Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Different Way to Educate

     Most museums participate in various outreach programs, which help to promote the museums and educate the public about the missions of these museums.  These outreaches can be tailored for the general public, for a specific interest group, or for students.  Normally these programs are handled by the marketing or education departments, but sometimes collections staff members are included as well.  I was fortunate to be able to participate in a local outreach last week.
May 23 was History Day for many students at the Harry Grove Stadium here in Frederick.  This stadium is home to the Frederick Keys baseball team, which is an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.  The Keys’ name is in honor of the man who wrote our national anthem, Francis Scott Key, and who was also from Frederick County, Maryland.
     On History Day, various local museums and historical societies set up stations in the stadium for school children to visit.  Prior to the game, the students visit the stations to learn the answers to questions which have been supplied by their teachers.  Even though I know the subject of history can be fascinating, the students seem to have other things on their minds while in the stadium.  They race around to find their answers, hoping to still have time left to buy a hot dog, ride the carousel, and try to get some player autographs!
We managed to slip in some educational information during the game though!  Here, Kyle talks to the crowd about the muskets that Civil War soldiers used.


I think his demonstration of firing the musket was more popular with the students!

Clara Barton was even on hand to throw out the first pitch.  She actually has a pretty decent arm for a lady who’s been around since the Civil War!

Kyle wasn’t just firing a musket; he came dressed for the part as well.

Our Director, George, was able to tell the spectators a little bit about baseball, coffee, and beer in the Civil War.

It appears that Clara Barton is a Red Sox fan.  While I suppose it is understandable considering that she grew up in Massachusetts, I’m still not sure she should be allowed to sit with us!

The team’s mascot, Keyote, spotted us.  I suppose when your group includes people dressed in Civil War clothing, it makes you a little more noticeable!

Yes, we won!
     It appears that everyone had fun, and even learned a little bit of history too! 


Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Myths of Civil War Medicine

     One of the things we try to do through the exhibits at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is to dispel some common myths about medical practices during the Civil War.  Probably the most common misconception regards the surgeons as being uneducated butchers who indiscriminately amputated limbs from wounded soldiers.  In fact, though the term “sawbones” does predate the Civil War, it is most strongly associated with Civil War surgeons. 

     The truth is that the surgeons were educated.  The majority of Civil War surgeons attended medical school or trained with an established doctor.  Additionally, they were required to pass an exam before they were allowed to serve as a surgeon in the army. 


This is an admission card for a medical class at the University of New York, dated 1850.  Medical students purchased these cards for admissions into the lectures.  Note that it signed by the student, Jacob Ebersole, and the professor, Elisha Bartlett.

     The staggering number of amputations performed was not due to incompetence.  That can mostly be blamed on the new rifled musket technology and the MiniĆ© ball.  The severe tissue and bone damage done by the MiniĆ© ball made it necessary for surgeons to perform amputations.  Repairing the damage was simply not possible at that time, and amputation was the best way to save the life of the wounded soldier.


An amputation saw is the instrument which comes to mind for most people when Civil War medicine is mentioned.  This saw has an ebony wood handle with a cross-hatching design which provided a bit more grip.  Notice that the blade of this saw can be replaced.


     Another myth which has been reinforced in some old movies, is that many amputations were done without anesthesia.  Patients undergoing amputations were reportedly were given bullets to bite on for the pain, hence the expression, “to bite the bullet.”  I can tell you that is one expression which is not used at my museum! 

     The truth here is that before the Civil War, the anesthetic qualities of both chloroform and ether were known.  The first surgery using ether as an anesthetic was performed in 1846, well before the start of the Civil War.  The fact is that some form of anesthesia was used in 95% of Civil War surgeries. 


This medical tin contained chloroform, and was part of a U.S.A. Medical Department hospital kit from the Civil War.


     Another myth is that there were no effective drugs available during the Civil War.  Admittedly, there were some remedies which were ineffective, and others which were downright dangerous.  However, there were many medications available which were quite effective.  Morphine and opium were used in the Civil War, and opiates continue to be used as painkillers.  Civil War soldiers were often successfully vaccinated against smallpox, and we continue to use vaccines to protect us from many diseases. 


