Frequently Asked Questions

General Museum Information

  1. What is the mission of the Museum?
    • The National Museum of Health and Medicine promotes the science and history of medicine, with a special emphasis on tri-service American military medicine. The museum identifies, collects and preserves important and unique resources to support a broad agenda of innovative exhibits, educational programs and scientific, historical and medical research. The museum maintains a national landmark collection of objects that sustains and promotes military medical history, tradition, and research to the Department of Defense and civilian communities.
  2. How is the National Museum of Health and Medicine different from other museums?
    • When compared to science centers, art museums, history museums, etc. the National Museum of Health and Medicine is often much older (started in 1862), has a much larger collection (an estimated 24,662, 515 objects), is federally operated, and has a broad technical staff (with degrees in history, forensic anthropology and others.). Moreover, the Museum combines major collections (the five are Anatomical, Historical, Otis Historical Archives, Human Developmental Anatomy, and Neuroanatomical) in a health and medical context. The Museum offers visitors a unique perspective on health and medicine, because it is one of the few places where the public can actually see the effects of disease on the human body. Additionally, it is one of the few places that disease can be seen with the instruments and equipment used to diagnose and/or treat the disease, with case histories of patients afflicted with the disease.
  3. How is the Museum funded?
    • The Museum is federally funded through the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as from grants, contributions, donations, and in-kind gifts.
  4. Is the Museum part of the Smithsonian Institution or the U.S. Army Museum System?
    • The Museum is not affiliated to the Smithsonian Institution, and although the Museum is located on an Army installation, the Museum is a Department of Defense museum.
  5. What are the Museum's hours? Is there parking available?
    • The Museum is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (closed December 25).
    • Parking is available in our visitor lot located directly off Linden Lane.
  6. What is the admission fee?
    • Admission is free.
  7. Where is the Museum located and what is its mailing address?
    • The Museum is located several miles north of the White House in Silver Spring, which is located in suburban Montgomery County, Maryland. Visitors to the Museum are welcome to park in our parking lot located directly on Linden Lane. For complete directions, look at our directions page.
  8. Would it be better to travel via subway and take a cab or a bus, whichever is available, to your Museum?
    • The Museum is a short cab or bus ride from the Silver Spring or Forest Glen station on Metrorail's Red Line. See our public transportation page for more information. However, we would suggest that if you have a car you drive over, as parking is always free here.
  9. Who visits the Museum?
    • Visitors include military personnel, both active and retired; physicians, nurses, paramedics, and other medical professionals; tourists from out of the area; residents of the Washington, D.C., northern Virginia and Maryland metropolitan area; lower, middle, high school, and college students on field trips; Civil War buffs, families with children; and researchers, scholars, scientists, and authors.
  10. What age groups would find your site most interesting?
    • Elementary school, middle school, and high school aged students would find the Museum of interest, as well as adults.
  11. How many visitors come to the Museum?
    • We averaged 50,000-55,000 annual visitors at our Walter Reed location.
  12. Are cameras and sketch pads permitted inside the Museum?
    • Yes. Photographers may use camera equipment to take photos or digital images inside the Museum, but use of a flash or other artificial lightning is prohibited. Video cameras are permitted. Artists are permitted to use a sketch pad with no restrictions.
    • Tripods may be used by photographers and easels may be used by artists as long as the equipment does not obstruct any entrances or exits to the public areas, but a visitor services representative at the Museum's front desk should be alerted to ensure that the equipment is properly placed in the desired location.

