Posts Tagged ‘medicine’

The catalogue record for this item at the Library of Congress

“[Many hospitals] were built on a pavilion model, with separate, single-story, ward-size buildings arranged in rows or a semicircle and designed for good ventilation. These hospitals had additional buildings for kitchens and other supportive services.”
Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein. The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2008), page 140.

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This Board of Health Sign is in the collection of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

Some Civil War veterans and their family members were still alive during World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic.

“In 1918–1919 a new and deadly type of influenza spread across the United States and around the world. It raged through Virginia from the autumn of 1918 through the spring of 1919, spreading through cities, small towns, isolated rural areas, and military camps. By the time it waned, the epidemic had claimed the lives of at least 16,000 Virginians. The virus, which probably originated in Kansas, was brought to Virginia by military personnel arriving in the state to take ships to Europe, where World War I (1914–1918) was being fought.”
To read the complete article . . .
Addeane Cartwright. “The Influenza Pandemic in Virginia (1918-1919),” Encyclopedia Virginia (accessed December22, 2020)

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“Death as a sailor bringing yellow fever to New York” — Yellow fever had ravaged America’s port cities since the 18th century: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, Savannah, and New Orleans. This illustration was published by Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (date unknown).

The Ben Franklin sailing from St. Thomas to New York  made an unscheduled stop at Gosport for repairs. Yellow fever soon claimed dozens of lives every day. Thousands would die. Those who could, fled the area. Entire families perished. Doctors, ministers, and local officials died. Newspapers shut down. There were no more coffins. John Jones, an enslaved man who worked for undertakers, O’Brien & Quick, collected the bodies. Grateful citizens collected money to purchase his freedom but Virginia law required  a manumitted slave to leave the state within a year of emancipation and Jones declined the offer. He died about a decade after the “Death Storm” and was buried in West Point Cemetery. The Norfolk-Virginian published his obituary on August 8, 1868.

Yellow Fever in Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, 1855
A comprehensive list of sources including Donna Bluemink’s  Norfolk Register of Deaths, City of Norfolk, Virginia, 1855
Her transcription includes burials for Norfolk, Princess Anne County, Norfolk County.

Peggy Haile McPhilips. “Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1855”  (26:52) YouTube,  June 29, 2016
City Historian describes the devastating yellow fever epidemic in Hampton Roads

George D. Armstrong. The summer of the pestilence. A history of the ravages of the yellow fever in Norfolk, Virginia, A.D. 1855. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1856.

William Selden.  Report on the origin of yellow fever in Norfolk during the summer of 1855. Richmond: Ritchie & Dunnavant, 1857
This report names several individuals — black and white — who died of the disease; also details earlier outbreaks of the disease in the region.

Franklin Bache Stephenson. Yellow fever at Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia in 1855. Washington, DC: National Library of Medicine, 1883


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A midwife received her training during a long apprenticeship with an experienced midwife — very often an older relative. Midwives incorporated folk medicine, herbal remedies, and ritual. Their skills weren’t limited to labor, delivery and care of the new mother and infant. They also provided medical treatment to free and enslaved people in their community and occasionally to white citizenry.

Sharon A. Robinson, “A Historical Development of Midwifery in the Black Community: 1600–1940,” Journal of Nurse-Midwifery 29 (July/August 1984): 247–250. Nurse-midwife Sharon Robinson writes that there were midwives on the first boatloads of African slaves in 1619, p. 247.

Tracy Webber, “The African American Midwife During Antebellum Slavery,” in Celebrating the Contributions of Academic Midwifery: A Symposium on the Occasion of the Retirement From the Faculty of the Yale University School of Nursing of Professor Helen Varney Burst, ed. Donna Diers (New Haven: Yale University School of Nursing, 2005), 84–91, 88–89.

