Medical and surgical supplies: the army surgeon and his work
Edward L. Munson, M. D., Major, Medical Department, United States Army
Guarding supplies for the surgeons with the armies Washington 1863|
brilliant the tactics and strategy, it should be remembered that an essential factor in all warfare must be the physical efficiency of the man behind the gun. Despite this fact, historians give but slight attention to the medical men whose ability and self-sacrifice largely make possible the military reputation of others.
Although the surgeons are regarded as non-combatants, their efficiency must always have a powerful influence upon military tactics.
The Nation selects its popular heroes wholly for service on the battlefield.
But it should not be forgotten that it is only through the unwearying and unobtrusive efforts of the surgeons that men and armies are kept in fighting trim and physically able to execute the will of the commanders.
In any critical inquiry into battles and campaigns, the careful student will not overlook the fact that the conflict under consideration might not have occurred at all, nor in the place where it actually did occur, nor might the military tactics have been the same, had not one or the other force been weakened by preventable diseases or rendered more or less immobile by the crippling incubus of the wounded, for whose removal and care no adequate provision had been made before the conflict occurred.
At the outbreak of the war, the national army was inadequate to meet military needs, especially those relating to the critical Indian situations west of the Mississippi
, which had been developed in large part by the influx of gold-seekers and colonizers into that territory.
It is not to be wondered at, then, that the war should have found the military establishment of
the United States
deficient as regards its medical organization and equipment.
At the opening of hostilities between the States the personnel of the Medical Department of the regular army was composed of one surgeon-general
with the rank of colonel, thirty surgeons with the rank of major, and eighty-four assistant surgeons
with the rank of first lieutenant for the first five years of service, and thereafter with the rank of captain, until promoted to the grade of major.
There was no hospital corps, but the necessary nursing and other hospital assistance were performed by soldiers temporarily detailed to hospital duty from organizations of the line of the army, and here it may be parenthetically remarked that the qualifications and character of the soldiers so detailed were usually far from satisfactory.
The Medical Department, with the above personnel, formed one of the coordinate branches of the general staff
of the army as it existed in 1861.
Its members were not permanently attached to any regiment or command, but their services were utilized whenever required.
Although a separate regimental medical service still existed in many foreign armies, as it did in our militia, experience had demonstrated that our national system of a separate department was better adapted to the needs of troops when scattered over an immense area, and usually serving in small and isolated commands.
The latter requirements explained the unusually large proportion of surgeons necessary at the time, amounting to about one per cent. of the total strength.