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manuscript instructions for U.S. Grant’s surgeons “during and after an engagement”

(CIVIL WAR.) Boucher, James H. Medical Director’s Office, 17th Army Corps. [Manuscript] Circular. During and after an engagement …

Lake Providence, La., March 14, 1863

4pp. Folio. Very good condition.

This remarkable document provides detailed instructions for the medical officers of XVII Corps. The corps was organized in December 1862 as part of U.S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. It formed the center of Grant’s forces in the siege of Vicksburg, which was taken on July 4, 1863.

Prior to an engagement, each division is to establish a hospital with a surgeon in charge leading three medical officers in performing the most important operations. In case of doubt, the three (selected on the basis of skills and qualifications, not rank) will consult on “the necessity and character of the operation.”

The division surgeon will appoint an assistant to establish hospital sites and tents, commandeer houses, and provide food, water, and supplies, employing a staff enumerated in the document. Another assistant surgeon is to keep records of all cases including name, rank, unit, injury, operation, and result, as well as interment of the dead.

Each regiment is to have a medical officer who establishes a temporary depot 400-600 yards in the rear to give immediate aid. It reminds surgeons, “whilst no personal consideration should interfere with their duty, the grave responsibilities resting upon them render any unnecessary expense improper.” The document goes on in this vein, establishing hierarchies and procedures for efficient operations. It closes, “the Medical director confidently hopes that the professional skill, humanity, and well earned reputation of the medical officers of the 17th Army Corps will be sustained in carrying it out.”

This manuscript provides vivid testimony to the immense challenges of surgery and medicine in wartime.