Playing Catch-Up: Jonathan Letterman and the Triage System

By Bryan Caswell ’15

"Dr. Jonathan Letterman (1824-72)," Wikimedia Commons.
“Dr. Jonathan Letterman (1824-72),” Wikimedia Commons.

Gettysburg has more than its fair share of heroes. While the overwhelming majority of these larger-than-life figures was intimately acquainted with the conduct of the Battle of Gettysburg, a few stand apart from tales of martial valor. The most famous, of course, is Abraham Lincoln, yet he is not the only man associated with the aftermath of Gettysburg. In the immediate aftermath of the battle, provisions for the care of the wounded and dying left behind by both armies were organized by Major Jonathan Letterman, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac. Known today as the ‘Father of Battlefield Medicine,’ Letterman has been hailed by historians of the American Civil War as a great medical and surgical innovator, revolutionizing methods of efficient care for wounded soldiers in the field and inventing what has become known as the triage system for prioritizing wound treatment. I’ve been party to numerous tours and talks that have recognized and hailed Letterman for these landmark accomplishments. There is simply one problem with this widespread notion, however: it is, in fact, incorrect.

Continue reading “Playing Catch-Up: Jonathan Letterman and the Triage System”