Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pets and Mascots of the Civil War

     Civil War soldiers endured many hardships during the time they served.  Though they couldn’t do much about the long marches and short supplies, many of them did find ways to cope with the loneliness and home-sickness.  There are many recorded instances of soldiers bringing pets from home, or adopting pets they found, as a way to provide companionship and to boost their moral.  Sometimes an animal would be adopted by the whole regiment as a mascot. 

As you might expect, dogs were very popular as pets and mascots.  This Library of Congress image shows an unidentified Confederate soldier with his hound dog.

     In searching the museum’s collection for examples of pets in the Civil War, I discovered a poem written by Colonel Salome Marsh of the 5th Maryland Infantry.  He was so distraught over losing his dog, Sam, that he memorialized him in a poem.  It’s a bit long, so I’ll just share the first part of it here.  It’s not quite a literary classic, but it does convey Col. Marsh’s feelings for his lost pet. 

Epitaph on a Favorite Dog

Poor Sam is dead and gone,
We ne'er shall see him more,
He has left us here to mourn,
Whom we did once adore.

Alas, Thy days are numbered,
True and faithful friend,
The tender ties are severed,
That kept thee to thy end.

When other friends proved false,
Thou wert always true,
Hence, death, hath given cause,
To mourn the loss of you.

     Horses and mules were an essential part of the war effort, but many of them became more than just a mode of transportation to their owners.  The most famous example is General Robert E. Lee’s horse, Traveller.  He became so popular that people would pull hairs from his tails as souvenirs!  An officer with the 3rd Louisiana had a pet donkey named Jason.  Jason was allowed to sleep in his owner’s tent at night (probably for the added warmth), but he sometimes got the wrong tent and tried to curl up next to the commander instead! 

This tintype which is on loan to the NMCWM from the collection of Dr. Gordon Dammann, depicts the horse of Surgeon John Wiley of the 6th New Jersey.  Unfortunately we don’t know this horse’s name, but Dr. Wiley obviously thought enough of him to have him photographed!

     Raccoons and squirrels were often kept as pets too.  The 12th Wisconsin and the 104th Pennsylvania both kept raccoons as their mascots.  A Union nurse, Clarissa Jones, was given a pet squirrel by her brother, Lane.  She named the gray squirrel “Secesh,” which was a nickname at the time for Confederates!  She wrote home to Lane about him, “Let me tell you about Secesh—I have put it out to board—the poor little beast seemed so lonely and felt so lean that I feared it pined for its native woods and as I had not the time to notice it thro’ the day I concluded to lend it to Tom Lyman Mr. H’s grandson.  I took it there today to exhibit it to the children.  Tom brought up a large cage which he made for his own pet of a like race - he offered it to me and knowing his propensity for….such things I loaned it to him till he got tired of it.”
     Some farm animals became pets and mascots as well.  General Lee kept a chicken in camp as a pet.  She reportedly laid an egg under his cot every morning, which he then had for breakfast!  The 2nd Rhode Island had a sheep they named Dick.  Dick was taught to do tricks to amuse the men.  Unfortunately for Dick though, he was later sold to a butcher for five dollars to buy food for the men.

       There are accounts of a few more unconventional pets as well. 

The 8th Wisconsin Regiment kept a bald eagle named “Old Abe” as their mascot.  He had his own shield perch so that he could be taken on marches and in parades.  When they went into battle though, Old Abe would fly over the battlefield and screech at the enemy.  Library of Congress image.

     The 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry had a badger for their mascot, probably since Wisconsin is known as the Badger State.  The 12th Wisconsin was a bit more unconventional though, and had a bear which accompanied them on their marches!

My pick for the most exotic mascot is Old Douglas the camel!  Douglas, who had been part of Jefferson Davis’s Texas Camel Experiment, belonged to the men of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry.  This “faithful, patient” mascot accompanied them into battles, and was shot and killed during the siege of Vicksburg.  Photo by Natalie Maynor.

NMCWM Educator, Tom, and unofficial museum mascot, Lacy, show that faithful pets are just as much a part of our lives now as they were during the Civil War!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Look Inside an Old Medicine Chest

     It’s time to take a look at another one of my favorite artifacts! 

At first glance, it simply looks like a wooden chest with a lock, drawer, and dovetailed joints.  Though not visible in this shot, there is also a metal handle on each side of the chest.  Once you know that the chest was made for an apothecary named Dr. Thomas Ritter, you get a better idea of what it contains. 

The upper portion of the chest is filled with medicine containers.  It appears that only one container is missing, so it is nearly complete!  In addition, all but one of the containers still retain their labels, so this gives us a good idea of the types of medicines in general use in the mid-19th century.  

The drawer, which is stuck shut, would have held a small set of apothecary scales and weights, and some basic medical supplies.

     I discovered that Dr. Ritter wrote a book to accompany his medical chests, "A Medical Manual and Medicine Chest Companion".  Though it pretty much starts as an ad for his product, this book also contains a list of the medicines in the chest along with their uses and dosages, “recipes” for some of the remedies of the time, and a guide for treating various ailments. 

