Doctors in Gray: The Confederate Medical Service

By H. H. Cunningham | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
Confederate Medical Officers: An Appraisal

The Problem

Certain obstacles immediately present themselves when one attempts to make a fair appraisal of the medical officers who served under the Stars and Bars and of their contribution to the war effort. The discoveries of Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur completely revolutionized medical and surgical practice in the United States following the Civil War, and some historians of this great struggle--judging the doctors in uniform by the standards of the twentieth century and on the basis of complaints voiced by sick and wounded soldiers or other contemporaries--have dismissed the practitioners of the war as hopeless bunglers, sometimes pointing to the medical statistics without comparing them to those of other armies in the nineteenth century or taking into consideration the fact that a very great amount of the disease and death during the conflict may have been due to factors completely beyond the power of the doctors to control. Military medical men, however, have been the targets of abuse and criticism in conflicts more recent than that with which we are concerned--much of which has proved to be entirely unjustified. Men in the ranks have voiced complaints, and it is also a truism that decisions made by those responsible for policy-making are not always happily received and occasionally those in disagreement have been known to express their unhappiness with outbursts of criticism. At any rate, it would appear that the medical officers of the Confederacy should be judged by the standards of their own day and that some allowance ought to be made for the grumbling and complaining of those whose faultfinding was

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