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Appendix C: Union surgeons-general and their work

Major E. L. Munson, M. D., U. S.A.
On the death of Surgeon-General Lawson, of the United States regular army, which occurred shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter, Surgeon Clement A. Finley was, on May 1, 1861, appointed his successor. He was then the senior medical officer on the army list and sixty-four years of age, having had forty-three years of service in the Medical Department in all parts of the country and in various Indian wars. He was chief surgeon under General Scott in the Black Hawk War of 1832, receiving the official thanks of that officer for his efficiency; during the Mexican War he was at one time medical director of General Taylor's forces, and later was medical director of the army occupying Vera Cruz.

Surgeon-General Finley assumed the direction of affairs of his department at a most trying time. Congress had permitted no preparations for war to be made; supplies were neither on hand nor could they be obtained at short notice, and the number of trained medical officers was not sufficient to leaven promptly the mass of surgeons fresh from civil life, whose zeal, patriotism, and professional ability could not compensate for the profound ignorance of everything military which they necessarily entertained at the outset. In fact, conditions existed almost identical with those which again prevailed nearly four decades later at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. Surgeon-General Finley did much to mold his excellent raw material into an administrative machine, but it took time to coordinate the resources now lavished without stint upon the Medical Department.

Politicians affected to be astounded that a thoroughly effective sanitary service could not be created out of raw material overnight. There was much suffering of the sick and wounded in the first part of the war for which the Medical Department was by no means wholly responsible, but political opponents of the administration endeavored to arouse feeling against its policy by working on the feelings of the mothers, wives, and sweethearts of the soldiers at the front. This had its effect on the War Department, culminating in abrupt rupture of the relations between the dogmatic Secretary of War Stanton and Surgeon-General Finley, and the sending of the latter away from Washington in the spring of 1862, without duty, to await retirement from the service.

After the relief from duty of Surgeon-General Finley, Surgeon Robert C. Wood served for several months as acting surgeon-general. It was evident that a man was needed as surgeon-general who should have large requirements and a broad mind—matured by years and experience, yet young enough to endure the labors, fatigues, trials, and disappointments that would confront the head of the Medical Department.

At this juncture, the Sanitary Commission, organized by civilians for the assistance of the army medical service, took a hand in affairs and, after careful consideration, recommended First Lieutenant William A. Hammond, who was appointed. Although low in rank, Doctor Hammond was far from being without military experience, having then had twelve years service, of which eleven were under a previous commission as an assistant surgeon, which position he had resigned in 1860 to take a professorship in the University of Maryland, his native State. At the time of his appointment as surgeon-general he was approaching the age of thirty-five years, and had achieved a most enviable professional and scientific reputation in this country and abroad, especially in relation to physiology and physiological chemistry.

With the onset of the war, Doctor Hammond decided to reenter the army, though he would receive no credit for his previous eleven years of service. He was charged with the organization of the great general hospitals at Hagerstown, Frederick, and Baltimore, after which he was made medical inspector of camps and hospitals. So efficiently did he perform these tasks that a concerted movement was successfully started outside the army to make him General Finley's successor.

Of all the great medical figures of the Civil War, that of Hammond stands out in most heroic size. Of his work, no better picture can be given than in the glowing words of Stille, in his ‘History of the United States Sanitary Commission’:

A new and vastly enlarged supply table, or

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Clement A. Finley (6)
William A. Hammond (4)
Robert C. Wood (1)
Richard Taylor (1)
Stille (1)
Edwin M. Stanton (1)
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Edward L. Munson (1)
Lawson (1)
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