6 pages | SMC 157
When the Union marched to war in 1861, it was staggeringly flat-footed. It could not reliably supply a ration, provide medical care, or care for captives. Soldiers often had to supply their own uniforms and bedding; disease killed four times as many as battle; and prisoners had to be paroled on their oath that they would not take up arms again until properly exchanged, because there were no facilities to house them. The medical corps was particularly lame: at the outset of the war, it consisted of 83 surgeons and assistant surgeons, few if any of whom had ever treated a gunshot wound. This state of confusion is evident in the correspondence sent to Assistant Surgeon Asch, upon which he has indited an endorsement. A Dr. McCoy, accused by the Surgeon General of charging exorbitantly for emergency services rendered, has had his bill cut in half: here, in four closely-written pages, the doctor objects. He was, he says, responsible for as many as 916 men; in attendance every day and on call many nights; treating men in his office, because there was no hospital; and providing medicines, as well. He has, furthermore, inquired of his professional friends if his bill was fair, and was assured it was reasonable and correct…
McCoy’s petition stopped, apparently, at Asch’s desk, with this endorsement: “Respectfully referred to the Adjutant General. Dr McCoy has been informed from this office that Surgeon General sees no reason why the opinion expressed in the endorsement of November 6 should be changed.” Ruggles noted, in due course, that McCoy’s letter was returned to him.
Asch, who enlisted in August 1861, served on Sheridan’s staff and was his personal surgeon. He remained in the Army after the war, and saw active service in the Indian wars. In the early seventies, he resigned his commission, and went on to a distinguished practice in New York City.
Autograph Letter Signed in the hand of Dr. G.R. McCoy, 4 pages, quarto, Doylestown, November 19, 1861. To General George D. Ruggles.
Autograph Endorsement Signed, 1 page, quarto, Surgeon General’s Office, December 2, 1861.
With an Autograph Endorsement in the hand of GEORGE D. RUGGLES as Captain and Asst. Adjutant General, 1 page, quarto, Adjutant General’s Office, December 3, 1861.
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Surgeon General U.S.A.
I beg the Surgeon General of his clemency to read with as much patience as he can the fewest words in which I have been able to justify myself for a most despicable meanness of which he has thought it his duty to accuse me. I do fervently hope that he may enabled on learning the facts to change his views & excoriate me from a charge which I feel conscious is undeserved. I was exceedingly mortified & chagrined to have a bill which I had rendered to Lt. Col. Ruff for Medical Attendance upon the Ringgold Regt whilst in Camp, returned to me endorsed "exhorbitant" [sic] by assist. adj. Gen. Ruggles and abated more than one half by direction of the Surgeon General.I know this could not have happened if the Surgeon General had been in possession of all the facts in the case. I trouble you with this matter with the less hesitancy because I believe to have the honor & dignity of the profession at heart as well as the interest of the Government. And I cannot but attempt to clear my character as a gentleman & a physician from the stigma which this action implies. I took charge of the Regt at Col Davis' request both supposing that it would be for a very few days; in which case I meant to make no charge. The Regt was however turned over to the State authorities to
Your Obedient Sevt.
Morris I. Asch
apt. Surg. USA
Surg. General's office
Dec 2nd 1861
Geo D. Ruggles