The National Museum of Civil War Medicine is the premier center for the preservation and research of the legacy of Civil War medical innovation.
The National Museum of Civil War Medicine (NMCWM) was established in 1990 by a group of scholars and medical professionals who desired to share their interest in Civil War medicine with the public. What began as a private collection of medical artifacts from the Civil War has grown into an organization as vital and relevant as the plan that Dr. Jonathan Letterman developed nearly 150 years ago while at the Pry House on the Antietam battlefield. The legacy of the Letterman Plan breathes life into the artifacts preserved and interpreted at the NMCWM. The Museum has expanded beyond the doors of our original site to include two satellite museums; the Pry House Field Hospital Museum and Clara Barton’s Missing Soldier’s Office; the Letterman Institute of professional development; and the NMCWM Press, a publishing center.
George Wunderlich, NMCWM’s Executive Director, has often said that if we study history for history’s sake, then it is no more than a hobby. But when we are able to engage a modern audience with historical perspectives, innovations and insights and help them to relate those innovations and insights directly to their life and world today, we are helping to change our community and our world for the better. One of the most relevant lessons that history teaches us is the importance of clarity of mission. The Mission of the Museum;
“The National Museum of Civil War Medicine is the premier center for the preservation and research of the legacy of Civil War medical innovation”
can only be achieved by the realization that the NMCWM is in fact a living institution that utilizes the history of Civil War medical innovations to inspire, engage and encourage. We inspire our society by connecting the lessons of the past with the challenges of our world today. We engage the broadest possible audience and partners and then encourage innovative and collaborative scholarship.
Visitors to the NMCWM will find a unique center of civil war history, guiding them through a century and a half’s worth of medical history as well as civil war camp life, hospital life, African American life, Women’s and children’s roles during the war, and many more aspects of American history during the Civil war era. The NMCWM highlights the challenges faced by the doctors and surgeons of the civil war era and the innovations that came out of that era that led to the modern military medical system.
Our museum sites begin with displays and artifacts highlighting general medicine in the 1800s progressing into wartime medicine and life, all the while, looking into the faces of real people who were treated and their caregivers. Reading their stories and memories puts a human face on the medicine of the time. A space in each museum is dedicated to Dr. Jonathan Letterman, the Major in charge of the medical department of the Army of the Potomac. His cohesive plan of triage, evacuation, hospital, and supply organization not only saved the lives of countless Civil War soldiers; it continues to save lives on today’s battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in civilian life wherever emergency medical help is needed.
The interactive experience that is the National Museum of Civil War Medicine not only gives a snapshot of Civil War-time medicine including dentistry, veterinary medicine and medical evacuation, it allows visitors to put faces and names to those who fought, were injured, the surgeons and caregivers who tended them. The experience is a personal one, engaging visitors in the stories of soldiers, surgeons, medics, and nurses as they gain an understanding of the medical advances of the time. For some a bit of family history may be found as well, the museum has a research department willing to help those with questions about ancestors injured in the war.
Our main Museum is located at 48 E. Patrick Street in the Carty Building, a building that once belonged to furniture maker James Whitehill in 1832, and was the site of his undertaking business, which he sold to Clarence Carty after the Civil War. Nestled in historic downtown Frederick, MD, considered the crossroads of the Civil War, the museum is surrounded by eclectic museums, shops and restaurants as well as scenic vistas and numerous yearly special events.
The Pry House Field Hospital Museum occupies the historic Philip Pry Farm on Antietam National Battlefield and enables the visitor to experience the Battle of Antietam and a range of historically based programs and activities from May until the first weekend in December. A field hospital exhibit in the house and barn help visitors discover the early concepts of emergency medical care and evacuation, and the ways the war affected the community surrounding the battlefield.
NMCWM Press, established in 2001, provides mission support by enabling the organization to get the word out regarding material pertinent to history educators and students. Publications include Terry Reimer’s One Vast Hospital, a guide to hospitals found in Frederick, Maryland in the Civil War, and Bonnie Durant’s Death is in the Breeze, an overview of diseases and their effects during the period. NMCWM Press also publishes the organization’s quarterly journal, Surgeon’s Call, and bi-weekly newsletter, The Scalpel & Tourniquet.
The Letterman Institute is a natural outgrowth of the mission and vision of the Museum and provides a means by which management and professional development innovations born on Civil War battlefields can be understood in the context of a modern day business environment. The Letterman Institute brings into clearer focus the implications of the stories of those who lived and fought and sought to heal, as well as the far reaching legacy of lifesaving medical, managerial and humanitarian innovations that remain relevant and vital for our world today.