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The Army Medical Department Civilian Corps:
A Legacy of Distinguished Service, Page 2

The Army Medical Department Civilian Corps: A Legacy of Distinguished Service

more than 5,500 civilian doctors served with the Medical Department.2 Many of these contract surgeons performed heroically in action with the units they supported. Perhaps the most striking example is the story of Mary Walker, a contract surgeon who served at Bull Run, Chickamauga, Richmond, and Atlanta, and spent time as a prisoner of war. In 1865 Dr. Walker became the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor, and she did it as a civilian in the Army Medical Department. To this day she remains the only female recipient of the award.

At the end of the 19th century the Army continued to augment its regular medical force with civilian doctors, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, and purveyors serving under contract. Contract medical personnel served in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, and when Surgeon General George Sternberg appointed Major Walter Reed to chair a commission investigating yellow fever, he staffed the commission with three contract surgeons. These civilian researchers—Aristides Agramonte, James Carroll, and Jesse W. Lazear—traveled to Cuba with Reed and studied the deadly disease to determine how it was transmitted. Everyone involved in the research was exposed to disease risks, and Lazear died after allowing himself to be bitten by an infected mosquito. Their work proved that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes, and led to sanitation and preventive medicine policies that saved countless lives around the world.

The 20th century ushered in significant changes in the structure of the Army Medical Department. At the turn of the century the AMEDD was comprised of only two corps, the Medical Corps and the Hospital Corps (precursor to the AMEDD Enlisted Corps). Hundreds of civilian contract nurses had been in service during the Spanish-American War, and in 1901 they traded their contracts for commissions with the creation of the Army Nurse Corps. The contract dentists followed suit with the creation of the Dental Corps in 1911, then the Veterinary Corps in 1916 and the Sanitary Corps (later Medical Service Corps) in 1917. By this time, with five officer corps, plus a Medical Reserve Corps (civilian physicians who had agreed to serve in time of need) and a corps of enlisted Soldiers, most contract medical positions had been converted to active military status. However, this did not eliminate the need for civilian augmentation to the AMEDD. When the United States entered World War I, the AMEDD was woefully small and inadequate for the colossal task of supporting over four million troops in a distant war. The majority of the vast surge in medical manpower was filled through the Medical Reserve Corps, but the scope of the required growth necessitated hiring more than 80 contract surgeons. Army hospitals were typically staffed with civilians in a wide variety of positions, including unique specialties and new practice fields that had not yet been fielded in the active force. Civilian reconstruction aides (later termed physical therapists and occupational therapists), dieticians, x-ray technicians, and other medical specialists helped bring state-of-the-art medicine to the Soldiers. A number of Civil Service personnel, including psychologists, also aided in screening new recruits and draftees.

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2 Mary Gillett, The Army Medical Department, 1818-1865 (Washington: Center of Military History, 2000), p. 181.