the great accomplishments of the war.

As I add items to my collection, I'll highlight them on the blog.

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