Herbert C.  Covey. African American Slave Medicine: Herbal and Non-Herbal Treatments. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007

Todd Lee Savitt. Medicine and Slavery: The Diseases and Health Care of Blacks in Antebellum VirginiaUrbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002

Linda Janet Holmes, guest curator, Reclaiming Midwives: Pillars of Community Support, Exhibit Booklet (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Anacostia Museum, Exhibit November 14, 2005– August 6, 2006).

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Congress established the Ambulance Corps in 1862. General Orders 147 announced “the organization of the ambulance corps and the management of ambulance trains.” Three of the regulations appear below:
“13. Good serviceable horses will be used for the ambulances and transport carts, and will not be taken for any other purpose except by orders from these headquarters.
“14. The uniform for this corps is: For privates, a green band 2 inches broad around the cap, a green half chevron 2 inches broad on each arm above the elbow, and to armed with revolvers; non-commissioned officers to wear the same band around the cap as a private, chevrons 2 inches broad and green, with the point toward the should on each arm above the elbow.
“15. No person will be allowed to carry from the field any wounded or sick except this corps.”

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This University of Virginia study examined incidence of illness and mortality among 233 men (born in Albermarle County, Virginia) who served in the 65th and 67th regi-
ments of the U.S. Colored Troops.

Although the 65th and 67th regiments were stationed in locations known for their high mortality rates — Benton Barracks, Missouri and Louisiana — “[t]his list is reflective of broader trends for USCT men. African-American troops were more susceptible to these diseases than their white counterparts.”

The first phase of research involved an examination of the soldiers’ Compiled Military Service Records. The report continues:
“These data regarding mortality among Albemarle County USCT men emerged from our original pass through the sample and are preliminary findings. Further research will explore other locations as well as the impact of disease on men who survived …. Additionally, it may be fruitful to consult pension records and other sources to examine the effects of disease on soldiers after the war’s conclusion.

Sarah Anderson. “Quite Unhealthy”: Deadly Diseases Among Albermarle-born  Black Soldiers (http://naucenter.as.virginia.edu/quite-unhealthy ), April 17, 2017; University of Virginia, John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History

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No. 5 Field Surgical Set

No. 5 Field Surgical Set, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History

“Assistant Surgeon was the title given to the entry-level rank of commissioned physicians in the armies of both the North and the South. Men who received this rank normally had a medical degree and had passed an examination except during the early days of the war when the examination system had not yet been instituted for the volunteer regiments. Usually assistant surgeons were younger and had less medical experience than surgeons; some were recent medical school graduates. Physicians with considerable experience often became surgeons without holding the lower rank. But many assistant surgeons eventually were able to take and pass the examination for promotion to surgeon.

“Assistant surgeons served in both the field and the hospitals. Most regiments had a surgeon and an assistant surgeon, the latter in charge of most of the ordinary medical care of the soldiers. The assistant surgeon went into battle with his troops and set up a first aid or triage station just behind the lines. Here he did the initial treatment, such as bandaging wounds, stopping bleeding, splinting broken bones, and administering opiates or whisky as painkillers, so the patient could be moved to a field hospital or a general hospital for more extensive treatment.”

Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein. The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2008, page 296

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On December 22, 1863, Assistant Surgeon William H. Gray mustered in at Fort Monroe and was assigned “servants”: Benjamin Lamson (until December 1863); Lewis Ames (January – February 1864); and Uncle Anderson (March – April 1864).  In August 1864 he received orders to establish a Post hospital in “the vacant building known as Capt. Wm. Webster’s residence. He will also examine all recruits offered until further notice.”
— Compiled military service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served with the United States Colored Troops [microform]: 1st through 5th United States Colored Cavalry, 5th Massachusetts Cavalry (Colored), 6th United States Colored Cavalry (1997). Reel 0005 – 1st United States Colored Cavalry: Fly, Benjamin – Griffin, Oliver (online at http://www.archive.org/details/compiledmili0005akesunit). Gray’s Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) can be viewed at n1357-n1395.


