Monday, January 28, 2008

The Anatomy of Nineteenth Century Medicine

The primitive state of nineteenth century medicine frequently made surgery a frightening experience for patient and physician alike. In the fall of 1864, Dr. Robert H. Rice of Fremont, Ohio, and his young patient Miss Long of Tiffin found themselves in just such a predicament.

For more than two years Miss Long had been aware of a steadily growing tumor. She had consulted several area physicians who advised her to ‘watch it.’ But with the tumor increasing in size and becoming more painful each day, Miss Long turned to Dr. Rice for help.

Graduating from the University of Michigan medical school two years earlier, young Dr. Rice had received the best medical education available in the United States. But human anatomy, the function of organs, and the germ theory still were poorly understood. Rice's surgical education consisted of merely observing operations performed by other physicians.

Without laboratory tests, X-rays, or CAT scans to aid him, Rice was forced to rely on Miss Long's description of her symptoms and his examination of the tumor. In a letter to his brother, Rice described the tumor as "hard, irregular in shape… as large as his watch and surrounded with a mass of fibrous bands".

He informed Miss Long that if the tumor were not already cancerous it would become so soon. Miss Long needed little convincing. Despite Dr. Rice's inexperience and the risks of hemorrhage and infection, she made the decision to undergo surgery. Rice agreed to meet her several weeks later at the home of a Mr. Ginn in Fremont, where he would perform the operation.

Rice described the operation as a "formidable" undertaking. He brought along two local physicians to assist him. Rice judged one "too timid" and the other "too ignorant" to perform the surgery. Despite his inner fears, Rice remained "cool" and proceeded with a "steady hand." He confronted repeated episodes of blood spurting into his face from a half dozen little arteries that he perhaps never knew existed. He then excised the tumor from the attached skin and fibrous bands and removed the surrounding tissue. Rice later admitted to his brother that it "was almost the first cut I have ever made."

Without the benefit of antibiotics, blood transfusions, or intravenous fluids, Miss Long regained her health during a three-week period at the Ginn home. To the great relief of Dr. Rice, Miss Long returned to Tiffin just before Thanksgiving "in the enjoyment of hope." History does not record the eventual fate of Miss Long. But for the immediate future, Dr. Rice had given his brave, young patient hope and a chance at life during a time when the practice of medicine was more art than science.

Colonel Everton J. Conger and Lincoln's Assassin

In the early morning hours of April 27, 1865, Colonel Everton J. Conger, a Secret Service agent, raced through the streets of Washington, D. C., heading for the War Department to report the capture and death of John Wilkes Booth. A relieved and grateful Secretary of War Edwin Stanton announced to a grieving nation that President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin was dead.

Everton J. Conger was the son of Rev. Enoch Conger, Presbyterian minister of Lyme Church. In 1856, Conger moved to Fremont, Ohio, where he established a dental practice. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the twenty-five-year-old Conger immediately enlisted in Company F of the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Intelligent, highly-organized, and a natural leader, Conger’s early military service impressed Rutherford B. Hayes when the two met in West Virginia. After returning to Fremont to marry Kate Boren, the postmaster’s daughter, Conger joined the Third West Virginia Cavalry.

By war’s end, Conger had suffered three severe wounds, but had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel with the First District of Columbia Cavalry. No longer well enough for field command, Conger accepted detached duty as an agent serving secretly under the direct command of the War Department.

Stanton ordered Conger and a cavalry unit of 25 men to join the search for John Wilkes Booth. Tipped off by a former slave whom he had befriended, Conger discovered Booth at Garrett’s barn near Port Royal. Conger fired the barn to force Booth and his accomplice to surrender. He stated that Booth “knew that the end was near. Righting himself on his feet, he plunged for the door…” Against all orders, Sgt. Boston Corbett shot Booth through the neck. As Booth lay dying, Conger, carrying Booth’s weapons and notebook as evidence, raced for Washington where he reported Booth’s capture to Stanton.

Justly proud of their fellow townsman, the citizens of Fremont presented Col. Conger with an inscribed pair of silver-handled pistols. Congress wrangled over the division of the reward money. At the “eleventh hour,” Representative Rutherford B. Hayes put forth a compromise bill that Ohioan John Sherman rammed through the Senate. Hayes’ plan awarded Conger the largest share of the reward - $15,000. Hayes reasoned that it was Conger who had commanded the unit, developed the leads, and successfully orchestrated Booth’s capture.

Conger eventually moved to Carmi, Illinois where he practiced law. The home he built with the reward money still stands. The Illinois Historical Society erected a marker at the “Colonel Conger House” that recounts Conger’s unique place in history.

Everton J. Conger
Dillon, Montana

(Courtesy of Find A Grave)

In 1880, President Rutherford B.Hayes, once more, played a prominent role in the courageous colonel’s life. He appointed Conger the first associate judge of Montana Territory. Throughout the remainder of his life, Conger would relate the events of the capture of John Wilkes Booth for newspaper reporters and magazines editors across the nation.

James Albert Wales - Political Cartoonist

For 19th-century Americans, politics was entertainment. There was no TV, radio, cable, video, or You Tube, but just the same, everyone knew what was happening. Newspapers and political journals, like Harper's Weekly, Judge, Puck, and Frank Leslie's, were read and shared at general stores, taverns, and blacksmith shops, - wherever people gathered. Those who could read, read to those who couldn't. Key to forming their arguments and shaping their opinions were the wildly popular political cartoons featured in every issue. They were understood by everyone!

James Albert Wales

Created by skilled imaginative artists, the cartoons attacked politicians, presidents, and policies with wit, humor, and intelligence. Through delightful caricatures, they poked fun at society's extremes of poverty and wealth, corruption and reform. Most influential was Thomas Nast, but among the prominent was Sandusky County's own James Albert Wales.

Born before the Civil War, Wales grew up in Clyde, drawing on the counters at his father’s fish market. After a short stint at a Sandusky business school, Wales headed for Toledo where he learned engraving and then to Cincinnati to improve his drawing skills. Wales paid his dues, working for a time in Cleveland and then Chicago, where he found his niche. But his ambitions were quickly snuffed out by the Chicago Fire.

It was in Cleveland, while working for the Leader during the 1872 presidential campaign, that Wales got his first taste of success. Wales soon found himself in New York, drawing for the nationally recognized Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly - the first American venture to bring together news and images. Wales then spent a year in London, drawing for illustrated journals and studying in Paris. Shortly after his return, Wales was hired by cartoonist Joseph Keppler, editor of the popular Puck.

It was during his years at Puck that Wales established himself as one of the foremost political cartoonists. Gifted at caricatures and portraiture, Wales created a full page political cartoon series that he titled Puck’s Pantheon. He soon was drawing double-page spreads and front and back covers that influenced Americans' thinking on social and political issues.

In 1881, following disagreements with Keppler, Wales left to become one of the founders and chief cartoonist of The Judge. After a strong start, Wales found himself in financial difficulty. And in 1885, he sold the magazine and returned to Puck.

With financial backing from the Republican Party, The Judge began to thrive and soon passed its rival in popularity. Unfortunately, its founder, James A. Wales, would never see his creation reach its full potential – or perhaps his own. He died within the year of a heart attack – at the young age of 34. Interestingly, Wales was the only native-born American to achieve national prominence as a political cartoonist during the Gilded Age.

Learn more about James A. Wales and explore the fascinating early history of political cartooning in the United States by visiting the exclusive Hayes Presidential Center Museum exhibit, The Golden Age of American Political Cartoons.

Courage at Shiloh

Henry Buckland eased his brother Chester down onto the filthy deck of the crowded steamboat as gently as he could. Henry had carried Chester from the battlefield, stumbling through the smoke, mud, and underbrush to reach the river landing where hundreds of Shiloh’s casualties were being loaded onto boats. Even in the darkness and pouring rain, Henry could see that his little brother’s face had turned deathly white. As the steamboat began to move out into the current, Henry tightened the blood-soaked bandage one last time and then jumped ashore.

Chester Buckland

Henry could not help thinking that only 24 hours earlier, Chester was full of life, fighting valiantly to fend off Rebel troops who had nearly overwhelmed his company. That evening, Chester had proudly written every detail of the fight to their mother, reminding her that “if I die, it is for my country.” And that very morning, Chester had stood bravely on the battle line with his 72nd Ohio comrades as thousands of Rebels came streaming out of the woods directly at them.

Henry believed that their friend Arthur Fitch would care for Chester as the boat steamed its way up the Mississippi River toward Ohio. But it was not to be. When Fremont, Ohio physician Dr. LaQuino Rawson arrived in Cincinnati to help with the wounded, he discovered Chester’s body. He learned that Chester had died before reaching Cincinnati. Locating a metal coffin, Dr. Rawson sent the body to Fremont, Ohio and then telegraphed the sad news to the boy’s parents.

Days later, family, friends, and neighbors gathered at Oakwood Cemetery in Fremont, Ohio, where Chester was laid to rest. The community had come not only to mourn his loss, but to honor his courage and sacrifice. If only a private, Chester was the highly regarded son of one of Fremont’s most prominent citizens. His former employer, the editor of the Fremont Journal, honored the memory of his promising young assistant by publishing a lengthy obituary and his letter describing his heroic actions at the Battle of Shiloh.

Military historians often refer to Shiloh as a “soldiers’ battle.” For it was not military leadership or tactics that brought Union victory in the first, great bloody battle of the Civil War. Rather it was the ferocious fighting of raw recruits like brave young Chester Buckland.

General William Tecumseh Sherman Before Atlanta Astride His Favorite Horse "Duke"

This November 7th, 1888 letter, apparently written by General William Tecumseh Sherman's aide and then annotated and signed by Sherman himself, is from the Hayes Presidential Center's William Tecumseh Sherman Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection. The letter is Sherman's reply to an inquiry from prominent portait painter E. F. Andrews regarding Sherman's favorite horse during the Civil War. Andrews also apparently asked Sherman if he, General Ulysses S. Grant, and General Philip Sheridan had ever ridden together during the Civil War. Sherman responded by stating that he, Grant, and Sheridan were in the Battle of Missionary Ridge "but separated by miles."

No. 75 W. 71 St.
New York Nov. 7, 1888.
E. F. Andrews Esq
Washinton D.C.

My dear Sir:

In reply to yours of the 6th Inst, I take pleasure in saying that my favorite horse during the war was the one I rode at Atlanta, and whose name was "Duke." he was a bright bay, had a white star on forehead, and one white foot (left hind foot). I have a good portrait of him by Trotter of Philadelphia now hanging in my office. We changed horses so often that it is impossible to say more. Grant had several one of which was "Cincinatus," a horse well remembered by many, & was a great favorite.
I cannot recall an instance when Generals Grant, Sherman and Sheridan were together on horseback. during the war.
With respect
Your very truly
W. T. Sherman

We were all in the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Chattanooga. Nov 1863 - but seperated by miles.