     Here’s what Dr. Ritter has to say about his product, “The subscriber [Dr. Ritter] devotes his energies chiefly to the business of putting up Medicine Chests for families, ships, and plantations.  His prices for new chests, and for replenishing, have given very general satisfaction.  Having put up some thousands, he ventures to say, that for neatness of style, the excellent quality of the medicines, and for the care taken for the preservation of the perishable articles, he is exceeded by no one in the country.  In the replenishing of Medicine Chests, he is strictly careful to put up only such quantities as may be needed, never crowding the chest in order to enhance the amount of the bill."

This view shows the wooden dividers in the upper portion of the chest, which helped to protect the medicine containers.  The missing container would have been in the bottom middle section.  Also, if you look carefully you’ll see a few glass containers which look a bit too small for their compartments.  These containers are not original to this chest.

     These chests were somewhat customizable, so that his customers could choose some of the medicines which went into them.  He charged according to the amount of containers inside the chest, which explains his comment about enhancing the bill!

This is one of the larger ironstone containers in the chest (from the top row in the photo), which held Epsom salts.

     In the book there is an entry for “No. 8 – Epsom Salts” which reads, “May be taken in the dose from one to two ounces, or two to four large spoonsful dissolved in a tumbler of cold water.  They are a very cooling purge in fevers, and in external and internal inflammation. 

When a person has taken, by mistake or otherwise, an overdose of sugar of lead, or extract of lead, the best antidote to the poison is Epsom salts, dissolved and drank as soon as possible.  They decompose the poison, and carry it out of the system.”

A smaller ironstone container (from the row at the bottom of the photo) is labeled, “31- Mercurial Ointment.”

     According to Dr. Ritter’s book, mercurial ointment was used, “to destroy vermin upon the human body.  Rub a little on the parts affected.  (See Venereal Diseases.)  Steel and iron, covered with a little of this ointment, will be preserved a long time free from rust.”  I like how he worked in a household use for his medicine too!

One of the square glass containers held sulphuric ether, which apparently was one of Dr. Ritter’s favorite medicines!

     The entry for “No. 21 - Sulphuric Ether” reads, “This medicine ought to be in every medicine chest, and every family.  Its great variety of uses, its instant operation, renders it of great value in sudden attacks.  Its influence is felt to the ends of the fingers and toes almost as soon as swallowed.  It relieves cramps, dizziness, palpitation of the heart, cholera morbus, Asiatic cholera, faintings, wind in the stomach and bowels, producing colic.  Asthma is relieved, on breathing the vapor of ether.  It may be used for wind-colic by injection, mixed with the common laxative injection.  I have never found any remedy so speedily to compose both mind and body, in delirium tremens, or the horrors, after an emetic.  It is also useful in dyspepsia, combined with Tinct. Bark (No. 25,) three or four times a day.  It may be applied externally for headache, toothache, rheumatism, gout, ruptures.  Dose, one teaspoonful, in sugar and water, every half-hour, until relief ensues.

The water and sugar should be first mixed, and when the patient is ready to receive the dose, the ether should be added and swallowed immediately, as it evaporates very rapidly.  Great care should be taken to keep this article from a lamp, as it takes fire as readily as gun-powder.”
      I just hope he didn’t discover that last part by accident!

     This medicine chest is currently on display here at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, so that everyone can see it and all of its medicine containers.  

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Barton Trunk Bed on Display

     If you’ve been following my blog recently, you’ll probably remember that I’ve been working on putting together a display for the trunk bed of Clara Barton’s which is on loan to us from the American Red Cross.  Though it took just a bit longer than expected, it is finally out on display!  The case which housed the Clara Barton exhibit here at the NMCWM was too small for the trunk bed to be displayed open, so I had to do a little rearranging first. 

I had to switch the Barton display with our stretcher display, and put away one of the large stretchers for now.  You can see that there’s plenty of room for the trunk in this case though.  You can also see the sheet of Mylar I placed beneath the trunk to protect it.

And here is the trunk bed folded out, complete with the poles and lines to support the mosquito netting. 

     I had originally intended to display the bed with the mosquito netting around it.  However, I had concerns about how much stress that would put on the fragile fabric.  Though I could have supported the top with a layer of fabric or Mylar, the sides were more problematic.  It also would have obstructed the view of the bed somewhat.  So, I decided to display a piece of the netting draped across the end of the bed instead.

Here’s a close-up view of the mosquito netting which was found inside the trunk bed.   Though it is in great shape for 150-year-old fabric, it is still prudent to treat it gently.

The trunk bed is displayed with some of the artifacts found at Clara Barton's Missing Soldiers Office in Washington D.C., which are on loan to us from the U.S. General Services Administration.

And just so that no one is disappointed about not seeing the bed set up with the mosquito netting, here is an image of that from the Red Cross!

     If you get the chance, come by and see it in person – the display will be here for at least a year.  

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.

*If you missed my previous posts about Clara Barton's trunk bed, you can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.