This medical tin contained quinine, which was (and still is) used to combat malaria. 

     One more myth is that the Civil War surgeons did not have to deal with the amount of paperwork which is common today.  However, in addition to their other duties, they actually had quite a bit of time-consuming paperwork to complete.  Surgeons had to keep records of the daily sick call, patient rosters from the hospitals, their surgical case notes, lists of the discharged and deceased soldiers, records of the medicines and hospital stores they received, and sometimes even weather data.  They also had to send requisitions for medical supplies, as well as monthly reports to the Surgeon General's Office.


This is a “Form for Examining a Recruit” which was filled out by Inspecting Surgeon John H. Mackie on October 16th, 1862.  The subject was a 25-year-old recruit named James Smith from Biddeford, Maine, who listed his occupation as a laborer.  The only area of concern listed is where it is noted that he is missing one upper incisor.  He was approved.

Here is a surgeon’s Morning Report book.  Take a closer look at the line near the bottom which reads, “Put up by Edward R. Squibb, M.D.”  Does that name sound familiar?  If you’ve heard of the pharmaceutical company, Bristol-Myers Squibb, you now know one of its founders!

     This all makes me wonder if the fellows from the Mythbusters television show would ever tackle any of these myths!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Last Look at the Recruiting Gallery

     The Recruiting Gallery at my museum is scheduled to be updated shortly.  As its name implies, the displays in this gallery cover recruiting issues in the Civil War.  The updated gallery will still deal with recruiting issues, but will allow the visitors a closer look at the physical exams for recruits, the women who served in the Civil War, and the medical conditions which would have disqualified recruits.  It will also include some hands-on displays.  I’m sure I’ll cover the details of the gallery changes in a future post!  For now, I thought I’d let everyone get a last look at the displays currently in this gallery.

An ambrotype of an unidentified Union recruit.

     Groups of men from the same town or local area were generally enlisted into the same company, which consisted of 100 men.  Rallies would often be held to glamorize the idea of serving, and to encourage the men to enlist.
This rare carte de visite (CDV) depicts a soldier attempting to kiss a woman in front of a recruiting office.  The caption at the bottom reads "Beauties of the Draft, No substitute wanted."

     Though the CDV in the photo above is not on display, its image is included on one of the informational panels in the Recruiting gallery.  This is partly so that it could be enlarged and viewed more easily, but also because this artifact is quite faded and needs to be protected from the light.  The photo you see here had to be enhanced to make the image clearer.  Still, it shows how recruits were encouraged to enlist.  It seems that using sex in advertising is not a new concept!

     As a quick aside, did this CDV remind anyone else of another famous photo?  For me, it brought to mind this iconic image:
1945 photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day.

     Money was also used as a motivator, and bounties could be paid to encourage men to enlist. 


This is a Union recruiting poster dated September 2, 1862 which lists the bounties available to enlisted men.


Here is the recruiting display at my museum, which depicts a man being recruited, and an underage boy nervously waiting in line to attempt to enlist.


     Many boys were able to enlist and serve in the Civil War.  No proof of age was required, so they could simply lie about their age.  Some boys got a little more creative though.  One of our docents likes to tell a story to illustrate this.  Apparently, one way to avoid lying was to write the number “18” on a slip of paper and put it inside their shoe.  When the recruiter asked if they were over 18, they could honestly reply, “Yes sir!”
Leaflets such as this were often distributed to the new recruits.  They offered advice on hygiene and comfort, and provided tips on how to avoid sickness.

     The leaflet pictured above is titled, “To the Volunteers - An Old Soldier's Advice.”  The author’s first warning is to “Remember that in a campaign more men die from sickness than by the bullet.”  He was quite correct.  In the Civil War, two-thirds of the casualties occurred from illness or disease.

     Some of his other advice is:

“Buy a small India rubber lay on the ground, or to throw over your shoulders...during a rain storm.

The best military hat in use is the light colored soft felt; the crown being sufficiently high to allow space for air over the brain.

