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No. 12 DECEMBER 2002

DR. JOHN B. RICE, CIVIL WAR SURGEON

John B. Rice was born in Fremont, Ohio, in 1832. He was the second son of Dr. Robert S. and Eliza Ann (Caldwell) Rice. After his public school education, he worked in the office of the Sandusky County Democrat. He later attended Oberlin College and then entered medical school at the University of Michigan. After graduating in 1857, he returned to Fremont and joined his father in the practice of medicine.

Rice was one of the first residents of Sandusky County, Ohio, to enlist in the Civil War. He served as the assistant surgeon of the 10th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. In November 1861, he was assigned to the 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry as surgeon. After distinguished service at the Battle of Shiloh, he was promoted rapidly from regimental to brigade and division surgeon and then to Chief Medical Officer of the District of Memphis. As the head of 150 military surgeons, Rice oversaw the care of 15,000 soldiers.

The featured letter is from Local History Collection 30, which contains Dr. Rice's Civil War correspondence with his wife, parents, and siblings. As a result of his wartime experience, Rice became a skilled surgeon. Rather than amputate, Rice began experimenting with the surgical resection of shattered limbs. J. L. Jackson, the wounded soldier mentioned in his letter, survived the war. He remained grateful to Rice for saving not only his life but also his arm.



Dr. John B. Rice

Near Vicksburg, June 13th 1863

Dear Father,

I have written home as frequently as opportunity has offered, and time permitted. My time each day is fully occupied. I spend the day time at the division hospital and my nights with the regiments. In the progress of the siege a few cases come into the hospital daily - of wounds principally received from the enemy's sharpshooters. The only casualty since my last letter in the 72nd occurred this evening - a member of Co. "H" named Martin Engler was killed by a shot through the breast. He survived but a few minutes after receiving the fatal bullet. He was shot about 30 yards from where I am writing and while sitting down in a place of apparent safety and but a few feet from where Lieut. Williamson was wounded a few days since, and a number of others at various times. The shot came either from a tree-top or from their breastworks, and passing through one of our embrasures. This makes 22 that have

been killed and wounded out of the 72nd - 4 being killed. The siege goes on - there is more or less cannonading night and day, and our forces are gradually passing afore the lines of the enemy. But a few rods now separate the combatants. Nothing but the unapproachable character of their fortifications - which science and nature have combined to render impregnable that they may truly be said to be able " to laugh a siege to scorn" but for this our men would make short work of this business. As it is, the reduction of Vicksburg must be a question of time. The city must be starved into a surrender, or taken by assault, after our artillery shall have effected sufficient breaches in their earth works to render such a proceeding practicable. The rebel works appear to be so closely and completely invested that it seems entirely certain that our efforts will be finally crowned with success. Some apprehension is felt in certain quarters, especially by the newspapers, that Grant may be compelled to raise the siege by an attack in the rear. Here however I think what little is feared in that direction. Our situation is such that, with the reinforcements lately received, I do not doubt but that the siege can be vigorously prosecuted, and should Jo. Johnson try the rear, he will be thoroughly thrashed. The troops are in excellent spirits, general good health, and repose unlimited confidence in the general commanding. Such, it seems to me are the glorious prospects in store for this army. The slightly wounded, and those who have sufficiently recovered to permit it, are being sent north. The more serious cases are kept here in division camp hospital and are doing surprisingly well. Being operating surgeon in Chief to this division, I have enjoyed most excellent opportunities to add to my experience in surgery. I have been enabled to see the latest processes in the history of gunshot wounds, and of operations. Amputations are doing especially well, their [sic] being so far hardly a fatal case in this or Blain's division. Resections are doing well. I have a number of cases under my care and all in an encouraging condition. I resected the elbow in the case of J. L. Jackson, of the 72nd four days ago. (For gunshot wounds of the joints.) removing rather more than two inches of the humerus, another olecranon. So far he is doing excellently well, and I have strong hopes of his entire recovery with a useful limb. It would give me pleasure to give you an account of many of the cases we have had on hand, but time and space forbid and I must wait till I can tell you by word of mouth. I am much gratified to have the opportunities I now enjoy to add to my surgical experience, & to be of use in the service. I feel very grateful and happy that my health has so much improved that I am able to discharge the duties that have devolved upon me. The weather is very pleasant. The recent heavy rain has added to the ability of our troops to carry on the siege. The nights, as usual in this climate, are cool and a great relief to the hot days. The recent campaign has been hard on those who have had to bear its heaviest fatigue. Alfred was not well, when we left Young's Point, although he intended to try to undertake the march, but Gen. Buckland positively forbid his attempting it, in his weak condition, and he therefore remained a few days; but rejoined the regiment at Grand Gulf, and effected the whole march, and kept his place during the recent battles. I was full of solicitude for him, and as I feared might be the case, his health has become worse. His condition is somewhat as it was last summer, though not so bad. He will now resign as soon as circumstances render it practicable and proper. The family need have no fears, as if it is required he will at any time go to the hospital where he will be equally under my care. He may remain here until the close of the siege, and he may decide to resign immediately. The subject will and is now under consideration, and we shall endeavor to act wisely. I desire only now that it is determined that he will resign - that he retire from the army with the reputation I deem him fairly entitled to. I shall write frequently.

Love to all.

Yours affectionately John

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