Today in History:

113 Series I Volume XIX-I Serial 27 - Antietam Part I


Until all the wounded were finally disposed of, no pains were spared, no labor abstained from, by day or by night, by the medical officers of this army, to alleviate the sufferings of the thousands of wounded who looked to them for relief. The medical directors of corps, especially Surgeons Dougherty and McNulty, were untiring in their exertions and unceasing in their labors, and were ably assisted by the staff under their commands. Very few delinquencies occurred, and these were swallowed up by the devotion exhibited by the rest of the medical staff during and long after the battle.

The surgery of these battle-fields has been pronounced butchery. Gross misrepresentations of the conduct of medical officers have been made and scattered broadcast over the country, causing deep and heart-rending anxiety to those who had friends or relatives in the army, who might at any moment require the services of a surgeon. It is not to be supposed that there were no incompetent surgeons in the army. It is certainly true that there were; but these sweeping denunciations against a class of men who will favorably compare with the military surgeons of any country, because of the incompetency and short-comings of a few, are wrong, and do injustice to a body of men who have labored faithfully and well. It is easy to magnify and existing evil until it is beyond the bounds of truth. It is equal easy to pass by the good that has been done on the other side. Some medical officers lost their lives in their devotion to duty in the battle of Antietam, and others sickened from excessive labor which they conscientiously and skillfully performed. If any objection could be urged against the surgery of those fields, it would be the efforts on the part of surgeons to practice "conservative surgery" to too great an extent.

I had better opportunities, perhaps, than any one else to form an opinion, and from my observations I am convinced that if any fault was committed it was that the knife was not used enough. So much has been said on this matter that, familiar as I am with the conduct of the medical officers on those battle-fields, I cannot, as the medical director of this army, see them misrepresented and be silent.

After these battles the army remained some time in Maryland, preparing for the coming campaign in?Virginia. During this time I was occupied in having the wounded well cared for and properly sent away, in making suitable provision for those whose safety required that they should not be removed, and in making such changes as experience and observation during those battles and the short time that I had occupied the position of medical director convinced me were necessary to render the medical department more efficient. Hitherto large amounts of medical supplies had been lost and in various ways wasted, and not infrequently all the supplies for a regiment had been thrown away for want of transportation, and, of course were not on hand when wanted. It was necessary that this should be remedied, and in order to do so it was necessary to diminish the amount that was furnished a regiment at one time, which would affect the whole existing system and make the change a radical one. The objects which it was considered as desirable to attain were to reduce the waste which took place when large supplies were at one time issued to regiments, to have a supply given them, small, but sufficient for all immediate wants, and to have these supplies easily obtainable and replenished without difficulty when required, and without a multiplicity of papers and accounts. It was necessary also that they should be transported with facility, and that no trouble should be experienced in having them in abundance at the