Title: Army Assistant Surgeon, Civil War
Birthdate: March 3, 1836
Death Date: August 4, 1863
Plot Location: Section 8, Lot 13, west half

Evan Owen Jackson, Jr.

Evan was born in Berwick, Pennsylvania, southwest of Wilkes-Barre. His father, born in 1801, was an attorney there and his mother, Elizabeth Campbell, born in 1802, was a homemaker. The family moved to Philadelphia in the 1840s where Evan Sr. continued to practice law.

Evan Jr. studied to be a physician at Philadelphia Medical College, graduating in 1858. He was practicing medicine in Philadelphia when he received an appointment from Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin in December of 1862 as an Assistant Surgeon to serve in the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves.

Governor Curtin was a strong supporter of Lincoln’s policies in the Civil War and committed Pennsylvania to the war effort. Early in the War the Confederates were winning most of the battles, and Curtin feared that they would attempt to move north and invade his state. He then organized the Pennsylvania Reserves into combat units.

The 2nd Regiment was commanded by Col. William “Buck” McCandless (whose life story is another Mount Moriah Notable). Dr. Evans served with this unit during the “Mud March” of Jan. 20-22, 1863. That mission was aborted because of weather and President Lincoln’s lack of confidence in General Burnside’s leadership.  Jackson next went with the Regiment to guard Washington, D.C. until June 26 when they were ordered to Gettysburg, joining with the Army of the Potomac. At Gettysburg the unit fought at Plum Run and the Wheat Field.

On July 3 Lee’s forces were defeated at Gettysburg and the Union Army, including the 2nd, pursued the Confederate retreat. Dr. Jackson, however was ordered to remain at Gettysburg to care for the sick and wounded. It was here that he contracted typhoid fever. He was sent by train to Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C. for treatment, but he died on August 4. His body was delivered to his parents’ home in Philadelphia for his funeral and burial at Mount Moriah. His mother and father are also buried here.

Medicine and Civil War in the 1860s

It is important to understand the conditions, constraints, and environment Dr. Jackson experienced as a physician in the Civil War. First, the practice of medicine was very primitive compared even to the early 1900s. There were 200 medical schools in the U.S., and schooling consisted of a two year program, but the second year was merely a repeat of the first year’s curriculum. Another path to becoming a doctor was to apprentice with a doctor who, if the doctor felt the student knew as much as could be taught, then left him to set up his own practice.

Disease killed more men than combat in the Civil War. Current estimates of war dead exceed 700,000, and of that total, 400,000 were due to disease. Little was known about sanitation and how the spread of germs contributed to disease. The study of antisepsis (the destruction of microorganisms that cause infection) was just beginning in Europe, not in the U.S. The lack of knowledge of infectious causes of illness led to the absence of basic sanitary principles. Doctors seldom washed their hands or their instruments between patients.

Crowded camp situations also contributed to the transmission of diseases. Latrines were placed too close to streams where drinking water was obtained. Fecal matter from humans and animals contaminated food and water.

Dysentery was the number one killer, followed by typhoid fever. Symptoms would include high fever, severe headache, and a rash and there was no known treatment. A famous Gettysburg cavalry general, John Buford, died from it five months after Gettysburg. Medical staffing was also a problem. At the beginning of the war the Union had only 27 surgeons and 61 assistant surgeons.

When Dr. Jackson joined the 2nd  PA Infantry in December,1862 there were only 2 surgeons and 3 assistant surgeons for a unit totaling 900 men. This might have been sufficient for a random fire fight, but it was not adequate for major battles when casualties were in the tens of thousands.

Gettysburg is typical of the major battles. it lasted three days, leaving behind chaos and carnage. Bodies had to be buried and the wounded to be treated. During and after the battle the wounded were taken to field hospitals set up in barns, churches, houses, any structure where the surgeons could do their work.

Camp Letterman

Dr. Jonathan A. Letterman was Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac and was directed to leave with General Meade’s army after the end of the battle. He developed a plan to consolidate all the “field hospitals” into one hospital for more efficient care of some 21,000 Union and Confederate patients. Eventually the population was reduced to 3000 patients sheltered in 400 hospital tents laid out in rows about 4 feet apart.

Before long it became a clean, efficient, and well managed medical care facility. Each medical officer was responsible for 50-70 patients and was assisted by many volunteer nurses who came from near and far. By the end of August the patient population had dropped to 1600, by late October it fell to 300, and it officially closed on November 20, one day after Lincoln gave his Gettysburg address.

 

camp-letterman2

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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