A Surgeon’s Life Aboard USS Monitor
The Federal Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery was responsible for providing medical officers for ships during the Civil War. In January of 1862, many vessels were under construction and would be in need of medical officers. One such new build, USS Monitor slid into the water on January 30. This warship, the likes of which had never been witnessed, would not survive a full calendar year, but would instantly change the makeup and strategy of naval warfare going forward. During this year, of the men who would go on to serve aboard this ship, three would be surgeons. Daniel Carmichael Logue, MD, would be the first surgeon to serve aboard Monitor.
Acting Assistant Surgeon Logue treated many officers and crew members during his time on the ship. His patients would be afflicted with a broad spectrum of illnesses and injuries. On its maiden voyage, the doctor treated seasickness and then inhalational poisonings to the officers and crew. Such poisonous gases included hydrogen and carbonic acid, as well as carbon monoxide.
Following the Confederate capture of Gosport Navy Yard, the charred remains of USS Merrimack was fitted with iron plating over oak timbers and renamed CSS Virginia. Sunday March 9, 1862, witnessed the epic battle of two iron clad battleships, Virginia vs. Monitor. The first battle related injuries sustained on Monitor were numerous. Primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary injuries were caused by blasts of solid shot from Virginia striking the turret. Primary blast injuries were caused by blast or shock waves of air traveling through the turret. This excessive air pressure violently impacted soft tissue and air filled organs. The most common injuries from primary blast effects included ruptured tympanic membranes and pulmonary contusions. Also, ruptured organs comprising the hollow gastrointestinal tract were possible, as well as, traumatic brain injury from concussion. Secondary blast injuries were caused by objects being propelled anywhere inside the vessel and striking the victims. Both penetrating and blunt trauma occurred. Tertiary injuries were then caused when the air inside the turret was displaced, which created a blast wave. This blast wave knocked those officers and crew inside the turret to the floor or caused the men to impact other solid objects. As a result, closed head trauma occurred. Quaternary blast injuries include flash burns and crush injuries. A psychological injury as a result of exposure to blast events was inflicted to many aboard Monitor, but would not become evident for months and years later.
Environmental conditions on board Monitor resulted in Dr. Logue being summoned to administer care during his time as medical officer. Climactic conditions during the spring and summer of 1862 enhanced the uncomfortable, sometimes unbearable, temperature and bad air inside the vessel. Furthermore, numerous sailors became ill as a result of drinking from the polluted James River. The drinking of contaminated water resulted in the development of acute and chronic diseases which Dr. Logue treated like hepatitis, typhoid, dysentery, and those causing diarrhea. Having fulfilled his original plan to serve for at least ninety days, Acting Assistant Surgeon Logue submitted his resignation on October 7. Two days later his resignation was accepted, he was honorably discharged from the US Navy.
Mark Laubacher, RN, paramedic, is a Certified Specialist in Poison Information since 1992 at the Central Ohio Poison Center located at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio. Prior to this, he was a full time staff nurse at Children’s Emergency Department for 4 years. He received his Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Capital University in 1989. He is also currently a faculty member for Grant Medical Center Paramedic Program in Columbus, Ohio. Having delivered over 400 presentations, he routinely presents at the state and national levels on various topics of toxicological emergencies.
A student of US Civil War history, Mark presented a paper on snake bites at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine Conference in 2013. He did the same at the Society of Civil War Surgeons Conference in May 2014. A review of unconventional weapons that were considered during the Civil War was given in New Orleans in September 2014 to the North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology. He is active member of the following: 1st Ohio Light Artillery Battery A, Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable, Society of Civil War Surgeons, National Museum of Civil War Medicine, and Society of Civil War Historians.