Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Diary and a Love Poem

     We get all sorts of books pertaining to Civil War medicine donated to the museum, but I think my favorites are the diaries.  They go beyond the medical facts and figures and give glimpses into the lives of the medical caregivers of the time.  Today I thought I’d give you a look at a small diary kept by an Assistant Surgeon in the Civil War.
This pocket diary is 6” high, 3 ¼” wide, and ¾” thick, which would have made it small enough carry easily.  It is covered in dark green leather, and it was printed by W.G. Perry, Manufacturing Stationer, in Philadelphia.  It covers the year 1863.

     This diary is on loan to the museum and is currently on display in our Camp Life gallery.  I was offered the chance to borrow it by the great-grandson of its author.  We had talked on the telephone a few times, and he was very interested in sharing this diary and a few other related artifacts, so that more people could enjoy them.  He was a very charming gentleman, and we were in the process of arranging for the delivery of the artifacts when I stopped hearing from him.  I was shocked and quite sad to learn that he had passed away.  I was very grateful when his daughter decided to honor his wishes and go forward with the loan of the artifacts.
A drawing of Dr. Thomas Lawton, author of the diary.
     The diary was written by Thomas Clark Lawton, who was an Assistant Surgeon with the 37th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.  Thomas Lawton was born in Hartland, CT, on February 8, 1834.  He attended Sheffield Medical School and graduated in 1859, after which he worked at the Rainsford Island Hospital in Boston, MA.  Dr. Lawton was one of the first volunteers to enlist in the 37th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, remaining with them from August 15, 1862 through February 23, 1864.  He was in the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, as well as the 1863 New York draft riots.
In addition to the dated pages, it contains a mini-almanac in the front with charts for moon phases, eclipses, railroad distances, and postal rates, as well as an 1863 monthly calendar which lists the daily sunrise, sunset, and moonrise times.  In the back are memoranda pages and cash account pages for each month.  There is also a small pocket in the back of the diary which contains two letters of reference from Rainsford Island Hospital in Boston for Dr. Lawton, and two newspaper clippings of his obituary.
     The first entry in the diary is for New Year’s Day in 1863.  Dr. Lawton notes that they were camping along the Rappahannock River (Virginia), and that he was doing picket duty.  He adds that the previous New Year had been much more pleasant!  Later entries describe muddy marches, setting up tents in the rain, shortages of food, illnesses and deaths, sending requisitions for medicines which never arrived, going on furlough, and seeing President Lincoln reviewing the troops. 
     It appears that he was in Maryland as well:

Friday, July 10 – Left our camp near Boonsborough early and marched towards Hagerstown.  Heavy canons a little in advance.  Marched some 4 miles and took position on the right of the corps in line of battle.   Lay there all day and night.  Located my hospital in a nice grove in the rear.  Seven companies under the Maj.  Detailed about 10 ock at night to go on picket.  After packing up and going 2 miles it was concluded they were not needed and sent back. 

Saturday, July 11 – Lay in same position all day.  Rec’d orders to pack up and put all meds away about sundown.  After about an hour’s waiting rec’d orders for the men to go to sleep.  Went back to our old position and had a good night’s rest.  Orders to march at 4 tomorrow morning.

Sunday, July 12 – Left our position this morning and marched in the direction of Hagerstown passing through Funkstown.  Came up with reb pickets about a mile beyond.  Funkstown and Antietam Creek formed in line of battle and sent out skirmishers.  Lay in first position for about 2 hours.  Then moved to the left about a mile or so and formed again.  A very heavy shower in p.m.  Skirmishing very heavy – quiet at night when we advanced our pickets.  Several of the 2nd RI wounded.  Took a house for a hospital.  Slept in a hay loft.  Had my horse stolen at night – found her again.

