Thursday, May 31, 2012

New Artifacts at the Pry House

     I’ve been busier than usual at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum lately, partly due to the delivery of two new artifacts which have been loaned to us.  With the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam occurring this September, we’ve been working hard to update the exhibits in anticipation of the extra visitors to the battlefield.  These artifacts are a very welcome addition!

     The first one to arrive was a reproduction of a Wheeling ambulance wagon, which is being displayed in the barn.

Illustration of a Wheeling ambulance wagon fromThe Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. (1861-65) Part III, Volume II.

     These ambulance wagons were designed by General W.S. Rosencrans, and are sometimes also called Rosencrans ambulance wagons.  They were used in the early part of the Civil War, and were pulled by two horses or mules.  They could hold up to twelve seated people on the bench seats which ran along each side of the wagon.  If the cushioned, hinged edges of the seats were raised, the wagon could transport two people lying down, and two or three seated people.  The front seat concealed a storage area for medicines and other essential items.

Kyle watches as the wagon is unloaded from the trailer. If you look closely you can see two of the four elliptical springs which helped to make the ride more comfortable for the soldiers. Two of the springs were perpendicular to the sides of the wagon, one on the front axle and one on the rear axle. Two additional springs were located on the rear axle and were positioned parallel to the wagon sides.

Side view of the ambulance wagon. Here you can see the foot brake on the front of the wagon, the step to the back of the wagon, the canvas cover which helped shield the occupants from the sun and rain, and a stretcher stored on the side.
Rear view of the ambulance wagon. The wagon had two water kegs built into the back. The panel in the middle is a door which allowed easier access to the wagon.


     The second artifact to arrive was the desk of Dr. Jonathan Letterman. 

Major Jonathan Letterman is known as the “Father of Battlefield Medicine”. While he was the Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac he developed the ambulance corps, a system of triage for the wounded, a more organized use of surgeons and medical supplies, and a system of evacuation for getting the wounded from the battlefields. This system, called the “Letterman Plan”, is the basis for modern battlefield and emergency medicine.

     Since we stress the importance of Dr. Letterman’s Plan at the museum, we were all  very eager to see his desk!  Of course, I needed to document it by measuring and photographing it, so I had a good excuse to examine it immediately.  The desk comes apart into three pieces, which makes it easier to transport.  All the drawers and door lock, and the original key came with the desk.  It also has a "hidden compartment" behind the bottom section which opens from the right side of the desk.

Tom was taking pictures while I was taking pictures! I was documenting the dovetailing on the drawer, along with an ink stain. 

The small brass plaque on the desk top. The Pry house was his field headquarters during the Battle of Antietam. Is it possible this desk has been here previously?

Here is the desk on display. The chair did not come with the desk, but it does help one to envision Dr. Letterman sitting at his desk. The chains are to keep anyone else from sitting at his desk!

     Thanks to the generosity of the people who loaned us these items, we have some exciting displays for the visitors to the Pry House Field Hospital Museum!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Changing a Display

     I’ve posted previously about the display my museum maintains out at Ft. Detrick.  I’m told that the most recent one on Civil War medicines was a big hit!  Last week it was time to change the display though.  The new topic I was given was women in the Civil War.

Here’s my destination – Fort Detrick.

     I chose the title “Women in the Civil War Served….”  and then chose four areas of service to highlight - as Doctors, as Nurses, as Soldiers, and at Home.  I did a little research and wrote some informational labels.  That was the easy part though!  The challenge was finding artifacts which represented each area, and which were small enough to fit inside the case.  This is a museum about Civil War medicine, so the artifacts I have are mostly medical in nature.  I did find some appropriate items, and then supplemented with some images.  It is the strategy I have used previously for this display, and it has been successful so far.

