Jewish Civil War Union Surgeon Morris Asch Rules on Another Surgeon's Exorbitant Bill

December 2, 1861

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Jewish Civil War Union Surgeon Morris Asch Rules on Another Surgeon's Exorbitant Bill
Autograph Endorsement Signed
6 pages | SMC 157

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      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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      Doylestown Nov 19th 1861
      Surgeon General U.S.A.

      Dear Sir

      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

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      to complete the organization of it which delayed the appointment of regular surgeons until after they were examined which did not take place until the middle of October. There was an average of near five hundred men in Camp during my attendance being nine hundred & nineteen on the Sixteenth of October when I was superseded by the regular surgeon. The camp was near half a mile from my residence I visited it at a regular hour every day many times a day & at night  when necessary & allowed no man to suffer for want of attention on my part.  For want of proper Hospital accommodations (incident to the formation) I was obliged to prescribe for numbers of them at my own office. I dispensed as well as furnished all the medicines and so performed the duties of a Hospital Steward assistant surgeon & Surgeon & in fact was replaced by all these offices when I relinquished attendance. Feeling that I had performed more than all the duties of a Surgeon to the Regt. as I have attempted to show I honestly believed that I was entitled to the pay. The paragraphs in the Regulations referred to by General Ruggles with all due deference I think relate to the attachments of one hundred men or Regts under totally different circumstances. I could find nothing in the Regulations which seemed applicable to this case. In regard to the charge for Medicines I understood the Regulations in one instance to say where furnished entirely by the physician he would be entitled to from twenty five to fifty percent addition to the attendance for them. In this interpretation I may have made a mistake but as I have no copy 

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      accessible I cannot tell.  I find inquiring of the apothecary who supplied these on the prescription of the surgeon for the twelve days they remained here after my attendance ceased, that his bill for that period was sixty three dollars &  that the surgeon had certified it correct. The few professional friends whom I consulted previous to sending in my bill considered it reasonable & correct.All of this is very reluctantly inflicted upon your time & patients but justice to my own reputation seemed to me to demand it.

      Most respectfully
      Your Obedient Sevt.
      G.R. McCoy

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      Received Nov 26, 1861

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      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.

      By order
      Morris I. Asch
      apt. Surg. USA

      Surg. General's office
      Dec 2nd 1861

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      Respectfully returned to Dr. McCoy 
      Geo D. Ruggles
      a. a.g.
      AG office
      Dec 3