Civil War medicine and related photography


Estimates of deaths suffered during the Civil War reach the 700,000 figure, more than most other American conflicts combined. The litany of casualties in major engagements illustrates the carnage that took place.

The 10 costliest Civil War battles in killed, wounded, and captured/missing were: Gettysburg (51,000), Chickamauga (35,000), Chancellorsville (30,000), Spotsylvania (27,000), Antietam (26,000), The Wilderness (25,000), Second Bull Run (25,000), Stone’s River (25,000), Shiloh (25,000) and Fort Donelson (19,000). (http://civilwarhome.com/casualties.htm) The sheer volume of wounded soldiers overwhelmed the medical personnel and resources devoted to their treatment.

An opportunity to learn about Civil War medical practices and the staffs assigned to care for combat victims will take place at the John H. Ammon Medical Education Center in Newark, Del., on Friday, Nov. 13, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Dr. Stanley B. Burns will conduct a program entitled “Shooting Soldiers: Civil War Medical Photography.” This lecture is presented in conjunction with The Delaware Military Medicine Symposium 2015 to be held Saturday, Nov. 14, at the same location.

According to the Delaware Historical Society November 2015 E-Bulletin, Dr. Burns is a collector of medical, historical and memorial photography, and founded the Burns Archive in 1977 with more than one million historic photographs — including early medical photography. The War & Conflict Collection features the American Civil War. (http://www.burnsarchive.com/)

Dr. Burns has authored award-winning photo-history books, and exhibited at museums and galleries worldwide. He is an ophthalmologist by trade with an eye for imagery that has helped rewrite inaccuracies in medical history, and played a large role in the rediscovery of postmortem photography and nineteenth century mourning practices.

His contributions to medical and photography history have led to appointments at The National Arts Club, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, The American College of Surgeons and especially by the New York University Langone Medical Center where he is Clinical Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry, and Professor of Medical Humanities. He has consulted and contributed to feature films, documentaries, television productions and publications.

This event is co-sponsored by Christiana Care Health System Department of Surgery, the Delaware Chapter of the American College of Surgeons and the Delaware Academy of Medicine. The Delaware Historical Society is providing assistance in publicizing this lecture. Register beforehand by contacting Timothy E. Gibbs, Delaware Academy of Medicine and the Delaware Public Health Association by calling (302) 733-3919 or sending an email to tgibbs@delamed.org.

Another source for learning about care for victims of combat and disease during the mid-19th century is a publication titled “Civil War Medicine: Challenges and Triumphs” by Alfred Jay Bollet, M.D. It describes the work of medical professionals in both the Union and Confederate armies.

“Civil War Medicine” attempts to dispel myths about what took place in the medical field during the Civil War. Bollet asserts that, after a poor start in the first year of the conflict, military medical teams North and South actually outperformed civilian physicians on the home front in improving survival rates of those in their care.

To learn first-hand about treatment for the sick and wounded during the War Between the States, you can visit The National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md. Since it was established in 1990, it has grown to include two satellite museums: the Pry House Field Hospital Museum on the Antietam battlefield, and Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office in Washington, DC. Call (301) 695-1864 for information about visiting hours and specific locations.

Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign,” a History Book Club selection available at Bethany Beach Books. Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com, or visit his website www.tomryan-civilwar.com.