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antiquebottles THEMEDICINE CHEST --- BY DR. RICHARD CANNON

CIVILWAR MEDICINE IN GLASS

WhenSouthern artillery shelled Fort Sumter in the harbor ofCharleston, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861, a tragic “brothers'war” was ignited which in just under four years killed304,369 from the North and approximately 200,000 from the South.More than seventy five percent of these died from diseases,mostly infectious, and the remainder were killed in battle ordied from wounds received there. (4)

U.S.A. Hosp. Dept. quart and pint size

bottles. Both are embossed cylinders.

(#'s 1 and 9)

Rare set of three oval U.S.A. Hosp. Dept. bottles in blue glass.

(#'s 2,3, & 4)

Two sizes of shoulder embossed

U.S.A. Hosp. Dept. bottles.

(#'s 5 and 6)

The Union Army's Standard Supply Table had to be revised in1862 to meet the greatly increased needs of the sick and wounded.The main supply depot in New York had been quickly exhausted, andthe War Department lacked funds to buy more supplies at marketprices. Even if the money had been available, the pharmaceuticalmanufacturers would have been unable to meet the government'sneeds without marked delay. To compensate, Surgeon GeneralWilliam A. Hammond in early 1863, directed that chemicallaboratories be established at Astoria, Long Island, N.Y., and atPhiladelphia for the repackaging of bulk drugs and supplies andfor preparation of extracts and tinctures. The New Yorklaboratory consisted of three buildings formerly occupied by JohnHyer, Jr., a manufacturing chemist. In Philadelphia, a brickwarehouse at Sixth and Oxford Streets, formerly used by JohnWyeth and Brother, was leased for five years. (3)

Bottles and jars used by these U.S. Army Laboratories wereblown from private molds in Pittsburgh, at prices much lower thanthose charged by the glassworks in Philadelphia. These proved tobe colorful and crude with embossing. Most of the molds were cutto read U.S.A. Hosp. Dept., but variations have been found. (1,3) Bottle 10 of Table 2 may have beenblown by the Baltimore Glass Works. (7)

Though the shelves of the frontier post hospitals manned bythe Army of the West were later stocked with these same bottlesand jars, I have not found evidence that they continued to beblown after the war. (1,2) Theyoccur in cornflower blue, royal (cobalt) blue, aqua's, emeraldand darker greens, lime green, yellow green, shades of amber andolive, amber with puce striations, yellow with apricotstriations, clear, amethyst, and an unusual black glass thatlooks raspberry red in bright light. They vary in height from 91/4 inches, the quart size to 2 1//2 inches, the smallest bluesize, but several of the blues are oval. The bottle lips aresingle or double collared, and the jar lips are the single rolledcollar type. There is a 9-inch tall aqua jar with a bare ironpontil, but the other examples known to me have smooth bases.This is consistent with the fact that pontil scars rarely appearon the bases of American blown bottle after 1860, since the snap,a special clamp for holding hot glass while the lip was beingdeveloped by that time. With the possible exception of the oliveand amber quarts, U.S.A. Hosp. Dept. bottles and jars are quiterare today. All are vary desirable and sought after bycollectors. (1,2,3)

They contained a variety of chemicals and drugs. Militarymedicine of the time prescribed much whiskey and wine for use asregular therapeutics. One shipment received at the Philadelphialaboratory in August, 1863, consisted of 250 barrel of whiskeyand 1,000 gallons of sherry. Certain pharmaceutical preparationswere bottled or manufactured as well, such as ammonia water,chloroform, castor oil, olive oil, turpentine, potassiumpermanganate solution, chlorinated soda, ethyl nitrite (SweetSpirit of Nitre), silver nitrate, ferrous tersulfate and variouspowders. Other preparations can be noted in Table1. (3,4)

The bottles and jars when filled were packed in wooden boxeslabeled “Glass with Care” and shipping to thesupply depots in New York, Washington, Boston, Cincinnati,Louisville, Indianapolis, Detroit, St. Louis and Springfield,Ill., to await passage to the hospitals and other units. (5,7)

Quart size U.S.A. Hosp. Dept. bottles.Wide mouth

example on left can be found with an iron pontil.

(#'s 7 and 9)

Black U.S.A. Hosp. Dept bottle found near

the old hospital at Fort Mckavett, Texas.

(#10)

U.S.A. Hosp. Dept. bottles and jars have been dug from thedumping areas of the Union Army Hospitals and medicine wagons,and from the frontier forts manned by the Army of the West. Fourof the ten in my collection were dug on private property near theold hospital at Fort McKavett, Texas. This was a cavalry posthousing as many as one thousand men and serving as a deterrent tohostile Comanche and Kiowa raids in that part of western Texas.Its active days were from 1852 through 1859, and again, from 1868through 1883. The period in between was related to Texas'withdrawal from the Union. Table 2 is a listing of bottles andjars in my collection. (1,3,6)

Table 2 Bottles and Jars embossed U.S.A. above Hosp. Dept,Richard A. Cannon Collection.

  1. Light amber, 9 1/4 inches tall, round, 4 piece mold, double collar lip, embossing, horizontal on upper body.
  2. Light blue, 6 3/4 inches tall, oval, 2-piece mold, single collar lip, embossing arched inside oval on body.
  3. Medium blue, 5 3/4 inches tall, oval, 2 piece mold, single collar lip, embossing arched inside oval line on body.
  4. Medium blue, 2 1/2 inches tall, oval, 2 piece mold, single collar lip, embossing arched inside oval line on body.
  5. Clear, 7 1/2 inches tall, round, 3 piece mold, single collar lip, embossing, U.S.A. arched, Hosp. Dept. horizontal on shoulder.
  6. Lime green, 5 3/8 inches tall, round, 3 piece mold, single collar crude lip, embossing, U.S.A. arched, Hosp. Dept. horizontal on shoulder.
  7. Aqua, 7 3/4 inches tall, round, 2 piece mold, single collar lip, embossing arched inside oval line on body.
  8. Aqua, 7 1/2 inches tall, round, 4-piece mold, rolled single collar jar lip, embossing arched inside oval line on body.
  9. Emerald green, 5 3/4 inches tall, round, 4-piece mold, single collar lip, embossing arched inside oval line on body.
  10. Black (raspberry red in strong light), 2 7/8 inches tall, round, 2 piece mold, embossing arched on body, but no oval line.

NOTES AND REFERENCES:

  1. Cannon, R.A., “U.S.A. Host. Dept. Bottles”, Antique Bottle And Glass Collector January, 1985: 48-51.
  2. Personal Communications: Borchert, B., Cheyenne, Wyoming; Borton. W., Lauder, Wyoming; Richmond, W.D., Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Whitworth, N., Fort McKavett, Texas.
  3. Sternad, F., “U.S.A. Hospital Department”, Utah Antique Bottle and Relic Club October, 1982.
  4. The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, 1861-65, Part III, Vol. I, Medical History, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1888: 956-966.
  5. Thompson, H., The Photographic History of the Civil War, Vol. VIII, Prisons and Hospitals, 1957: 225.
  6. Utley, R.M. and Salvant, J.U., Historic Forts of Texas, Univ. of Texas Press, Austin, 1985.
  7. Russell, M., “U.S. Army Hospital Department Bottles”, Antique Bottle And Glass Collector June, 1989: 12-15

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