Museum History

  1. When did the Museum open?
    • The Museum was established on May 21, 1862 when U.S. Army Brig. Gen. William Alexander Hammond, the U.S. Army Surgeon General, issued orders that directed all Union Army medical officers "to collect, and to forward to the office of the Surgeon General all specimens of morbid anatomy, surgical or medical, which may be regarded as valuable; together with projectiles and foreign bodies removed, and such other matters as may prove of interest in the study of military medicine or surgery."
  2. Where has the Museum been located, how long was it on the mall, when did it move to its current location, and what other names has it been called?
    • The Museum has had many homes and names in downtown Washington, D.C.:
      • The Army Medical Museum's first location was in the Office of the Army Surgeon General, located on the second floor rear of the Riggs Bank Building at the corner of President Place (now Pennsylvania Avenue) and 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. While inside this building the museum grew from the top of the first curator's desk to some shelves put up for his use. (Aug. 1,1862 - Dec. 31, 1862)
      • The Museum moved to 180 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, now numbered 1719-1721. While at this site the Museum issued its first catalog, but new and larger quarters were needed as increasing numbers of specimens arrived from the hospitals and the field. (Jan. 1, 1863 - Aug. 24, 1863)
      • A building was rented that belonged to Washington philanthropist W.W. Corcoran at 1325 H Street, NW, between 13 and 14th Streets opposite the New York Presbyterian Church. The so-called "Corcoran School House" was variously described in documents as a "mechanics library," the "Library Building occupied by Miss Middleton's School," and as the "Art Gallery Building." It was renovated at a cost of $2,000 and rented for $1,000 annually. (Aug. 25, 1863 - Dec. 21, 1866)
      • The Museum's fourth move was to the Ford's Theater building at 511 10th St., NW, which was closed as a theater immediately after the assassination of President Lincoln and had been in the possession of the government since July 8, 1865. An Act of Congress on April 6, 1866 provided for the purchase of the building "for the deposit and safekeeping of documentary papers relative to the soldiers of the army of the United States and of the Museum of the Medical and Surgical Department of the Army." It was at this location that the Museum adopted its first visiting rules, including guidelines that visitors "deposit canes, umbrellas or bundles at the door with an orderly…" (Dec. 22, 1866 - Nov. 8, 1887)
      • In his annual report for 1880, the Surgeon General called attention to the "overcrowded and unsafe condition," of the Ford's Theater building, noting that the Museum was confined to the crowded and cluttered third floor and that the walls were so weak and so much out of plumb as to threaten imminent collapse. On March 2, 1885 President Arthur signed a bill appropriating $200,000 for the construction of a new brick and metal building in the vicinity of the Smithsonian. The Museum moved from November 1887 until Feb. 15, 1888 into its fifth home, the "Old Red Brick" on the north side of B. Street, (now Independence Avenue) and 7th St. at the site of the current Hirshhorn Museum on the Mall. (1887-1947)
      • A committee of the National Research Council charged by the Army Surgeon General with investigating the adequacy of the Museum's facilities, reported that the "Old Red Brick" was now "antiquated, overcrowded, (and) obviously cannot be modernized." The Museum was "temporarily" moved into its sixth home, Chase Hall, a former barracks for U.S. Coast Guard women reservists, across Independence Avenue from its then location. Material in storage space being used on Main Avenue and in a warehouse on Columbia Pike in Virginia was also relocated into Chase Hall. Additional space for the Museum was secured 18 months later in another building, Tampa Hall, shared with other government agencies on Independence Avenue. The annual number of visitors to the Museum at this location reached a high of 587,000. (1947-1960)
      • In 1946 the Museum became a division of the new Army Institute of Pathology (AIP), which became the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) in 1949. The Museum's library and part of its archives were transferred to the National Library of Medicine when it was created in 1956. The Army Medical Museum became the Medical Museum of the AFIP in 1949.
      • Because Chase Hall fell squarely within the area of the Southwest Washington Urban Renewal Project, it was scheduled for demolition in 1961.So, the Museum's seventh location was a move into temporary quarters shared with other federal agencies in a building designated as "Temp S" on Jefferson Drive between Sixth and Seventh Streets, SW. (1960-1962)
      • For the Museum's eighth location, the Museum moved from the temporary building back into the "Old Red Brick" it had previously occupied. (1962-1971)
      • The Museum moved to its ninth in 1971, closed in 1973 for the military medical school USUHS to use the space, became the Armed Forces Medical Museum in 1974, and reopened in 1976. In 1989, the Museum changed its name to the National Museum of Health and Medicine. (1971-2011)
      • NMHM relocated to its present location on the Fort Detrick/Forest Glen Annex in Silver Spring, Maryland in 2011, as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act, which closed Walter Reed Army Medical Center (where NMHM had been a tenant since 1971.

