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February 1, 2008

Lessons Relearned

Arch Surg. 2008;143(2):112-114. doi:10.1001/archsurg.2007.38

From the inception of the United States, civilian surgeons have been involved in advising the military and providing surgical care for the wounded soldier. John Jones, professor of surgery at King's College in New York City, is the most notable of those who served during the Revolutionary War. Others included William Shippen, James Tilton, Samuel Bard, William Baynham, Thomas Bond, John Bard, James Lloyd, and John Warren. Many of these surgeons had studied under William and John Hunter in London, England. One of the remarkable contributions of civilian medicine to military surgery was during the Civil War by the US Sanitary Commission. Although initially criticized, by the end of the war it was recognized as contributing significantly to decreased mortality of the wounded. Another significant contribution during the Civil War was accomplished by Surgeon General William Hammond after Gettysburg. In cooperation with state governors, he established a reserve medical corps, and the medical competence had to be vouched for by local authorities. This proved to be effective during the Battle of the Wilderness. The reserve physicians primarily changed dressings, treated sick soldiers, and helped run the field hospital; amputations and other complicated surgical procedures were left to regular army surgeons who were thought to have greater skills with the knife.