     Unfortunately, I could not find a suitable artifact to represent the few women who served as doctors in the Civil War.  I was able to copy a photograph of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, who was the first female surgeon in the U.S. Army.  Initially she was only allowed to serve as a nurse, but in 1864 she was finally commissioned as an Assistant Surgeon with the 52nd Ohio Infantry.  She was captured while treating a Confederate soldier on the battlefield and spent four months in a Confederate prison.  After the war, she was awarded the Medal of Honor for her service.  She is the only woman who has ever been awarded this medal.

     Many more women were able to serve as nurses, even though prior to the Civil War nursing was not regarded as a profession for women.  Previously, hospital nurses were either family members of the soldiers or fellow soldiers who were recuperating in the hospital.  During the war the desperate need for nurses was filled by women who wanted to help.  They prepared and served meals, administered medicines, changed bandages, linens and bedpans, read to the soldiers, conversed with them, and wrote letters home for them.  Many times for the soldiers the nurses took on the roles of their mothers, daughters, or sisters.  The Civil War was the beginning of the profession of nursing for women. 

It was easier to find items to represent the women who served as nurses. I used a copy of a Harper’s Weekly illustration of a nurse tending to a wounded soldier, a ceramic invalid feeder which was used to feed liquids to patients, and a book on Civil War nurses titled “Our Army Nurses”.
The photo at the far left is of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, wearing her Medal of Honor.

     It might surprise you to learn that some women served as soldiers in the Civil War.  Civil War recruits were required to undergo a physical examination before enlisting.  However, many times the exams were not very thorough, and recruiters did not ask for proof of identity.  As a result, at least 400 women were able to enlist and to serve in the Civil War.  Patriotism was a motive for many of them.  Some women enlisted to remain close to their husbands or brothers, some wanted to experience the adventure of going to war, and some were enticed by the bounties paid to recruits.    
     Women who enlisted as men bound their breasts when necessary, padded the waists of their trousers, cut their hair short, and tried to fit in with the men in their units.  Some were discovered and sent home.  There is an account of one woman soldier being discovered when she gave birth!  Others were discovered after being killed or wounded.  Of course it is likely that a number of women served as soldiers and were never detected.

 The photo on the left is of “Franklin Thompson”, the alias of Sarah Edmonds (on right).Sarah enlisted as a private in the 2ndMichigan Infantry in 1861 and served for two years.Her regiment took part in the Peninsula campaign and the battles of First Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Antietam.After the war she received a government pension for her military service. A letter from the secretary of war acknowledged her as "a female soldier who . . . served as a private . . . rendering faithful service in the ranks."

Photo taken from the blog, Soldier-Women of the American Civil War.

     The women left at home also supported the war and the soldiers.  Just as they do today, the mothers, wives, sweethearts, sisters, and daughters back home did whatever they could to help the soldiers.  They kept the family farms and businesses running; wrote letters; made shirts, gloves, and socks for the soldiers; baked and canned foods; and sent packages of food, clothing, and personal items.  They made bandages and quilts for the wounded soldiers in the hospitals.  They also formed groups like the Sick Soldier's Relief Society and the Soldier's Aid Society, which raised money to help the soldiers.

Soldiers did not always trust the medicines prescribed by the army doctors. Many times they would have their familiar home remedies or patent medicines sent to them by their wives or mothers. 

Thedford’s Black Draught was used as a laxative.

Many soldiers carried photographs of their loved ones. This small daguerreotype is a portrait of Catharine Bell Kay, the wife of Surgeon Isaac F. Kay of the 110th Pennsylvania Infantry.

     Enjoy the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, and please take some time to remember the men and women who have given their lives for our country.

 Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fun and Games

     Much of a Civil War soldier’s life was spent in camp, and camp life could be quite tedious.  Soldiers quickly came up with games to occupy their time.  Many of the games are old standards like card games, checkers, chess, and dominoes.  Other games, like lice races and cockroach races, were invented due to the conditions in the camp!  They also played a game which would later become known as our National Pastime.

     Playing baseball helped to ease the boredom of camp life, gave the soldiers an escape from the war, helped to maintain their physical fitness, and created a team spirit among the men.  Some soldiers took baseball equipment to war with them.  When they had no equipment they had to improvise with fence posts or tree branches for bats, and rag-wrapped walnuts for balls.

