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'The Extent of These Materials is Simply Enormous': The Creation and Publication of The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion from 1862 to 1888

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Conference Paper

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National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP Washington United States

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As a major component of its creation in 1862, the Army Medical Museum now the National Museum of Health and Medicine, was to produce The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. This project was planned to discuss every aspect of military medicine encountered during the American Civil War. This was not the first time that a medical history of a war had been written the British had produced a book on their medical experiences in the Crimea, and a similar account by the French was in preparation when Americas war began. However, the American Civil War was of a different order of magnitude and so was its History. Using records such as correspondence, reports, memorandum and drafts of the project, this paper discusses the writing and producing of the six volumes, as well as their reception. An encyclopedic medical treatise based on case histories, the History is a systematic, statistical compilation of the types of injuries and diseases a military surgeon could expect to treat, along with discussions of and examples of treatments. It was not a textbook but rather a reference book, a compendium of experience. Army surgeons John H. Brinton, George Otis and J.J. Woodward directed the project and amassed thousands of specimens and accounts from surgeons and doctors, including Confederates, while records of the Pension Office were heavily utilized to follow up cases. Museum specimens were photographed, and engravings, lithographs and photomechanical prints were made to illustrate the text. The giant undertaking was a triumph of medical research which eventually took twenty-three years and more than 6,000 pages to complete and weighed fifty-six pounds. When finished in 1888, both editions of the six volumes apparently had cost well over 100,000 to produce.

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