Museum Exhibits

  1. What type of person is going to be the most interested in these exhibits?
    • Anyone who has an interest in medicine, has a curiosity about the human body or the use of medical technology, or is interested in their own health or the health of a friend or family member would find the Museum of interest.
  2. Do items have to meet certain criteria in order to be placed on exhibition? If so, what are they?
    • They need to be stable items that will not be damaged by being on exhibit. They also need to fit into the story of the exhibit. They need to make a certain point or show a certain aspect of the issues being examined in the exhibit.
  3. What is usually the most talked about exhibit by visitors and why?
    • Although we don't have a perfect way to answer this question, visitors often comment about the specimens on display and are especially intrigued by the fact that they are all "real" or of natural origin.
  4. Do you have traveling exhibits?
    • The Museum occasionally loans objects to other museums for their exhibits. We do, however, occasionally accept traveling exhibits for display in our Museum.
  5. Why are the lights inside the Museum exhibition galleries and cases so dim?
    • The lights are kept low in order to preserve the artifacts for future generations. Visitors are asked to help the Museum conserve the artifacts by not using a flash when taking photos in the Museum's galleries.
  6. Do you get complaints from visitors about the specimens you have on display in the exhibition?
    • The Museum has one of the world's largest collections of fluid-preserved and other human specimens. Some of these are currently exhibited; the remainder is available to researchers committed to understanding human development and disease. The Museum agrees with the Code of Ethics of the International Council of Museums that the interpretation and exhibition of human remains and other sensitive material must be performed with "tact and respect." Visitor surveys commissioned by the Museum demonstrate that members of the general public consider the display of human tissue -- including pathological and fetal -- to be acceptable and appropriate. The educational context for their display is key. As a professional, scientific institution it is our duty to help enhance and shape the natural curiosity of visitors into a unique and inspirational learning experience. We believe we are achieving this goal, and the daily comments of those who learn in our institution -- scientists, teachers, adults and children from all over -- support this conclusion.
  7. Are specimens always marked with the name of the person it was taken from (like Gen. Daniel Sickles and his leg)? Would the Museum have records of what person each specimen came from if it was not marked on the exhibit? Would Museum staff help someone identify the person, or would that become a medical privacy issue?
    • Ideally, the Museum would have information for all of its anatomical specimens, because they were collected as documented pathological conditions. Some specimens, however, were contributed with little or no documentation, and, in some cases, documentation may have been completely lost over the years.
    • We do not know the patient name for every specimen in the collection. Not all of the specimens currently on display are identified by name. At this time, there is no right to privacy after death, so there would not be a problem with identifying obviously deceased individuals.
  8. Do you have anything currently on display that highlights the Museum's connection to military medicine?
    • A new exhibition 'Advances in Military Medicine' deals directly with this topic. Detailed information about that exhibit will be published to this website soon.

Tours, Programs and Facilities

  1. What kind of guided tours does the Museum have?
    • Docent-guided tours are available for students 5th grade and older with reservations needed four to six weeks in advance. The Museum requires a minimum of one adult chaperone for every ten students. There is no limit placed on the size of groups having unguided tours and even though no reservation is required, it is recommended. About 60 to 90 minutes should be allowed for tours.
  2. Does the Museum have anything to offer children younger than those in the 5th-grade age group, or are the tours and exhibits just too advanced for younger students?
    • The Museum offers tours to grades 5 and up because the tours are designed to address curriculum elements for those ages. Groups of younger students could still learn a great deal at the Museum. The Museum offers several programs throughout the year that students in the 4th grade or younger might enjoy. The Museum's web site is a good way to stay tuned for special events and programs. A listing of the Museum's events can be seen on the Events page.
    • Regarding the exhibits, it is important to remember that the Museum has human remains on display, and these artifacts are on display in order to educate visitors about what happens when disease occurs in the body. Having a guided tour helps put these artifacts into the proper context, but parents and teachers can also help do this. For more information, please call 301-319-3312 to discuss any concerns and can help develop a program to best fit a younger age group.
  3. Will the Museum remove or cover up an artifact on display at the request of a teacher who is planning on bringing a school group for a tour?
    • The Museum does not remove or cover up an artifact or rope off areas except to perform maintenance or exhibit work in the galleries, so teachers of younger students should preview the Museum before scheduling a tour to determine the appropriateness of a visit.
  4. What kind of educational programs, workshops, or lectures does the Museum have?
    • As a follow-up to a guided tour or just on its own, a Discovery Sheet encourages students to take a closer look at Museum objects and exhibits. Written at the high school level, these sheets help students explore Museum highlights. Upon request, the Museum will supply an original for duplication to hand out as is or for use as a template to create a modified version.
    • A listing of the Museum's events can be seen on the Events page.
  5. Does the Museum have a book store or gift shop?
    • At present, the Museum does not have a gift shop.
  6. Does the Museum have space for meetings and receptions?
  7. Does the Museum have a snack bar or cafeteria?
    • No, the Museum does not have a dining facility.
  8. Do you offer a forensic anthropology lecture and how do I register?
  9. How can I receive a copy of your Museum's newsletter, "Flesh and Bones"?
  10. Is the Museum on Facebook or Twitter?

