The National Museum of Civil War Medicine is the premier center
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 Soldiers Office; the Letterman Institute of professional development; and the NMCWM Press, a publishing center.
George Wunderlich, NMCWM 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. Our mission 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 encourage innovative and collaborative scholarship.
Visitors to the NMCWM will find a unique center of Civil War history, guiding them through 150 years of medical history as well as Civil War camp life, hospital life, African American life, the role of women and children during the war, and many more aspects of American history during the Civil War era. The NMCWM highlights the challenges faced by Civil War doctors and surgeons and the resulting innovations that led to the today’s modern military medical system.
Our museum sites begin with displays and artifacts highlighting general medicine in the 1800s progressing into wartime medicine and civilian life. We look at the faces of those 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, Medical Director 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.
Our primary site, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, 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 NMCWM Press, established in 2001, provides mission support through the publication of material pertinent to Civil War medical history. Publications include One Vast Hospital by Terry Reimer, NMCWM Director of Research, a guide to hospitals found in Frederick during the Civil War, and Death is in the Breeze, by Bonnie Brice Dorwart, M.D., an overview of diseases and their effects during the period. The NMCWM Press also publishes the organization’s semi-annual journal, Surgeon’s Call; a membership newsletter and a bi-weekly volunteer newsletter, The Scalpel & Tourniquet.