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.

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