     Thomas Lawton was not the only one who made entries in his diary though.  His fiancĂ©e left several short notes, poems, and drawings for him to find, as well as an entry on January 10 reminding him that it was her birthday!   Her name was Nina Vose, and seeing her additions makes me think that this diary may have been a gift from her.  Dr. Lawton makes many references in it about to writing to Nina and receiving letters from her.  While Dr. Lawton’s diary entries are mostly matter of fact, Nina’s little additions are more playful.  On one page she left him this little ditty:
“Thomas was an idle lad,
And lounged about all day. 
And though he many lessons had,
He minded naught but play.”
This sketch was left in the diary by Nina.  Its caption reads, “Your residence – Pig, Cow & well sweep - & a faithful likeness of yourself.” 
     I had chuckle when reading that Nina signed many of her entries “Pinkie”, and in one instance, “Naughty Pinkie.”  It seemed quite evident that these two were more than just a little fond of each other!  As difficult as it must have been for them to be apart, their story does have a happy ending.  After the war, Dr. Lawton set up a private practice in Hinsdale, MA, married Nina, and they raised four children together. 
     The last diary entry on December 30 is a poem written in the doctor’s handwriting that seems to tell it all:
“They never loved who idly say
That lover’s hearts are apt to stray.
For O, I tell thee, gentle one,
True love is changeless as the sun,
Unlike a transient flashing flame
It glows eternally the same;
‘Tis fixed in reason and the will,
And ceases not till hearts are still.”

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Civil War Camp Games

     Last week it was time to change our display over at Fort Detrick.  The theme for the current exhibit is Civil War games.  Since this is a medical museum, you might not expect to find game-related artifacts here.  We do have some though, which can be seen in our Camp Life display to illustrate how the surgeons and the soldiers coped with their time in camp. 
Now there are also some Civil War game items on display at the Command Building at Fort Detrick.
     So, how do games relate to Civil War medicine?

     Much of a Civil War soldier’s life was spent in camp, and camp life could be quite tedious.  One method of occupying their time was to play games.  Many of the games the soldiers played are familiar classics like card games, dice games, checkers, backgammon, chess, horseshoes, and dominoes.  In the winter there were sometimes snowball fights.  Other games, like lice races and cockroach races, were invented due to the conditions in the camps!  Soldiers also participated in team sports such as baseball, and an early form of football. 
Here are a few domino game tiles made of ivory and ebony.  A set of dominoes in a small case was compact enough for a soldier to carry on marches.

In this photo, Civil War soldiers play dominoes at Camp Winfield Scott in Yorktown, Virginia.  Library of Congress photo.

Playing cards like these were also popular and very portable.  Many different games could be played with these, but poker was one of the more popular games.
When you play poker, you need poker chips!  This one is made of ivory, but not all of them were this fancy.  Soldiers could fashion poker chips out of many other materials, including bullets.

Here you can see officers of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry playing cards in front of their tents.  Library of Congress photo.

Another popular camp game was chess.  This chess board was made by Corporal John A. Barker, Co. C, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry while recuperating at DeCamp Hospital, David’s Island, New York, after being wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg.  So, constructing this game board served as a sort of therapy for him while he was hospitalized. 

     Playing games helped to ease the boredom of camp life, and gave the soldiers a temporary “escape” from the war.  Playing sports had the added bonus of contributing to the physical fitness of the soldiers.  Playing together on teams could also help to create a team spirit and camaraderie among the men.  So, these camp games did play a role in bolstering the men’s physical and mental well-being.

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

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A New Look at the Museum

     Earlier this week the founder of the museum, Dr. Gordon Dammann, gave a tour of the museum for the staff and volunteers.  While it may seem strange to take a tour of a museum you’ve worked in for years, he singled out some of his favorite artifacts and treated us to some stories we hadn’t heard about them.  Over half of the artifacts we have here at the museum were either donated by Dr. Dammann or are on loan to us from him, so that adds up to a lot of stories! 
This drum is in our Recruiting gallery because it was used to help “drum up” new recruits.  Dr. Dammann told us the story of its pre-museum life as a coffee table.  Yes, I cringed a little when I heard that! 


