In these cases I could only direct that such bodies should be attended to by the medical officers of the regiments nearest to them.
To remedy the irregular and doubtful appointments made by colonels, and to give the troops confidence in their medical officers, I determined to assemble boards for the examination of all such as rapidly as their cases were brought to my notice. This I did under authority of General Orders, Numbers 35, War Department, June 20, 1861. September 7, 1861, I assembled such a board and ordered twelve medical officers before it for examination. From that time forward, whenever a medical officer was complained of for incompetency, a board was ordered. In many cases the complaints were ascertained to be well founded and the officers were discharged.
The third section of the act of July 22, 1861, having provided for a surgeon to each brigade, a board was assembled in Washington to examine candidates for that appointment. A number of the appointees
under that act were assigned to duty with the Army of the Potomac. The act had not defined the duties of these officers, nor had any regulation in reference to them emanated from the War Department. Their position was doubtful, and it was necessary to define it. The regimental medical officers were for the most part physicians, taken suddenly from civil life, with no conception whatever of their duties. These had to be taught them from the very alphabet. The line officers were equally ignorant with themselves in this respect, and hence confusion, conflicts of authority, discontent, and very seriously impaired efficiencies in the medical department. The general idea seemed to be that it was the duty of the doctor to physic every man who chose to report sick and to sign such papers as the colonel directed him to sign. To superintend the sanitary condition of the regiment, to call upon the commanding officers to abate nuisances, to take measures for the prevention of disease was in many instances considered impertinent and obtrusive, and the suggestion of the medical officers to those ends were too frequently disregarded and ignored.
It occurred to me that the brigade surgeons, being very generally taken from those who had seen some service in the three-months' campaign, might be made useful in remedying these evils and in carrying out my views for increasing the efficiency of the department. Bearing the commission of the President, I was of opinion that they were the superior officers of the State surgeons, and had authority to control them in their own department; I therefore assigned these gentlemen to the staffs of the several brigadiers, and prepared an order defining their duties. (See Appendix A.)
By conversation with the brigade surgeons I endeavored to impress upon them the importance of the trust confided to them, and show them how much the efficiency of the army depended upon the fidelity and success with which they should discharge their duties. Every item of the order was explained to them, and they were urged to be active and zealous in imbuing the regimental surgeons with a thorough understanding and just appreciation of the hygienic suggestions it contained. It was impossible for me to see and instruct such a number of regimental officers as our army included, and I was therefore obliged to rely upon the brigade surgeons to attend to the training of these officers in their routine duties. This arrangement was the most promising I could command, and I hoped its advantages would be readily seen and appreciated; still some were found to place impediments in the way of these officers in the performance of their duties. In reply to a complaint made by one of them I wrote him as follows: