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Synopsis of Frank Hamilton's Lecture on Military Surgery
at Bellevue Hospital Medical College on April of 1861.

Frank Hastings Hamilton Bellevue Hospital Medical College

Military Surgery At Bellevue Hospital April, 1861

Dr. Frank Hamilton delivered, on Saturday, the second lecture of his course on Military Surgery, to a large number of physicians, surgeons and medical students. After describing a number of disqualifications for active service, with the reasons for inefficiency in each case, the lecturer stated that from 25 to 50 per cent. of those persons who usually offer themselves as recruits ought to be rejected.

An army, to be of use, ought to be compsoed of picked men. Hence a grave responsibility rested on the medical examiner. For the consequence of want to crowd prematurely the amublances or army hospitals, to overwhelm with labor the Regimental Surgeons, and seriously to impair the effiectivenss of the army in the field.

Among the disabilities mentioned were hernia, strabismus, loss or maiming of certain fingers, and various injuries of the knee or foot. In regard to the effects of wounds, many interesting facts and principles were stated. Thus, while injury of the knee-joint often caused the loss of the limb, a dislocation of the thigh frequently left the man able to march as well as before. This was sometimes the case even where there was a shortening of the limb.

The test was, did the man limp? It was not enough to measure the length of the two limbs. For it was notorious that while some men would limp if a leg was shortened half an inch, it required 1.5 inches shortening to produce limping in others. The difference probably arose in part from the ability conferred by nature on certain persons of lowering the pelvis and exercising more perfect control for the coordination of the parts, so as to compensate for the deficiency in the length of the leg; while this faculty of adaptation was not enjoyed to the same extent by others.

The custom of the Indians was to turn their toes inward while walking, as experience had taught these children of Nature that swiftness and endurance in war or in hunting were thus obtained with the least expenditure of muscular force. Experience showed that thoes persons who were splay-footed were unable to walk long distances or to endure forced marches. It was also remarked that those who had the foot well arched, walked better then flat-footed persons; and that while by nature, the two arches of the foot were defective in some persons, there were habits, such for instance as that of dancing, which had a tendency to injure both these arches, and to impair the walking power of men to whom nature has given a well shaped foot.

Many other interesting facts were pointed out and illustrated in an extremely lucid and felicitous manner. At the close of the lecture, specimens of shot and shell were exhibited, which had been supplied by Dr. Ganesvooet, of the United States Navy; also, various sedans for carrying the wounded from the field. A miniature model was also shown, of a temporary tent, which could be reared in a few moments, by the union of four knapsacks. Although the sun-shades thus extemporized, were black, and thus absorbed the rays of heat, still as they were open at the ends, it was stated that they did not become so hot as might have been expected. On the contrary, they have been found, in practice, to afford a refreshing and grateful protection, even under a tropical sun.

Dr Alcock, of the United States Navy, then offered some observations respecting the examination of recruits. He especially urged the necessity of inquiring whether the man had had lumbago or chronic rheumatism. If so, he would be unfit for service. The recruit should also be perfectly sober when examined; for if excited by liquor he would probably appear more robust and in better condition than he really was.

Dr. Hamilton then presented a speciman of condensed soup, containing, in a very small compass, enough, when boiled with a proper quantity of water, to feed 100 men.

Dr. Sayre then invited all who about to join the army service to avail themselves of Dr. Wood's daily lectures on Practical Military Surgery in the Pathological Theatre of the College, when material would be furnished free of charge.

Dr. Wood stated that the object was for each gentleman to have the opportunity of performing with his own hands the various operations, and that any army surgeons from either States, who might be passing through the City, would be welcome to attend. He then delivered a lecture on gunshot and other wounds in the neck, illustrated by several operations, and the meeting adjourned till to-day at 12:30 P.M.

(New York Times, April 29, 1861)

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