I’ve written about this Civil War Surgeon’s tent here.  I think this is Dr. Dammann’s very favorite artifact!  He told us about acquiring it from the family of the surgeon, and about displaying it at Civil War shows and in three presidential libraries before it was put on display here.  It is a well-traveled tent!

Not all of the stories were about artifacts.  Some members of the tour learned that the reason our museum has “trees” in some of the galleries is because they are disguising steel supports!  Dr. Dammann also explained how the trees were treated to eliminate any insects before being installed in the galleries.


Another favorite artifact is a rather ingenious little eating utensil designed for patients with an amputated hand or arm.

Here’s a closer look at the combination knife and fork.  It has an ivory handle, three regular fork tines, and a small, sharp blade in place of a fourth tine.  The user could cut and spear portions of food using only one hand.


We also heard the story behind the museum’s acquisition of this wooden siding, which is on display at the entrance to our Pavilion Hospital gallery.  This siding is believed to have been part of the Hammond Hospital at Point Lookout, in St. Mary's County, Maryland.  It was donated to the museum just in time to be saved from being part of a fire department’s practice burn!  As with the trees in the galleries, this siding was first heat-treated to kill any insect pests.
Peleg Bradford’s prosthetic leg is another of Dr. Dammann’s favorite artifacts.  He told us the story of acquiring the leg, and his resulting search for more of its history.  He eventually was able to track down some of Peleg’s descendants and the letters which are on display in the museum.  Having more of the leg’s history not only makes for a more compelling display, but it teaches us more about the lives of the people during the Civil War.  [See my post about Peleg Bradford here.] 

He also talked about how he came to the decision to start the museum.  He said (and I’m paraphrasing here!) he knew that as a collector he would only have possession of the artifacts for a finite time.  He said it was his job to protect them and to learn more about their stories.  I know there are a lot of people who are very glad that he did that; we wouldn’t have this museum without him!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Small Invasion

     Recently I’ve had to deal with an invasion of pests in my museum.  No, I’m not talking about any of our visitors!  I got a call from one of my coworkers about seeing some ants on her desk.  While the office areas do not house any of the museum’s artifacts, pests in one area of the museum can quickly spread, so I’m concerned whenever there are insects spotted anywhere in the building.  I checked out the desk and found just a few tiny black ants scurrying around in the drawers.  I also spotted some food items which weren’t sealed.  I got rid of the ants and the food, told my coworker to let me know if more ants appeared, and reminded the staff to keep their snacks in sealed containers.  I hoped it was simply a matter of a few ants blundering into the area.
     When I checked the desk the next day, there were a few more ants crawling on it.  My coworker had also discovered that they appeared to be coming out of her computer keyboard (yuck!).  Most likely there were some crumbs inside the keyboard which were serving as a food source for them.  The heat produced by the computer probably also attracted them there.  Whatever the reason for their invasion, it was clearly time to call the exterminator! 

While I waited for the arrival of the exterminator, I tried to find where the ants were entering the office.  Though I didn’t see any clear ant trails, I did spot a few more ants on the windowsills.  The exterior windows seemed to be the likely entry points.

     The exterminator sprayed the windows and around the desk area.  I was told that the ant sightings should abate within a few days.  However, I was not pleased to observe that over the next few days there were even more ants.  I was becoming concerned about them spreading to the rest of the museum! 

On his next visit, the exterminator placed some gel bait in a few strategic areas.  I was amazed at how quickly they found it, but you can see that it was quite popular with the ants!  This bait is taken back to the colony to kill all the ants.  It appears that it did its job, as there have been no more ant sightings.

     So, though this certainly isn’t the most glamorous part of my job, it is an important part of protecting the museum building and the artifacts.  I see it as one of the ways I earn my Guardian of the Artifacts title!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.