Rare Book Profile: Samuel Gross’s A Manual of Military Surgery; or, Hints on the Emergencies of Field, Camp and Hospital practice (2nd edition).

S. D. Gross’s A Manual of Military Surgery (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1861) was written for use as a handbook in the field by Union surgeons in the American Civil War. Its author served as a surgical consultant to the United States Surgeon General.

Samuel David Gross (1805-1884) was one of the most highly esteemed American surgeons and medical educators of his time. Born into a rural Pennsylvania Dutch family, he apprenticed with two local physicians as a teenager, then left home for formal education in schools in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. He earned a medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1828. He opened a general practice in Philadelphia, where he also translated a number of French and German medical works into English. After a few year, he married and moved his practice to Easton, Pennsylvania near his family home. He added a small laboratory to his house, where he conducted human and animal dissection, as well as research on a variety of subjects.

In 1833, one of his former teachers helped him obtain a position demonstrating pathology at the Medical College of Ohio in Cincinnati. He was promoted to Professor of Pathological Anatomy two years later. Shortly after that, he moved to the position of Chief of Pathologic Anatomy in the Medical Department of the Cincinnati College. The college folded in 1839, and Gross joined the faculty of the Louisville Medical Institute as Professor of Surgery, where he remained for 16 years, establishing a dog laboratory, practicing medicine, and lecturing. He co-founded the Louisville Medical Review and the North American Chirurgical Review, and contributed to the Institute’s reputation as a major medical center.

In 1856, Gross accepted an appointment as Professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College, where he remained for the rest of his career. He was the first alumnus to join the faculty. He was active in several medical associations and served as the twentieth president of the American Medical Association. Over the years, Gross published many books and articles on anatomy, pathology, surgery, and diseases. He also wrote a number of medical biographies and histories. Gross is perhaps most famous as the subject of Thomas Eakins’ iconic 1875 painting The Gross Medical Clinic, instructing students while performing surgery in the Jefferson Medical College amphitheater. Gross died in 1884 at the age of 78.

A Manual of Military Surgery was published in 1861 as a handbook for Union field surgeons. In 1862, an unauthorized reprint was issued by J.W. Randolph in Richmond, Virginia, who justified the piracy by pointing out that no other such works were available. “The book trade between the two sections of the continent having been interrupted, it has rendered it impossible for Dr. Gs publishers to furnish the work to the Southern Public.” The Confederacy didn’t publish an original surgical manual until 1863.

The Health Sciences Library’s well-worn copy of A Manual of Military Surgery is the second edition, published in Philadelphia in 1862. It is bound in the original publisher’s brown cloth with gilt-stamped spine.

Rare materials are available to individuals or groups by appointment on Wednesday mornings and Thursday afternoons, or at other times by arrangement. To schedule an appointment, contact Emily Epstein, emily.epstein@ucdenver.edu or 303-724-2119.

[Emily Epstein, Cataloging Librarian]