An illustration of Union prisoners at Salisbury, North Carolina playing baseball. 
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

     Sometimes the camp baseball game would be interrupted by a battle.  A Union soldier named George Putnam once wrote about a game that was cut short by a surprise attack on their camp in Alexandria, Texas.  In his words:

Suddenly there was a scattering of fire, which three outfielders caught the brunt; the centerfield was hit and was captured, left and right field managed to get back to our lines. The attack...was repelled without serious difficulty, but we had lost not only our centerfield, but...the only baseball in Alexandria, Texas.

     It is difficult to discern from his account whether he was more upset over losing a comrade or their baseball!  It does give an idea of how much the men enjoyed the game.  In fact, the popularity of the sport surged after the war.

     So, when our museum was contacted to participate in History Days at the stadium of our local class A baseball team, the Frederick Keys, we happily accepted.  We set up a table which had information about Civil War medicine, and the middle school students there had to find answers for their history packets.  The pace was a bit frantic at times, but I think the students learned at least a little bit from us!

Students hunting for their answers at our table.

Here are the questions for the students. How many of them can you answer correctly?

Tom dressed as a Civil War soldier and demonstrated how to shoot a musket. The first baseman got in on the fun and fell down after the shot. That certainly got everyone’s attention!

     Once the game started, most of the students found their seats.  It gave us a chance to enjoy watching the game too. 


Here’s George Wunderlich, the Executive Director of the NMCWM, on the big screen, telling the crowd about baseball and the Civil War.

Now that the crowd has thinned out we can watch the game.

     I suppose this week’s post is missing its usual artifact element, but this is an occasional part of my job.  I have to admit that it’s nice to be able to have a legitimate excuse to attend a baseball game for work!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Being Prepared

     I received a reminder this week that the G8 Summit will be taking place shortly at Camp David.  The NMCWM is located within driving distance from that location.  So the good news is that we may get a few more visitors.  However, it has also been pointed out that these summits do sometimes attract protesters, and that sometimes they are not the peaceful kind.  We were all reminded to review the museum’s Emergency Plan.  We hope we won’t need to use any part of the plan, but it doesn’t hurt to review the procedures so that we will be prepared for whatever might happen.

     The Emergency Plan covers a number of potential threats including fires and floods, power outages, weather issues, earthquakes, bomb threats, robberies, as well as civil disturbances.  The plan designates the people in charge, the emergency numbers to call, and the procedures to follow in order to assure the safety of the staff and visitors to the museum. 
The museum keeps an emergency kit like this one on each floor of the building. The kits contain emergency supplies like water, duct tape, plastic sheeting, work gloves, masks, rope, flashlights and batteries.
The museum also keeps first aid kits on each floor of the building. They are monitored and restocked regularly by a designated staff member.

     It is always wise to have a plan and some basic supplies in place for unexpected situations.  Knowing the proper procedures and having some basic supplies will enable people to better handle the emergency, and could even save lives.  This is true for your own home and family as well.  I’ll go just a bit off topic here and point out that it isn’t difficult to obtain and fill a plastic tub or two with some first aid and emergency supplies for your family. 

You never know what might happen. Several years ago this car actually hit the side of our museum building! Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

     Though the safety of the people in the museum building is the first consideration, we also have supplies and procedures in place to ensure the safety of the museum’s exhibits and collection. 
This container is made to transport wet books. It is made of corrugated plastic so that it is strong, lightweight, and waterproof. They are designed to store flat, but we use some of them to store emergency supplies for the collection like plastic bags, gloves, and blotting paper.

This is shot from inside the collection room. Here you can see the fire alarm, a fire extinguisher (with a tag indicating it has been recently inspected!), and an Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel. The wheel is a quick source of information for dealing with damage to different types of materials.

     I hope we never have to deal with a fire, flood, or any other emergency situation.  However, it’s good to know that we have procedures in place to deal with them, that we are prepared with supplies, and that we have emergency resources identified in case we do need them. 

