Thursday, October 25, 2018

Examining new recruits.

Once a young man (or sometimes an older man) joined the army, he was supposed to be examined by a surgeon or doctor.

Turning back to the Confederate regulations and the recruiting service, new recruits were required to be examined. Article #1453 states: "The superintendent or commanding officer will cause a minute and critical inspection to be made of every recruit received at a depot, two days after his arrival; and should any recruit be found unfit for service, or to have been enlisted contrary to law or regulations, he shall assemble a Board of Inspectors, to examine into the case. A board may also be assembled in a special case, when a concealed defect may become manifest in a recruit, at any time during his detention at the depot." (Regulations of the Confederate Army, 1863, 394)

William M. Whisler, Asst. Surg. 1st SC (Orr's)
Article #1455 reads: "Recruits received at a military post or station shall be carefully inspected by the commanding officer and surgeon, on the third day after their arrival; and if, on such inspection, any recruit, in their opinion, be unsound or otherwise defective, in such a degree as to disqualify him for the duties of a soldier, then a Board of Inspectors will be assembled to examine into and report on the case." (Regulations of the Confederate Army, 1863, 394)

The latter requirement is reiterated elsewhere. Article #1194 states "As soon as a recruit joins any regiment or station, he shall be examined by the medical officer, and vaccinated when it is required, vaccine virus being kept on hand by timely requisition on the Surgeon General." (Regulations of the Confederate Army, 1863, 238)

Chisolm's A Manual of Military Surgery stated that new a recruit "before he is received undergoes a critical examination by the recruiting medical officer, who rejects all blemishes as well as those conditions showing a predisposition to disease..." (16)

Just what did that critical examination look like? Turning again to the Confederate Army Regulations, article #1192: "In passing a recruit, the medical officer is to examine him stripped; to see that he has free use of limbs; that his chest is ample; that his hearing, vision, and speech are perfect; that he has no tumors or ulcerated or extensively cicatrized legs; no rupture, or chronic cutaneous affection; that he has not received any contusion, or wound of the head, which may impair his faculties; that he is not a drunkard; is not subject to convulsions, and has no infectious disorder, nor any other that may unfit him for military service." (238)

Obviously, some surgeons faithfully did their jobs. There were 27 men rejected from the 37th North Carolina Troops. Not once do the compiled service records list why these men were rejected. Usually, it has their enlistment date, and simply that they were rejected. It is unclear if they were examined by a local doctor, or if they were rejected once they arrived at camp and were examined by a post surgeon. Many of these men later joined other regiments. Soldiers seldom wrote home about the process of being inspected by a surgeon.

Surg. Walter T. Adair 2nd Cherokee Mnt. Vol.
But there were obviously lapses in the inspection process. Sarah Malinda Blalock joined the 26th North Carolina Troops in March 1862, under the name of "Sam Blalock." She posed under the guise of her husband's younger brother. She was in the army for a month, apparently never examined by a surgeon. It was only her disclosure, after her husband's discharge, which led to her dismissal from the army.

As time went on, reason for being rejected decreased. In February 1863, orders informed examining officers that defects such as "general debility," "slight deformity," partial deafness, speech impediment "unless of a very aggravated character," functional heart trouble, muscular rheumatism, epilepsy-unless clearly proven, varicocele-"unless excessive," myopia, hemorrhoids-"unless excessive," "opacity of one cornea, or the loss of one eye," "loss of one or two finger," and "single reducible hernia" were "not deemed sufficient and satisfactory for exemption." (Cunningham, Doctors in Gray, 164)

It would be interesting to note (or track) any upticks in a regiment's members on a sick list, before and then after February 1863. Of course, new regiments suffered from measles, mumps, and a host of other calamities that ran rampant through the camps. Was there an uptick of new recruits (post February 1863) hospitalized for one of the ailments listed above? A more serious question would be: how did the revised regulations strain the Confederate hospital system?

I'll be watching for mentions of new recruits being examined as I continue my read through Confederate letters and diaries.

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