Invalid — 908,921 / 755,248
Widow — 467,312 / 330,286, Mary Capen Gray

Proof of Marriage, William H. Gray & Mary Ann Capen, 27 October 1890
“Office of the City Registrar, City Hall, Boston … William H. Gray and Mary Ann Capen were married in Boston, November eighth, Eighteen hundred and forty-one … [officiant] Rev. Edward T. Taylor …”


Declaration for Invalid Pension, William H. Grey [sic], 18 August 1890
70 years old; residence, Bethel, Oxford County, Maine; … “Asst Surgeon at Fortress Monroe, Va. … unable to earn a support by manual labor or by the practice of his profession by reason of paralysis agitans of about eight year standing … Simon H. Ward, residing at Bethel, Maine, and Alvan B. Godwin, residing at Bethel, Maine [and have been acquainted with him for] 20 years and 20 years, respectively ­­


Physician’s Affidavit, C.D. Hill, M.D., 23 August 1890
post-office address, Bethel, Maine … “That he is a practicing physician, and has been acquainted with the above-named soldier for about five years … I have known Dr. Wm. H. Gray quite intimately as a friend & neighbor during the above-named period. While I have never treated him for any disease, I am well acquainted with his condition. He is suffering from ‘paralysis agitans’ in an aggravated form & is rapidly becoming almost entirely helpless by reason of his disease. As I have never given him a critical examination sufficiently to more recall to mind exactly the parts of the body affected. I make this general statement.”


General Affidavit, Gideon A. Hastings, 14 March 1891
residence, Bethel, Oxford County, Maine … “That he is well acquainted with Mrs. Mary A. Gray, widow of the late William H. Gray, late Asst. Surgeon for U.S. Colored Regt Vols; That he lives near her and was one of the appraisers in Dr. Gray’s estate and that in his opinion, Mrs. Gray’s income is insufficient for her support without her own labor being less than one hundred dollars a year.
“Affiant further states that Mrs. Gray, the within claimant has not remarried since the death of her late husband but remains his widow.”


General Affidavit, Richard A. Frye, 14 March 1891
61 years old; residence, Bethel, Oxford County, Maine … “That he is the executor of the will of her late husband’s estate and know her income from said estate to amount to about eighty to one hundred dollars a year, and that it is not sufficient for her support so that she has to labor with her own hands for a part of her living.”


General Affidavit, Mary A. Grey [sic], 1 July 1891
67 years old; residence, Bethel, Oxford County, Maine … “William H. Grey [sic] was the husband of the affiant and that his service in the United States Army ended on the fourth day of February A.D. 1866; That he was enrolled on the 22d day of December 1863 as Asst. Surgeon in United States Colored Regt. of Colored Cavalry and was discharged at Brazos Santiago, Texas, Feb 4th 1866 as above. That affiant gains the knowledge by the correspondence of the parties during the during the period of said services and by the private papers of the said decedent soldier which correspondence and papers can be produced if necessary.

“Affiant further states that she still remains the widow of decedent soldier.”


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Mexican Mustang Liniment


National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Digital Collections

Mexican Mustang Liniment (For Man and Beast) was widely marketed from about 1850 to the 1900s.  Advertisements promised that it cured “Burns, Caked & Inflamed Udders, Piles, Rheumatic Pains, Bruises and Strains, Running Sores, Inflammations, Stiff Joints, Harness & Saddle Sores, Sciatica, Lumbago, Scalds, Blisters, Insect Bites, All Cattle Ailments, All Horse Ailments, All Sheep Ailments / Penetrates Muscle, Membrane and Tissue Quickly to the Very Seat of Pain and Ousts it in a Jiffy. Rub in Vigorously.”

Not only did the manufacturer for this non-prescription salve place display ads in newspapers across the country, it published an annual publication for the African American audience and distributed marketing pamphlets in urban and rural communities.

Oregon News, March 23, 1895

Afro-American Almanac 1896 

Mexican Mustang Liniment Advertisement, Ohio History Connection Selection

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History


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