U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History
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History of the Office of Medical History

History of The Office of Medical History, page 1

The Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War

Interest in the Crimean War publications continued as the American Civil War began in 1861. Recognizing the importance of capturing the historical significance as well as technical expertise gained on the battlefield, Surgeon General William A. Hammond announced plans to publish a medical history of the war in 1862. A separate historical department did not exist; but early historical efforts were able to proceed under the direction of the Surgeon General’s Office. Records and reports were collected from the field for the projected publication. Artifacts and a
pathological collection were also gathered for educational and illustrative purposes at the newly
established Army Medical Museum.

Assistant Surgeon Joseph J. Woodward, Surgeon J.H. Brinton, and Surgeon George A. Otis were consecutively placed in charge of medical records and related material from 1862 through 1864. In 1865 as the war came to a close the new Surgeon General, Joseph K. Barnes reviewed the compilation of items. According to the Surgeon General’s report, “30,000 cases and 7,630 specimens were being arranged for the history”.

Analysis and the publication of circulars for the massive collection of material continued as an editorial board consisting of Joseph J. Woodward and George A. Otis was formed. The proposed medical history consisted of six volumes divided into medical and surgical sections. Volume one of the Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion was completed in November of 1870. Work on the books progressed with some editorial changes. George A. Otis passed away in February of 1881 and Joseph J. Woodward died in August of 1884. Editorial duties were then transferred respectively to Surgeon D. L. Huntington and Surgeon Charles Smart at the times of their predecessors’ demise.

The massive history task closed in 1888 as the final volume was completed. Each volume includes approximately one thousand pages containing statistics, case studies, and other technical information. Subject matter found in the volumes vary from gunshot wounds to the transportation of the wounded by railway. One of the best records from the American Civil War, the series would lead to reprinting and future interest in recording Army medical history. Other Army medical historical efforts progressed during this time. Physicians and Surgeons of the U. S. by W. H. Atkinson and The Medical Department of the United States Army from 1775 to 1873 by Harvey E. Brown were both published in 1873. These books were also compiled under the direction of Surgeon General Barnes.

Historical work during the Spanish-American War Era is largely unknown. Records and discoveries were fortuitously maintained but as far as can be ascertained, an organized history office did not exist. Later, during the tenure of Surgeon General William C. Gorgas (16 Jan 1914 - 3 Oct 1918), an appointed Historical Board was created. The board consisted of the Librarian of the Army Medical Library, library director, assistant librarian, redactor, and a statistician.These librarians served in similar capacities as current historians. During World War I LTC Fielding
Garrison and COL C.C. McCulloch, librarians at the Army Medical Library, collected and interpreted gathered material.

World War I and the Historical Division

As the United States became involved in World War I and the Surgeon General’s Office reorganized in 1917-1918, the historical department also changed. The Historical Board was renamed as the Historical Section of the Library Division and then later, the Historical Division. Looking toward future publication and study, the collection of historical material began as America built its Army. Under the direction of the Historical Division, subordinate to the
Surgeon General, medical officers in the field were informed to maintain records of their observations and experiences. Questionnaires were sent to various camp and general hospitals, war journals were sought, and personnel were sent to Army camps to interview soldiers in the United States as well as to confer with the Chief Surgeon of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. Similarly, the curator of the Army Medical Museum coordinated activities with the Historical Board in order to collect pathological specimens.

At the conclusion of the hostilities in 1918, plans were formed to create several volumes of the history of Army Medicine during World War I. In January of 1919 an editorial board was formed, but its submissions were subject to approval by the Historical Section of the War Plans Division of the Army General Staff. Later in December of 1919 the Historical Section was reorganized becoming a separate entity, the Historical Division of the Surgeon General’s Office. Medical officers were assigned as authors and editors of various sections of the proposed history
and were able to greatly contribute to the compilation. The final product The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War had 15 volumes (17 books), and was published from 1922 through 1929. At the conclusion of this major effort, the historical division’s activities were concentrated on the review and publication of annual reports.

World War II

Recognizing the need to capture America’s involvement during World War II, Surgeon General James C. Magee formalized the functions of the History Division in August of 1941. Previously, the section had been serving under the Administrative Division of the Office of the Surgeon General, and would now serve under the direction of Brigadier General Albert G. Love, a retired Medical Corps Officer recalled to service. Due to the immense size and scope of the task, capturing military and medical history during World War II, there were several levels of authority. The History Division of the Office of the Surgeon General also fell under the history offices for the Services of Supply, and the Historical Section of the US Army War College. A Chief Historian was also appointed to supervise and manage Army-wide historical activities.

Similar to efforts by other historical offices, the Medical Historical Division sent representatives to the European, Pacific, and Mediterranean Theaters of Operation in order to gather pertinent information. Although daunting, the vast collection mission continued. It eventually provided countless records for publication and study. General Love had the foresight to have the gathered data indexed and appropriately filed as soon as possible for their pending
interpretation and publication.

The number of books evolving from the assembled material is staggering. Over forty volumes were published. Subjects range from technical knowledge to theater and unit affiliation, with additional concentrations in special studies and organization. These volumes began publication during the later stages of World War II and continued through 1970.

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