Title: Army Assistant Surgeon, Civil War
Birthdate: March 3, 1836
Death Date: August 4, 1863
Plot Location: Section 8, Lot 13, west half
Evan was one of ten children but one of only five to survive childhood. They were all born in Berwick, Pennsylvania west of Hazelton in Columbia County. Evan was named after his father, an attorney, who moved the family to Philadelphia after the fifth child died. The family’s tragic experiences may have been what motivated Evan and the firstborn son, Elisha, to become doctors.
Elisha was ten years older and already a physician when the family moved to the city in 1850. It certainly made it easier for Evan to attend medical college there. His brother went in the navy as an assistant surgeon for 14 months during the Civil War, then enjoyed a lengthy career in private practice.
Evan followed on the same path as an assistant surgeon when he joined the 31st Pennsylvania Infantry (also known as 2nd Pennsylvania Reserve Regiment) on November 21, 1862. That was just before the Battle of Fredericksburg in December, which may have been the most one-sided battle of the war. Dr. Jackson and the other surgeons were kept busy treating 9600 wounded Union soldiers, twice as many as the Confederates who were wounded. He reported to Colonel William “Buck” McCandless who commanded the regiment, who also happens to be buried here at Mount Moriah. His dramatic and “Notable” life story can be found here.
The Colonel was given command of the 1st Brigade of the Reserves, which was sent to Washington, D.C. to defend the Capitol and recuperate after the loss at Fredericksburg. The brigade’s next engagement was July 1-3, 1863 in Gettysburg, where Dr. Jackson’s experience would be severely tested. The outcome was much better for the Union, but as the armies moved on, he stayed behind to process the thousands of injuries, amputations, and diseases he encountered.
Unfortunately, he contracted typhoid fever, and had to be sent to the Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C. for treatment. The Sisters of Charity cared for him until he died about a month after the battle ended. His body was returned to his parents’ home in Philadelphia and was buried here on August 10. Evan’s father died in 1869, his mother in 1871, and Evan’s younger brother Edwin in 1876. They are all buried here in the family plot in the as-yet uncleared Section 8.
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 to just forty years later. 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 Pennsylvania 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 had 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.
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.
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