A Surgeon’s Role in Enlisting Civil War Soldiers

Mar 15, 2019

A Surgeon’s Role in Enlisting Civil War Soldiers

Posted on: July 2nd, 2018

To enlist, Civil War recruits had to pass a physical exam given by a military surgeon. Unlike today, those exams often included seemingly impractical activities, from hopping in a circle on one leg to flexing fingers. These lax recruiting practices led to the mustering of large numbers of recruits who were physically unfit for military service. This was extremely common during the early stages of the Civil War.

The United States Army made attempts to stop this stream of unqualified recruits from entering its ranks. The Surgeon General’s office ordered a book to be written in order to clarify and codify procedures for enlisting and discharging recruits. The resulting text, A Manual of Instructions for Enlisting and Discharging Soldiers, was published in 1863. The manual covered all possible disqualifications for service as well as all the proper procedures for mustering a recruit into the Union Army.

Previous manuals on the same subject existed in the United States, but they were not detailed enough for inspectors with no prior training. As the manual’s author, Roberts Bartholow, stated in the preface: “This work is not intended for professional experts, but for such examining surgeons, medical officers, and recruiting officers as have not had, heretofore, an opportunity to become informed on these subjects.”

You can find the full volume courtesy of archive.org below:


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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
Considering the number of boys in the army, not to mention females somehow making it past a medical examination it had to be clear someone wasn't doing their job. Missed the previous thread on it.

What were reasons examiners might purposefully overlook impediments to service? Need for sheer numbers?


Forum Host
Silver Patron
Mar 15, 2013
Thanks for posting in the Medical Care Forum and for starting this thread @Ragged Old First
Examining surgeons and the procedures they used for checking men for entry into the service is one of those things that has always been of interest to me. Like @JPK Huson 1863 mentioned above, we know that disqualifying conditions were sometimes overlooked in order to fill quotas. Its a very interesting subject and I appreciate your starting this thread.

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