Saturday, December 11, 2010
The Father Of Battlefield Medicine
Jonathan Letterman was born December 11th 1824 in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, the son of a surgeon. He graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1849. That same year Letterman excepted a position as assistant surgeon of the United States Army Medical Department. He served during the Seminole Indian Campaign in Florida, at Fort Ripley, Minnesota, Fort Defiance in the New Mexico Territory, Fort Monroe, Virginia, and in California through 1861.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Letterman was assigned to the Union Army of the Potomac, with the rank of Major. Receiving permission from Major General George B McClellan, Letterman reorganized the Medical Service. The Union Army was grossly inefficient in handling casualties from the Seven Days Battle, and Letterman saw the need for changes. By the Battle of Antietam, he had set up regimental aid stations, the use of triage, field hospitals, and an ambulance corps. The system was so proficient that an Act of Congress in March 1864 established it as the Union Armies medical procedure. The Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 left over 20,000 Union and Confederate wounded, and the vast medical encampment set up on the George Wolf farm was named for Letterman.
Letterman ended his military service as the Inspector of Hospitals, he resigned in December 1864. He moved to San Francisco, California where he was a coroner until 1872. He wrote a memoir in 1866, “Medical Recollections of the Army of the Potomac”. Following the death his wife, Letterman became quite sick, and died March 15th 1872 in San Francisco, California. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.