Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14



A Union Army Medical Inspector:

Norton Townshend




Over 350,000 Union soldiers lost their lives in the Civil War, but only

one-third of these deaths were combat related. The remaining 225,000 soldier

deaths resulted from six million cases of illness from disease and accidents.

As shocking as these figures are, they represent a marked improvement over

the Mexican War, where seven men died of disease for every man killed by the


Before the fighting began, the Medical Department serving the 16,000 per-

son U.S. Army in January 1861 was composed of a superannuated Surgeon

General, eighty year-old Colonel Thomas Lawson, thirty surgeons, and

eighty-three assistant surgeons.2 One twentieth century authority on the

Civil War medical situation has suggested that, "the Surgeon General of the

Army in 1861 was no doubt a worthy gentleman, [but] he was about as pre-

pared for war as were the people of San Francisco for an earthquake."3 Clearly

the medical services of the Union Army were in desperate need of re-

organization and reform in 1861.

One aspect of reform and reorganization implemented by the Medical

Department in 1862 was the appointment of sixteen medical inspectors on the

staff of the Surgeon General. These inspectors, appointed with the rank of

lieutenant colonel, were charged with inspecting sanitary conditions of trans-

ports, quarters, camps, field and general hospitals, as well as prison camps.

Congressional authorization for these positions resulted primarily from the

lobbying efforts of the United States Sanitary Commission, a civilian gov-

ernmental organization created somewhat reluctantly by President Abraham

Lincoln shortly after the outbreak of the war. The Commission was to serve

an advisory function with the government on the "Sanitary Interests of the

United States Force."4



Robert W. McCormick is Professor Emeritus and former Assistant Vice President for

Continuing Education at The Ohio State University.


1. George Worthington Adams, Doctors in Blue (New York, 1952), 3, and Allan R. Millett

and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense (New York, 1984), 229.

2. Adams, Doctors in Blue, 4.

3. Louis C. Duncan, The Medical Department of the United States Army in the Civil War

(reprinted by Butternut Press, Gaithersburg, Maryland, 1985), 37.

4. William Quentin Maxwell, Lincoln's Fifth Wheel: The Political History of the United