Dr. Gordon E. Damman, D.D.S., opened his lecture Civil War Medicine: An Overview, Tuesday, April 17th at The Lincoln Museum with the humorous proposal that bitten bullets collected from the Civil War were not, in fact bitten by soldiers for anesthetic effect. Who are the bullet-biting culprits? Dr. Damman’s slide displayed two little pigs grazing in a field and followed with another slide: well known yard soldiers, common squirrels. The dentist and Civil War medical expert declared that both history and cinema have inaccurately portrayed the medical practices of the war.
The lecture was presented in conjunction with The Lincoln Museum’s temporary exhibition, Bleeding Blue and Gray: Civil War Medicine sponsored by Dupont Hospital. Damman began his epic Civil War research in the seventies as a re-enactor. Before the internet was available, Damman researched Civil War medicine and history in libraries lacking organized information. Only two books existed at the time, Doctors in Gray and Doctors in Blue. Today, Damman has added to the existing books the Pictorial Encyclopedia of Civil War Medical Instruments and Equipment, Volumes I, II, and III, as well as, his newest book, Medical Images of the Civil War.
As a result of research and artifact collection Damman decided in 1985 to build a museum. “When the collection grew to about 3-4,000 items all stuffed in my house, I said what am I going to do? I have to share this stuff.” The National Museum of Civil War Medicine, opened in 1992 in Frederick, Maryland, is the only of its kind. It exists as a tribute to the monumental medical achievements of the Civil War, including plastic surgery, orthopedics and the establishment of hospitals.
The museum’s mannequins, supported by artifacts including the only existing wall tent from the war; tell the medical story of the bloody era. Dr. Damman describes a scene from the museum, “In our pavilion hospital, there’s a young man about 17. He’s a double amputee. This is our nursing exhibit and he’s talking to the nurse. He’s calling her mother, because that’s how they refer to those nurses when they’re dying. They refer back to their mother. The mannequin has tears coming down. He knows he’s not going to last.” Dr. Damman, whose son is an orthopedic surgeon in the war today, said “War is hell, but we find better ways to take care of the wounded.”
The temporary exhibition Bleeding Blue and Gray: Civil War Medicine will be open from March 17 to September 23. The exhibit includes pieces from The National Museum of Civil War Medicine as well as local artifacts from a Fort Wayne oral surgeon’s collection.
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