*Note – Ironically, the fire alarm went off a few minutes after I finished this post!  It was not a drill.  The museum staff quickly cleared the building and accounted for everyone.  Within a couple of minutes the fire trucks had arrived.  The firemen discovered that the alarm had gone off in response to a small amount of smoke in the elevator control room.  It turned out that a pump in the museum’s elevator had overheated.  I was very relieved to learn that the smoke had been contained and hadn’t affected the artifacts!

Here come the fire trucks!

Staff members Adele, Katie, Kent, and Tom (with Sawyer) waiting at the appointed meeting place for the “all clear” announcement.

Frederick’s finest firemen at work! 

It appears that I picked the correct week to cover Emergency Preparedness!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Learning More About the Mummified Arm

     Last Thursday I took a field trip of sorts, to the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.  Forensic anthropologists Doug Owsley and Kari Bruwelheide from the NMNH very graciously offered to do some testing on our museum’s mummified arm.  I was very excited to make the trip, because it has been several years since I’ve visited the NMNH and also because I’m eager to learn more about the arm. 

I packed the arm in an acid-free box, with plenty of ethafoam and acid-free tissue to protect it and to prevent it from shifting in the box during the trip. I also tied the lid onto the box to prevent the arm from falling out. It was raining that day, so I also took along a plastic bag to cover the box if necessary. Fortunately, the rain held off until I got into the museum.

     While waiting near the museum’s entrance to meet Kari, one of the museum’s visitors glanced at the box I was holding and asked if I’d brought donuts for everyone.  I wonder what his reaction would have been if I’d shown him what was really inside the box?!

The National Museum of Natural History building. As you can see by all the buses parked in front, it was a very busy day for them. And no, I wasn’t carrying the arm down the National Mall! I actually took this shot after we left the museum.

     Kari escorted me up to her lab and we spent a few minutes examining the arm.  She confirmed that it came from a young person.  I gave her the history we had for it, and promised to forward any additional information I could find.  She answered a few questions I had about the arm, and told me about a few of the tests they might be able to do on it.  At the very least, it is destined for an X-ray and a CT scan.  There are other tests which may be done which could tell us what chemicals were used to preserve the arm, and even possibly in what part of the country its owner lived.  I’m sure that after we receive all the test results I will have another blog post for you!

Kari and I discussing the arm.

     Kari offered me a tour of her lab, which I was very happy to accept!  It was fascinating.  They have bones which were discovered at the Jamestown Settlement – these are 400 year old bones which still have stories to "tell"!  They also have remains from criminal cases.  I have to admit that seeing the one that was obviously of a small child was sobering.  Still, it is amazing to see the amount of information they can obtain from these bones.

Here’s the lab - my favorite part of the trip!

     Next, it was recommended that I view the Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th Century Chesapeake exhibit there at the museum.  It mainly it focuses on remains found at Jamestown, Virginia and St. Mary’s City, Maryland, and what was learned about the colonists lives. 

The image of the man at the entrance to the exhibit changes from a colonist to a modern man as you walk past it.   I tried to capture the effect by getting a shot in which he appears to be wearing half of each outfit.
That handsome fellow in the red shirt standing in front of the panel is my husband, who couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the museum!

     Again, it was fascinating to see what they’d been able to learn from the bones, and to see how they were able to make these discoveries.  If you’re in the area, it is well worth the time to visit this exhibit!

I'm always looking at exhibits and displays at other museums to get ideas. I really liked the way they displayed the skeletons. The display looks clean and simple - there aren't complicated mounts involved to keep the bones in place, yet they are still easily visible from every side. I thought it had a lot of visual interest and impact. 

     Testing on the mummified arm may take a few months, so I will have to wait patiently for the results.  In the meantime, I’ll be looking into some options for displaying it.  Since it is associated with the Battle of Antieam, we hope to have it on display by this September, in time for the 150th anniversary of the battle.  I'm looking forward to having more of its "story" to share when we display it.