Soldiers and civilians help the wounded after the Battle of Shiloh
Brown Counties Civil War Regiments - Article 24
“The Brown County Medical Corp”
Written by Ned Lodwick, U.S. Grant Homestead Association
The United States Army was ill prepared for the massive numbers of wounded soldiers they would need to treat the wounded after any major battle of the Civil War. At the beginning of the war the army had only 98 doctors and 20 thermometers.
On April 8, 1862 Brown County heard the news of the great Union victory at Shiloh in Tennessee. The Union Army had many local regiments and Brown County’s U.S. Grant was the leader of the victorious army. Church bells rang throughout the county and celebrations could be seen and heard in every town. The joy was short lived though for in another day the long list of dead and wounded reached our county and the population was shocked by the sheer magnitude of the casualty list. The Army was shocked also; more men were killed and wounded in the two days Battle of Shiloh than in all of America’s previous wars combined. Eight thousand wounded Union soldiers and nearly that many Confederate soldiers laid in the fields and woods waiting for medical attention.
The Union Army was to have two doctors for each regiment but many regiments had only one so the army only had 60 doctors at Shiloh. Brown County boys were suffering and Brown County heard the call. Within days the “Magnolia”, the steamboat that normally traveled the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Maysville, was loaded with medical supplies, nurses, and doctors and was on her way to Shiloh. Down the Ohio River, through the ‘Falls of the Ohio’, and down the Tennessee River the “Magnolia” carried her cargo of mercy. The ship became a hospital and the wounded were treated day and night until all had been given the best medical treatment then available. In a matter of days the ‘Magnolia’ returned to Cincinnati with her cabins and decks full of wounded on the way to hospitals in the North.
Every regiment needed a surgeon and an assistant surgeon on their roster. Many physicians from Brown County stepped forward and volunteered for service. Few of these doctors had ever seen the horrendous wounds they were now expected to treat. The technology of modern warfare was producing increased numbers and more severe wounds but the medical profession needed time to catch up. Cleanliness much less sterility was rarely practiced by physicians due to time restraints, poor facilities, and the fact that Pasteur would not discover bacteria for nearly twenty years. Surgery was still considered an extreme situation and anesthesia with chloroform was a risky procedure. Surgery was preformed in houses, churches, barns, or outdoors. A surgeon often preformed hundreds of surgeries after a battle with the same instruments and barehanded. The wounds were closed with silk or cotton thread from a spool and no antibiotics were available (until WWII) to fight the inevitable infection. Fifty percent of the surgical patients died from infection. If that was disheartening then the doctors must have been beside themselves with the camp illnesses of diarrhea, measles, and pneumonia that killed two soldiers for every man that died in battle or from wounds. The Union lost 600,000 men during the Civil War.
Dr. James W. Guntrie of Aberdeen was the assistant surgeon for the 20th OVI. Dr. G. Bombach of Ripley was the assistant surgeon for the 80th OVI. Dr. Jefferson L. Wylie also of Ripley was the assistant surgeon for the 90th OVI. Dr. W. A. Blevins of New Hope was the assistant surgeon for the 177th OVI.
Dr. Greenleaf C. Norton was the son of a well known abolitionist from Decatur. He volunteered early in 1861 to be the assistant surgeon for the 46th OVI. He was a young man of great promise but his life was cut short by a ‘camp sickness’ that took his life while he tried to heal others. His body was returned to Decatur where he is buried today.
Dr. William Moore of Georgetown was the assistant surgeon for the 60th OVI. He was helping load wounded into wagons near Gen. Meade’s Headquarters on July 3rd , 1863 and was severely wounded in the shoulder during the Confederate cannonade preceding Pickett’s charge. He died a few days later and was buried in the Gettysburg cemetery. His father-in-law and brother-in-law took a wagon to Gettysburg a few months later and brought his body home. His twenty year old wife grieved for him and wore ‘widow’s weeds(black dress and veil) until her death at 68 years old.
Dr. Thomas Gordon of Georgetown was a much respected physician not only Brown County but across Ohio and the Nation. At the outbreak of the war he was a teacher at the Cincinnati Medical School and a key member of the newly formed American Medical Academy. Still, he volunteered to be the surgeon for the 97h OVI. His oldest son, Sidney, was the assistant surgeon for the 59th and later the 189th OVI. Thomas’ second son was the assistant surgeon for the 18th Indiana Volunteer Infantry after he was transferred from the 4th Independent Volunteer Cavalry Company. He had completed one year of medical school and was therefore needed more as a surgeon than as a cavalry trooper. The next Gordon to volunteer was Byron, the 16 year old son of Thomas, that served the last year of the war as a hospital orderly in the 189th OVI along side his older brother, Sidney.
Today we look at these doctors as crude or uneducated but they practiced to the best of their abilities in very difficult situations with few of the advances in their profession that we take for granted today. Many advances in battlefield medicine were first introduced by the nurses and doctors of the Civil War. Abundant ambulances to move the wounded quickly to forward aid stations, triage at these stations to determine patient treatment priority, large hospitals set up near the battlefields or on ships, nurses well trained to care for patients, improvements in surgical and anesthesia procedures, and the discovery of bromides to prevent gangrene were only a few of the advances in the medical profession during the Civil War.