May 31, 2012

Did I Inherit an Interest in Civil War Medicine?

While working on my post about the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, I searched this blog for various entries previously posted about Civil War hospitals. I saw that I had visited quite a few Civil War hospital sites, and I also realized that there were more I had been to but had not written about. Some I visited in my pre-blogging days over six years ago, such as Point Lookout in Maryland. (There was only limited interpretation there of the long-gone hospital and prison anyway, but it's a pleasant place to visit! See the Historical Marker Database page on Point Lookout State Park.)

The large Civil War hospitals are not standing anymore. After all, they were built as short-term solutions and not intended to be permanent. In many cases there are interpretive signs identifying locations. At Mount Jackson there are three markers for the Confederate Hospital that stood there!

Alexandria, Virginia (my hometown for many years) was busy during the Civil War, a Union Army stronghold in Virginia and site of many hospitals during the war. (See Voices from the Past.) Growing up in that area made it easy to become aware of the Civil War, and that's where I first developed an interest in history.  I became aware of the role of hospitals there as a volunteer with Alexandria Archaeology and also as a participant in Civil War Field Trips. (Unfortunately this part of my life was pre-blogging so it's not documented here. Maybe someday...)

Dr. J. Suiter
Going back even further, I grew up knowing that my father's grandfather was a doctor who was a Civil War Veteran. Eventually I learned that great-grandfather did not enter the war as a doctor but rather went to Detroit Medical College after the war. (One day I should go up to Illinois and read his diaries!) The college is said to have been founded by physicians "whose work with wounded during the Civil War had left them eager to improve the quality of medical education."

My father's sister, who was the genealogist in the family, linked her mother's side of the family to William Morton, a key figure in the development of ether as an anesthetic. Ether and chloroform were important in Civil War surgery.

I knew even less about my mother's ancestors. Mom had mentioned that her grandmother once lived near Xenia, Ohio and talked about riding there in a horse-drawn wagon. This only came up when my daughter decided to go to college near there (at Antioch). And Grandmother Hammer had mentioned that an ancestor was a Presbyterian minister. It wasn't until 2010 that I looked up great-great-grandfather Robert Harper and found that he was not only a minister, but during the Civil War he was in charge of a hospital at Camp Dennison, Ohio. So I guess my interest in Civil War Medicine comes naturally!

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