Gangrene and Glory: Medical Care during the American Civil War

By Frank R. Freemon | Go to book overview

16
The Trial of William Hammond

IN THE MILITARY CHAIN OF COMMAND, SURGEON General Hammond reported directly to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, yet Stanton had been opposed to Hammond's appointment. The secretary of war felt that the Sanitary Commission and other civilian dogooders had forced Hammond upon him. Stanton told several people that Hammond was “;the Sanitary Commission's Surgeon General, not mine.”;1 The ambulance corps was eventually taken from the quartermasters and placed under medical control, but only after Hammond had accused his superior of a disregard of the comfort of the wounded. Hammond's letter after Second Bull Run virtually accused Stanton of willful neglect of Union wounded. Disagreement and distrust festered between these two strong-minded individuals.

Hammond's support from the civilian medical community dissipated overnight. On 4 May 1863 Hammond ordered the removal of calomel and tartar emetic from the official formulary of the U.S. Army, called the army supply table. Hammond became convinced that these drugs killed more patients than they helped. The excessive use of calomel caused salivation, gum sores, and tooth loss. The vomiting produced by tartar emetic could further dehydrate a person already limp from chronic diarrhea. The vomiting and purging of debilitated soldiers worsened their conditions. But when Hammond removed these medications from the army formulary, much of the civilian medical community arose in revolt. For a generation, medical doctors had competed with a series of other healers, with botanists and homeopaths, whose only unifying creed was that regular medicine used too much calomel. Now, the leading army doctor seemed to corroborate the criticism of all these sect practitioners. Hammond, whom they had praised as a fine example of the best that modern medicine had to offer, now seemed to be trying to destroy mainstream medical practice.

Stanton sent the surgeon general on a series of inspection tours: to Hilton Head, South Carolina, then by ship around the entire Confederacy to New Orleans. While Hammond was away from Washington, Stanton appointed Joseph K. Barnes as the acting surgeon general. During the past year, Barnes had become Stanton's personal physician and then his friend; the two men and their wives vacationed together.

Hammond traveled up the Mississippi on the U.S. Hospital Steamer D.A. January, recently renamed the Charles McDougall after an elderly career army doctor. He left New Orleans on 28 October and arrived at Cairo on 2 November. Only one hundred sick soldiers were aboard, so the medical commander of the vessel, Alexander Hoff, had plenty of time to talk with the touring surgeon general. Late in 1862 Hoff had written from this very vessel that soldiers coming aboard were showing evidence of the effects of too much calomel. “;This treatment, as far as my experience goes,”; he concluded, “;cannot be necessary.”;2 Hammond had followed Hoff's lead and had restricted the use of this most potent of remedies. In discussing the situation on this trip, Hoff could only suggest that the army should obtain better doctor3. But Hammond had to use the doc

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