View Full Version : Army Medical Museum

10-11-2006, 09:40 PM
Have any of the medical living historians/reenactors giving much thought to the collecting of specimens (predominantly, but not entirely, from CS soldiers) for the Army Medical Museum (now the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)? The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion details numerous pathological specimens and later medical texts drew from the collection.

I have a 3-fold question:
a. What was the process whereby a surgeon determined that a particular patients wound was interesting or unique enough to qualify for addition to the Medical Museum?
b. One Union general used to visit his leg at the Army Medical Museum for some years after the War. Did other surviving contributors (if any) ever get a look at their old parts?
c.Does anyone else find it disturbing that a poor wounded soldier, with a nasty though not necessarily fatal wound, could be brought into hospital for treatment, a complete social and medical history be obtained, and the specimen collected and preserved, and sent off to Washington after the patient died? In most cases the soldiers name, place of birth, age, regiment, length of service, in short, as I said, a complete history was obtained, which then was sent with the speciman after the fellow died. Were the patients families notified during or after the War that Johnny or Billy who was listed as "missing, presumed killed" at whatever battle, lived long enough to give his information to a surgeon, then after he died that bits of his remains were in a museum?

At one time, the AMM/AFIP had not only identified body parts (bone and wet specimens), but whole skeletons of soldiers in storage. Identified remains! Men whose families might never have know what happened to them.
I assume these are still part of the collection. I'm not advocating "repatriation" in the way the American Indians have gained possession of their ancestors, as the AMM/AFIP collection should remain intact.

I would like to know if any of you have more insight into this than I, or if anyone has considered making a "specimen collection" part of a living history demonstation/discussion. It's certainly as aspect that a non-medical reenactor might not be aware of.

Do I have a completely wrong interpretation of the process? Or would some surgeons consider having a specimen on display a feather in their caps (like some love to see their names in medical journals today)?

Frank Brower

10-12-2006, 03:49 PM
I may have some insight into the AFIP collection as I have tored that facility and borrowed parts of the collection for an exhibit in Frederick.

1) They do not have any Civil War "full" remains in the current collection. They do have parts, some of which are identified, but these are mostly post operative although some are battlefield collections picked up well after the battles. I am not sure if full sets of remains were ever actually collected but I can find out easily enough.

2) I think you may be a bit severe in your point c. Not all of the soldiers whose body parts were sent to DC died. Many lived! More importantly the majority of those who died in the hospitals did have fmily notified if their names and history were known and correct. This can be best seen in the numbers of families who claimed the bodies of their loved ones bodies and had them shipped home. Certainly some were not and many were "lost" in the system. Those with full case studies were in many instances reported to the families. Many of those who survived the war were follwed by the Surgeon General's office for post war evaluations.

As far as the colection went, SG Barnes actually had to go into the field to encourage the collection of specimens as many surgeons simply did not take the time or could not be bothered. It was not enough of a feather in the cap to make this worthwhile. I think if Hammond and Barnes had not insisted on a collection for education not surgeon would have bothered.

One point, Gen Sickles did visit his leg. Many othe vets also visited the museum after the war and many of these became the basis for the post-op photos used in later medical studies. If you look at the SG's photo collection most are actually post war visitors who had interesting cases to show. I am not aware of any visiting to see their particular part but it is certainly possible.

I hope this helps.

George Wunderlich