Museum Collections

  1. How do you get items for the collections?
    • The Museum is dedicated to preserving, collecting, and interpreting the objects, specimens, photographs and documents chronicling the history and practice of medicine over the centuries. The Museum's collecting agenda is focused not just with an eye on the past, but also on the future -- with an especially dynamic effort made in the areas of contemporary medicine and the history of military medicine and pathology. The Museum's first curator, John Brinton, visited mid-Atlantic battlefields and solicited contributions from doctors throughout the Union Army. During and after the war, Museum staff took pictures of wounded soldiers showing effects of gunshot wounds as well as results of amputations and other surgical procedures. The information collected was compiled into six volumes of "The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion," published between 1870 and 1883.
    • While many items today are accessioned from the U.S. armed forces, private donations and bequests of artifacts to the Museum considered upon consultation with a Museum curator, collections manager, or archivist.
  2. What was the first specimen acquired by the Museum?
    • The Museum's first curator, John Hill Brinton (formerly Brigade Surgeon with the Army of the Mississippi), recalled nearly 35 years later that "the beginning of the Museum in August 1862 was very modest, consisting of three dried and varnished specimens placed on the little shelf above the ink stand on the desk…" The specimen listed as Item No. 1 in the first "Catalogue of the Surgical Section of the Army Medical Museum" published in January 1863 was the head and 2 inches of the shaft of the right humerus, removed from Private R.B.M. of the 7th Michigan by Acting Assistant Surgeon D.N. Rankin on July 19, 1862 in Washington, D.C. The soldier had been injured on June 30, 1862 in White Oak Swamp, Va. and was able to return to his home nearly healed in October 1862.
  3. What are in the Museum's collections, what do they contain, and how large are they?
    • For more about the Museum's collections, visit their individual pages: Anatomical, Historical, Human Developmental Anatomy Center, Neuroanatomical and Otis Historical Archives.
  4. Are many of your artifacts not displayed due to lack of space?
    • While far less than 1 percent of the Museum's collections are on display, it is not because we have less display space than when we were previously located on The Mall. Our Museum has a public display area that is equivalent to or larger than many other Museums and a ratio of objects on display to objects that are in storage that is typical for a Museum of our age (founded in 1862) and scope of size (we have five major collections and an estimated 24,662,515 objects.) In fact, the number of objects on display depends on the topics to be addressed in the exhibits, and go on and off display accordingly.
  5. What are some of the interesting artifacts in the Museum's collection that are not on display?
    • The list of artifacts not on display is constantly changing, because artifacts are placed on display or taken off display depending on the need to use them in exhibits that change over time. Some of the interesting artifacts not currently on display are:
      • A gangrenous human foot
      • A mummified human dicephalic infant (co-joined twins)
      • Colons from Civil War soldiers who suffered from diarrheal disease, in some cases for many months
      • The brain and partial skeleton of President Garfield's assassin
      • General Pershing's dentures
      • Surgical instruments made from scrap aluminum by the Viet Cong
      • Vases found at Hiroshima after atomic attack
      • New York City Medical Examiner's Collection
      • George Lord's pocket surgical kit (Regimental Surgeon for General Custer's 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn)
  6. What items do you have of famous people?
    • The Museum hold artifacts relating to several U.S. Presidents -- Cleveland, Eisenhower, Garfield, Grant, Kennedy, Lincoln, McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt -- and their assassins -Booth and Guiteau -- as well as other famous Americans, such as World War II Admiral Chester Nimitz, World War I Gen. John Pershing, Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, and Civil War Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles. There are also artifacts relating to Robert Hooke and Pancho Villa, and animals such as space monkey Able and space chimp Ham. Some of these artifacts were acquired during the 19th century when the laws governing the collection of such remains were different. More modern artifacts came from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.
  7. Do you have 20th-century gangster John Dillinger's penis in the collection?
