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Blue and Grey Sons of JMC

John Hill Brinton, MD, in U.S. Army officer’s uniform as Brigade Surgeon.

On the brink of the Civil War, late in 1859, the total number of matriculates at Jefferson Medical College numbered 630, making it the most well attended medical school in the world. A good percentage of the college faculty hailed from the South and had attracted students from the Southern states. In fact, in this record year nearly 400 matriculates were sons of the South. The famous "exodus" of over 200 Southern students occurred on December 23rd and was led by the outspoken Confederate patriot, Hunter H. McGuire. The Medical College of Virginia threw a parade and banquet for the ex-Jeffersonians in Richmond and welcomed many of them into that school body. McGuire and 50 others graduated the following spring. Dr. McGuire won fame, not only by his devotion to the cause, but as the surgeon who amputated General "Stonewall" Jackson»s arm and as an eyewitness to the ultimate surrender at Appomattox.

Certificate of Commission in the U.S. Army for John Hill Brinton, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, August 8, 1861. [original document in archives]

One of several renowned Jeffersonians in the Federal Army was John Hill Brinton (Class of 1852). The Archives and Special Collections in Scott Library holds his original commission certificate as Brigade Surgeon, signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

Like his Confederate colleague, Brinton also rubbed shoulders with notable military leaders, in this case, he spent two campaigns as personal physician to General U.S. Grant. In 1862 he was transferred to Washington where he began writing, The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion and was the designer and first curator of the Army Medical Museum, originally a research institute.

The Civil War Jeffersonian who had the most lasting impact on military medicine was Jonathan Letterman (Class of 1849). Joining up as an Assistant Surgeon, he ultimately was appointed Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac. His revolutionary system of removing the wounded from the battlefield and the establishment of an ambulance corps saved countless lives and became the model for all modern armed forces.

Set of amputation instruments and case found at the Battle of Fair Oaks, VA, maker, "V.W. Brinckerhoff," NY, before 1864.

Another remarkable artifact of the era is a set of amputation instruments retrieved from the battlefield at Fair Oaks, Virginia in October 1864 where the Confederate forces stalled the enemy advances. General George Brinton McClellan, Commander of the U.S. Army and son of JMC founder, Dr. George McClellan, was the architect of the Union assault. There were 1,750 casualties in two days of fighting and this artifact must have seen a lot of grim use as evidenced by dried blood and marrow on one of the saws.

The lid of the case has an inscription that reads, in part, "From Thomas K. to Thomas Sydenham Reed..." (Class of 1846), who, in turn, bequeathed it to his alma mater.

JMC faculty member and America’s foremost surgeon, Samuel D. Gross (Class of 1828), not only served at the front but also, under commission of the War Department, was the author of an important text, Manual of Military Surgery, which was published within weeks after the start of the war. It was perhaps an ironic complement that this book was pirated for use by the Confederate States of America, and became a standard reading for medical personnel of both armies.

A Manual of Military Surgery, S.D. Gross, MD, J.B. Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1861 (Special Collections, 617.99 G91) and unauthorized pirated version on right, A Manual of Military Surgery Prepared for the use of the Confederate States Army, no author, Ayres & Wade, Richmond, 1863
(Special Collections, 617.99 M31).

After the war, hands again reached out across the Mason-Dixon Line as demonstrated by this letter from alumnus James L. Thomas of Tennessee:

The following letter was sent to Richard J. Dunglison, M.D., the editor of The College and Clinical Record, A Monthly Medical Journal, Conducted especially in the interest of the Graduates and Students of Jefferson Medical College. Dated March 1, 1884.

Notes and Queries.


Dr. James L. Thompson, of Centreville, Hickman Co., Tenn., writes as follows: --

U.S. Flag that flew on JMC campus during the Civil War, manufactured by "Mintzer," Philadelphia, cotton, 48 x 72 in.
"I am a graduate of the Class 1844-45, and am much gratified, in my declining years, to be able to have, as it were, a reunion, with my old Alma Mater. I love her yet, as fondly as ever, and amid the carnage and desolation of war I never forgot her; she was the only tie, at that time, that held me bound to the North. One little circumstance I will relate. While I was in the service of my much loved South, away from home, a squad of the enemy visited my house, at Rome, Smith Co., Tenn. A graduate of Jefferson Medical College was with them. Soon all the valuables of my family were hunted up. They opened a trunk, also, containing my [lecture] tickets, and diploma. At once they destroyed my tickets, and had out my diploma for like destruction. The attention of their surgeon was directed to it; he saw where the diploma was from, and defied any further depredations, and saved my diploma; and being the ranking officer of the squad, my house and the majority of my furniture were saved from the torch; my family was left in comparative comfort, and through him, a revocation from headquarters for the burning of my house and the banishing of my family, was issued. I never learned his name. I would like to know it. I have thought of it often, and desire to acknowledge my everlasting obligations."

Indeed, Jefferson’s most wayward son, Dr. McGuire, returned to Philadelphia after the war to lecture in the ampitheater of the then-new Jefferson Hospital in 1877. In 1888 JMC even awarded him an honorary LLD degree.

One of the most poignant artifacts in the Archives is a tattered U.S. flag believed to have flown over a general store on 10th Street in Philadelphia throughout the conflict. Its 35 stars and broad stripes commemorate "Old Jeff’s" role in this great national drama.

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