Profiles

Dr. Jonathan Letterman, MAJ

Dr. Jonathan Letterman, MAJ an Army Surgeon

Dr. Jonathan Letterman, MAJ an Army Surgeon

Hometown: Washington, PA

Age: 39

Category: Army Surgeon

Status: survived

Before Gettysburg: Born on Dec. 10, 1824, in Washington, Pennsylvania, Letterman graduated from Philadelphia’s esteemed Jefferson Medical College and joined the Army in 1849. He served as an assistant surgeon with the rank of captain in Florida, Minnesota, and on the frontier in New Mexico. On April 16, 1862, he was promoted to major and full surgeon and assigned to the Army of the Potomac as medical director.

July 1 - 3, 1863: Unlike many of the Soldiers at Gettysburg, Dr. Letterman’s contribution cannot be isolated to a particular heroic action—though there was no shortage of those. Rather, his contribution was to beneficial and revolutionary changes throughout the entire Army’s field of medicine. The “Letterman System,” as it became known, consisted of a rapidly deployable field medical system divided into separate division ambulance trains, each commanded by a lieutenant. The ambulance was a modified wagon which carried stretchers, kettles, lanterns, beef stock, bed sacks, and medical supplies. Letterman’s revolutionary changes also included the overhaul of the military medical personnel system, ensuring that doctors were active, efficient and motivated for duty with the Army and were constantly drilled and tested on their medical knowledge.

At Gettysburg, the Union 11th Corps ambulance train consisted of 100 ambulances, nine medical wagons, 270 men, and 260 horses.

Lieutenant John S. Sullivan of the 14th Indiana observed Letterman and other medical personnel during the thick of the action at Gettysburg:

And many a time did I see the stretcher-carriers fired upon and wounded while bearing away the wounded. But they did not desist from their humane work; and many a time did I watch anxiously, fearing every moment to see him fall. He coolly rode all over the field, sometimes in the thickest of the firing, and away to the front even of our pickets on his errand of mercy, not satisfied to leave a single suffering man uncared for on the bloody field. All honor to such noble fellows.