U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History
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At a few times in the world's history it has happened, either through the orderly working of the laws of evolution, or through the direction of a Divine Providence, that the fate of the whole human race has been bound up with and depended on the action of a small number of people in a very limited area. Such critical periods in the unrolling of the scroll of fate occurred when in the little peninsula of Greece, some centuries before the Christian era, the Persian  hordes were turned back to their deserts; again it was in Palestine; then on the seven hills of Rome; later in the swamps of the Netherlands; and still later in our own times, when the fate of the world was played out in a small strip of  territory along the eastern border of France. At such times the whole of human history has been like the sand in an hour glass which must run through the narrow constriction of the middle. This constriction becomes the controlling part of the whole machine. Nine-tenths of the world's surface and hundreds of millions of inhabitants become, for the time, of no importance, and a few actors, supplied by a small people, carry on the great drama at its most critical stages.

Such a crisis, or turning point, in world history occurred during the years 1775-83, when it was decided whether an accidental despot or all the people should rule the earth. The contest, known to us as the American Revolution, waged by insignificant armies, takes on enormous importance; as if two contending hosts should halt the course of battle and allow a few chosen champions from either side to determine the outcome. In such a manner did the small battle at Saratoga become one of Creasy's fifteen decisive battles of the world. It brought aid from France and decided the fate of the rule of kings in America. The French Revolution followed and its spirit spread throughout Europe. Democracy, though contested, gained a supremacy, definitely made secure in our own day, and by the interventions of the victor on the banks of the Hudson in 1777.


Almost every feature of the War of the Revolution has been made the subject of exhaustive study and all known original material searched for information. I say almost every feature, for there is one aspect of the eight-years struggle that has received but scant attention; the medical features of the armies and the medical men who took part in the contest. What was the health of the people at that time and to what diseases were they subject? What diseases affected the armies and what was the mortality? What was the organization of the Medical Service and how was disease combatted? What was the state of the medical education in the Colonies, who were the leading physicians, and what part did they play in the great historic drama? These are some of the questions to be answered. The Medical Department of the Continental Army was the forerunner and parent of the Medical Service of our own Army of today. The health of the Continental Army had a bearing on the success of campaigns. Medical men played a large part in the American Revolution; not only in the practice of their profession in the field, but as prominent officers of the Line of the Army, in the Halls of Congress, and wherever leadership was urging on the act of separation and the defense of the Colonies. From the first defensive organization in Massachusetts until the long contest was decided at Yorktown, at every bar and on every field, members of the Medical profession were mainstays of the young republic.

Unfortunately for our information, scarcely any of the numerous writers of that period chose this theme for his pen. Dr. James Thatcher of Massachusetts was the principal medical historian of the War. He served with the Army from Bunker Hill to Yorktown and wrote a full and interesting Journal; but he rarely touched on medical subjects; the action of a stricken field or the moving events of the march furnished more dramatic action than did the miserable sick in the unnoticed hospitals. But a small per cent of his considerable volume is devoted to medical subjects. Dr. James Tilton, first surgeon of the Delaware Regiment, and after the war Surgeon General of the Army, wrote a small volume on military hospitals, and incidentally made some allusions to those of the War. One regrets that he did not write more fully, though some of his state-


ments appear exaggerated. Dr. John Morgan of Philadelphia, having been most unjustly dismissed from his post as Medical Director of the Army, wrote a “Vindication”, which is full of his actions and measures during the brief year of 1776, when he was in office. It contains much information, possibly a little colored by his strong sense of injustice and desire that his labors be vindicated. But for this injustice we might have had no word from his pen. Neither Shippen nor Cochran, who succeeded Morgan, wrote anything of importance. Dr. Benjamin Rush was the most voluminous medical writer of the time, but he was in the field little and wrote later on purely professional subjects. These have transmitted the largest part of what we know regarding the labors of medical men in the Revolution. For anything more we must search out scraps of information from public records, memoirs, letters, newspapers and general histories. Any reader knows how deficient are our histories in regard to medical affairs. To kill men is a picturesque affair, to cure them is not at all so.

Dr. David Ramsey

The medical profession occupied a relatively high place in New England, where learning was always held in reverence, and also in the middle colonies. In the southern colonies the case was somewhat different. Schools were almost entirely lacking; wealth and family were esteemed above education; the professions were held in little esteem and were filled, as a rule, by an inferior class. Consequently the medical men from those colonies played a lesser part in the war.

It was quite otherwise in the northern colonies, where medical men not only occupied high places in their own profession, but became prominent politicians, legislators, military officers, and leaders of public opinion. After the two Adamses and John Hancock, no one was more active and energetic in leading the colonies than Doctor Joseph Warren and Doctor Benjamin Church. Both were members of the Provincial Congress, and of the Committee of Safety which prepared for the first armed conflicts. Of that first Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, no less than twenty-one members were doctors. From Massachusetts came Doctor Josiah Bartlett and Dr. Matthew Thornton, signers of the Declaration; Dr. David Cobb and Dr. John Brooks, colonels of the Continental Line; Dr. John Thomas,


Major General and Commander of the Northern Army of 1777; Dr. William Eustis who was afterwards Secretary of War, of 1809-1813.  Dr. John Warren should not be forgotten, nor Dr. Isaac Foster.

From New Hampshire came Dr. Henry Dearborn, the dauntless captain of Arnold's Expedition; major and always in the center of the stage at Saratoga; Secretary of War from 1801 to 1809; his name perpetuated by Fort Dearborn, germ of the great city of Chicago.

Connecticut furnished two signers of the Declaration: Dr. Oliver Walcott, afterwards Governor of the State; and Dr. Lyman Hall, hailing from Georgia but a native of Connecticut and a graduate of Yale.

Dr. John Jones of New York, one of the founders of the Medical College of that city, wrote a treatise on surgery which was the guide of most surgeons in the field. Dr. Charles McKnight was a leading army surgeon.

Pennsylvania furnished a host of medical men for the war. Morgan and Shippen reached the highest position in the medical department of the army, as did two others, Church of Massachusetts and Cochran of New Jersey. Dr. Benjamin Rush reached a high rank in the medical department and was a signer of the Declaration. He was probably the ablest medical man of his time in America. Morgan and Shippen founded the first medical college in America. Dr. David Ramsay, who achieved some distinction in South Carolina, was a native of Pennsylvania and a graduate of her infant medical school. Of Line officers, there was Arthur St. Clair (born in Scotland) who became Commander-in-Chief of the Army; and Edward Hand (born in Ireland) who reached the rank of brigadier. Colonel William Irvine was another Scotch physician who had made Pennsylvania his home before the War, and commanded a regiment with marked success; Dr. John Beatty was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Continental Line in 1776.

New Jersey furnished Dr. Cochran, who reached the highest rank in the Medical Department in 1781. Dr. William Burnet achieved distinction in his profession, and became principal medical officer of a department after the War. Dr. John Wither-


spoon was a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration.

From Maryland came Dr. James Wilkerson, who after the war became Commander-in-Chief of the Army; and Dr. James McHenry, a brave Irishman who changed from Staff to Line, and for whom a famous fort in Baltimore was named. Fortune has conspired to preserve his name.

From little Delaware came Dr. James Tilton, who served throughout the war and was afterwards Surgeon General of the Army. Colonel John Hazlett of the First Delaware Regiment, killed at Princeton, was a practicing physician.

From Virginia came Prince Charlie's one time surgeon, Hugh Mercer, who commanded a brigade, and died at Princeton; and Dr. James Craik, another Scotchman, who was Washington's physician later and who reached the second highest rank in the medical department of the army. Dr. Theodoric Bland was Colonel of the First Continental Dragoons in 1776. Arthur Lee was a graduate in medicine.

From North Carolina hailed Doctor Ephraim Brevard, graduate of Princeton and author of the Mecklenburg Declaration.

In South Carolina Doctor David Ramsay and David Oliphant were prominent.

Dr. Lyman Hall took a leading part in forwarding the war in Georgia. Dr. Nathaniel Brownson resigned from the army to become governor of the colony. Dr. Noble Wimberly was a delegate to the Continental Congress.

To this list of eminent names may properly be added two others, those of Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Thompson—Count Rumford. Franklin, though not a regular student of medicine, took a marked interest in it as in all the natural sciences. He practiced in his own family, and with his known keen perception and close logical reasoning, was probably a safer consultant than the average practitioner of his day. Count Rumford of New Hampshire was a graduate in medicine and became famous in other lines; but he—shall we say left—his country in her hour of need, and his fame grew brilliant under other skies.

Count Rumford

No one studying the records of the American Revolution can fail to be impressed by the long list of Scots who stood at the very forefront of that battle for liberty. They were to be found in all positions of responsibility, in all places where energy, good judgment and unyielding resolution were required. One need mention the names of Alexander Hamilton, Richard Montgomery, James Monroe, John Paul Jones, the Livingstones, General John Knox and John Witherspoon to demonstrate their importance and value in the widest fields of activity. Medical men of that dour race achieved unusual distinction. Mercer, St. Clair, Irvine, Brooks, Beatty, McHenry, and others of lesser rank commanded troops in the field. Witherspoon, Ramsay and a number of others were members of the Congress. In the Medical Department Dr. John Cochran became Medical Director and Dr. James Craik his first assistant.

Dr. Oliver Wolcott

Everywhere were medical men in the forefront of action during the war. Dr. Joseph Warren sounded the alarm at Lexington and Concord. Dr. Benjamin Church was selected to receive Washington at Cambridge. Colonel John Brooks, leading Jackson's Massachusetts Regiment, broke Burgoyne's last line at the second battle of Saratoga. Dr. James Griffith, at once surgeon and chaplain of the 3rd Virginia, on the night before Monmouth, gave Washington information of the treason of General Lee next day. James Craik gave him word of the Conway Cabal. Six doctors signed the Declaration of Independence. Half a dozen became brigadiers, several major generals, commanders-in-chief, and secretary of war. From 1801 to 1813, the position of Secretary of War was continually held by medical men; McHenry, Dearborn and Eustis.

Surely the men who played such important parts in this stirring drama of revolution and war, which established a great nation and laid the foundations of world democracy, should have their deeds set forth for the instruction of future generations. It is fitting that their names should also be enrolled within the Capitol.