ECW Weekender: National Museum of Civil War Medicine

In honor of the recently launched Medical series on the blog, I thought we’d highlight a special museum for this week’s ECW Weekender.

Before my visit to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick Maryland, the most I knew about Civil War Medicine came from passing remarks in memoirs, books, and the acclaimed series “Mercy Street”. My understanding of the subject was minimal and cursory at best, and tainted by myths about amputations and inept physicians at worst. The museum goes above and beyond to educate the masses and set straight the story of the nurses, doctors, and wounded of both sides. A museum of its depth and thoroughness in one singular subject is rare.

Logo of National Museum of Civil War Medicine

Situated in a historical part of Frederick, the façade is deceiving. It may look narrow from the front, but the length of the building is evident as visitors travel from room to room. The flow of exhibits takes a chronological look at the advancement of medicine before, during, and after the war, beginning with the education of doctors in the first half of the 19th century and ending with the treatment of wounded veterans in the latter half. Rooms are packed with artifacts and panels that add details to the lives of those who experienced and administered medicine during the Civil War. Everyone from nurses, doctors, the soldiers themselves, and their animals (horses, mules, etc.) were impacted by the medical advances made in the field. Notable figures and their contributions are seen everywhere, such as Clara Barton and Johnathon Letterman. No study of the Civil War is complete without the comprehension of this topic, and all may benefit from a visit to the museum, no matter their level of study.

Exhibit depicting a field amputation at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (author photo, 2019)

Since Covid had limited their visitation and outreach, the museum took to the internet in 2020 to continue their education efforts on the subject they know so well. Via Facebook and YouTube, the staff and education coordinators of the museum have been able to interview countless historians about both medical practices as well as a variety of doctors and nurses who made a huge difference in medical history. During their live sessions, they also take questions from the audience, staying connected with those they are devoted to educating.

The National Museum of Civil War Medicine is also associated with the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office in Washington DC and the Pry House Field Hospital on the Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland. Membership with the NMCWM means access and benefits from all three entities. Membership, especially during the Covid crisis, has kept their ship afloat. You can access the archives of their past interviews and on-location sessions on their YouTube channel (link below). You can also find plenty of blogs and articles about Civil War Medicine on their website, as well as the opportunity to become a member (link also below). They can also hook up researchers with a visit to the Bettie Delaplaine Research Center by appointment during the weekdays. Guided tours are only available on Monday – Friday at 10:00 AM and 1:30 PM. See their website for more information on how to book.

A mobile pharmacy for field surgeons and doctors at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (author photo, 2019)

When visiting the museum, keep in mind of the Covid safety requirements. See the current hours of operation via their website HERE. They have an excellent gift shop where you may purchase books as well as craft beer. Their online gift shop recently opened and can be navigated to via their website.

I can’t recommend this place enough. I’ve included some photos below from my personal visit to give you just a taste of what this amazing museum has to offer.

Phone: (301) 695-1864

Address: 48 East Patrick Street, Frederick, MD 21701

Website: https://www.civilwarmed.org/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdGkf5-Y7aEZsXEBhRhEKjg

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CivilWarMed/

You have a few options for parking, but the most reliable for any time of day being the Carroll Creek Parking Garage located at 44 E Patrick St, Frederick, MD 21701. As of my last visit, the garage accepts credit cards and the hourly rate was reasonable.

For some recommendations on a nearby place to grab a bite, check out these two local restaurants: Frederick Coffee Co. & Cafe and Wag’s Restaurant 

[Note: This post was adapted from my blog post on Belle on the Battlefield, published on May 5, 2021]

A scale model of the Hammond Hospital (Union) at Pointe Lookout, Maryland on display at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (author photo, 2019)

A medicine chest as carried by field physicians and surgeons, on display at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (author photo, 2019)

A mural at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine depicting how the sick and wounded were transported on hospital trains. (author photo, 2019)

Surgeon’s operation kit on display at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (author photo, 2019)

Example of what would be loaded into a hospital backpack, on display at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (author photo, 2019)

About Sheritta Bitikofer

Sheritta Bitikofer is a lifelong student of history with a specific interest in the Civil War era. Along with being a wife, historical fiction author, and fur-mama of two, she is an active member of the Mobile and Pensacola Civil War Roundtables and currently pursuing a bachelors degree in US History at American Public University.
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5 Responses to ECW Weekender: National Museum of Civil War Medicine

  1. George Slaton says:

    Thanks for this review…I’ll plan to visit!

  2. Douglas Miller says:

    I give the Museum a great thumbs up too. I’ve visited a couple of times, though I couldn’t get either my wife nor my daughter to go in with me!

  3. Mike Maxwell says:

    Sheritta Bitikofer
    Thanks for bringing the National Museum of Civil War Medicine at Frederick to our attention. It appears to contain exhibits well worth a visit. Another site of similar interest is the National Museum of Health and Medicine. Originally established by Surgeon John Brinton (on Staff of BGen U.S. Grant during 1861/62) as the “Army Medical Museum,” it occupied various locations in Washington D.C. until finally established at its current site in Silver Spring, Maryland https://medicalmuseum.health.mil/index.cfm?p=visit.directors.brinton
    Cheers
    Mike Maxwell

  4. Mary says:

    Perfect timing for this post! I was at this museum yesterday (the 23rd) with my sister and her husband. We really enjoyed it. We were there for 2 hours and could easily have stayed longer.

  5. Pingback: Around the Web October 2022: Best of Civil War & Reconstruction Blogs and Social Media - The Reconstruction Era

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