Avoid the use of ardent spirits, which are more injurious in a hot than cold climate.

Let your beard grow, so as to protect the throat and lungs.

Keep your entire person clean; this prevents fevers and bowel complaints in warm climates.  Wash your body each day if possible.  Avoid strong coffee and oily meat.”

Put this in your pocket and read it daily.” 


Of course, doctors were recruited as well.  Each regiment usually had one Surgeon and one Assistant Surgeon.  This image is of an unidentified Confederate surgeon.  The pose with the hand inside the jacket was common at the time.

     Installation of the new gallery should start within the next few weeks, and the museum’s visitors will be able to learn much more about Civil War recruits. 

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

An Unwelcome Visitor

     I never like getting the phone calls that begin, “There’s a bug downstairs!”  Insects can pose a threat to many of the museum’s artifacts, so part of my job involves documenting any insect sightings.  I identify each pest, and keep a log to record when and where they were found.  This helps to determine if it’s just one insect which wandered into the museum, or if I have to take steps to mitigate an infestation.


This was the culprit responsible for the latest call.  My first task was to identify it, so I took photos of it before I ensured that it wouldn’t be crawling anywhere else in my museum!  It was an Oriental Cockroach or Blatta orientalis.

     Cockroaches are scavengers and will eat pretty much anything organic.  Many of the museum’s artifacts are composed of organic materials such as wood, paper, glues, leather, and fabrics. 


Books contain several potential sources of food – the leather or fabric covers, the paper pages, and the glue.


This wood ankle splint and its leather straps would also be attractive to cockroaches and other insect pests.


Though a glass bottle would not be vulnerable to insect damage, the paper label, glue, and cork on this one could be attractive to them. 
The label indicates that this medicine bottle held morphine sulphate, which was used as a pain-killer.


This is a paper packet was found in a Confederate drug kit and contains “Liquorice”.  The paper, the cotton string, and the powdered plant material contained inside the packet would all be vulnerable to insects.


This green silk Civil War Surgeon's sash would be attractive to many insect pests!


You can see the insect damage done to the leather and hair covering of this field medical kit.  This is why is it so important for me to take all possible precautions to keep insect pests out of the museum!


     Seeing one cockroach isn’t a reason to put the museum on high alert, but it is still wise to take some precautions.  In addition to removing the offending insect, I will be monitoring the area to ensure that it was simply one stray insect.  In addition to logging the sighting, I will be checking the sticky traps in the area, ensuring that the area is cleaned well, and reminding the staff to let me know if they spot any other unwelcome intruders. 

     Let’s hope that next week’s blog post is not about dealing with a cockroach infestation!


Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.



Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Hospital Ship Artifact

     The USS Red Rover was a side-wheel steamer originally used as a barracks ship by the Confederates.  She was captured by Union forces in 1862 and refitted, becoming the U.S. Navy’s first hospital ship. 

A photograph of the Red Rover from Naval History & Heritage at

     As a hospital ship, the Red Rover was equipped with an operating room, a separate galley for the patients, a steam boiler for the laundry, an elevator, and several bathrooms.  It even had window blinds to keep out the smoke and cinders.  The nurses on the Red Rover were from the Catholic order Sisters of the Holy Cross.  They were the first female nurses to serve on board a Navy ship.  
Illustrations of the Red Rover’s interior from “Harper's Weekly”, May 9, 1863.
     The Red Rover was used to care for and transport sick and wounded men, and to transport medical supplies for the remainder of the war.  She was decommissioned on November 17, 1865.  Over 2,400 patients had been admitted to this hospital ship.

     One artifact which was recovered from the Red Rover is a large mortar and pestle.  This would have been used to grind various substances used to make medicines for the patients on board.  The mortar is made of cast iron, and is quite heavy!  The pestle is made of brass and has decorative etchings along its length.

A mortar & pestle used on the hospital ship USS Red Rover.


     Until recently, this mortar & pestle were on display here at the NMCWM in our Naval Surgeons display.  Now they are being sent out on loan to the Kenosha Civil War Museum in Wisconsin.  If you are up that way, you should stop by and see them in person!
Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.