    • No. There was a photograph published after Dillinger was killed that showed him lying on an autopsy table. He's naked except for a towel on his midsection and it seems to indicate he has a very large penis. Because the Museum was the only place showing body parts people thought they must have cut it off and sent it to us. We don't have it, but we get a lot of phone calls asking if we do.
  8. Do you have Benito Mussolini's brain in the Museum's collection?
    • No. After the Allied occupation of southern Italy in 1943 the King ordered Mussolini to be arrested in order to sign the armistice. Imprisoned and then liberated by the Germans, Mussolini lived in northern Italy until his re-capture and eventual execution on April 28, 1945 by military forces of the Italian Resistance. Next day, his corpse and those of his mistress and henchmen were hanged in public view in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan. After Mussolini's body was first autopsied in May 1945 the Institute of Legal Medicine at the University of Milan sent two small vials containing brain tissue material and two sets of microslides to the Army Institute of Pathology (AIP), the predecessor of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, which operates the National Museum of Health and Medicine (formerly the Army Medical Museum). An analysis of the material at the time by Maj. Webb Haymaker, an AIP neuropathologist, revealed no brain disease or abnormalities. According to a letter written in 1975 by Col. James Hansen, the AFIP's director, "For a number of years this information was kept classified for political reasons. However, in 1966 the presence of this material at the AFIP received a small amount of newspaper publicity." This resulted in Mussolini's widow requesting the return of her husband's brain material and in March 1966 it was given to the U.S. State Department to return to her in Italy. Mussolini's final resting place is in his birthplace in Predappio, where his tomb is topped with a marble bust and a box that is said to contain the brain material. Other than Col. Hansen's letter, no other Mussolini artifacts remain in the Museum's collection.
  9. Does the Museum have specimens from the famous Battle of the Little Big Horn, otherwise known as Custer's Last Stand?
    • Yes, the Museum holds two anatomical specimens and one historical artifact from the Battle of Little Big Horn.
    • One of the anatomical specimens is the hip bone of Frank Braun, a soldier under Captain Benteen, who was in command of companies "D", "H", and "K" and had been directed by Gen. Custer of the 7th U.S. Cavalry to explore the area in a southwesterly direction and to "pitch into anything that he might find." Braun was shot in the hip, and the bone shows the ensuing infection that eventually killed him. The other anatomical specimen is a large portion of the cranium (without the face) that was picked up in a ravine on the site of battlefield several years after the battle. From an examination by the Museum's anatomical collections curator, the skull is most likely that of a U.S. soldier. It shows three interesting pieces of evidence: a gunshot wound (with entrance and exit wounds), several cut marks, and the tip of an iron blade embedded in the skull.
    • The historical artifact recovered from the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn is a pocket surgical kit that belonged to U.S. Army Assistant Surgeon George Edwin Lord, a doctor who served as the regimental surgeon for Custer. According to Museum records, after the Battle of the Little Big Horn the surgical kit was sold by a Native American to a trader, who turned it over to a medical purveyor, who in turn transferred it to the Army Medical Museum (today's National Museum of Health and Medicine). At that time the kit was missing all of its original tools except for a single probe. Also in the Museum's collection is Lord's dress blue Army coat, chapeau (Army hat), and medical department sword, which were given to the Museum in 1888 by his family, but Lord was not wearing these items on June 25, 1876 at the Battle of Little Big Horn.
  10. Does the Museum have remains from World War II concentration camps?
    • Yes. The Museum holds five pieces of tattooed human skin that were obtained from the pathology laboratory at the Buchenwald concentration camp when it was liberated. The records concerning the specimens are thorough, and testing of three specimens confirms they are human, although we cannot say with certainty if they were obtained from prisoners or if they existed before the war. (Because of religious restrictions on tattooing, we believe it is unlikely that the specimens were taken from Jewish prisoners.) A memorandum of May 18, 1945 from the Office of the Chief Surgeon, U.S. Army, to the War Crimes Commission, expresses the interest of the Army Medical Museum/Army Institute of Pathology (today's National Museum of Health and Medicine) to receive "dried human skin" from Buchenwald after it is no longer needed by the commission in the Nazi war crimes trials. Also in the Museum's collection is a wax-impregnated half-head preparation. The provenance information on this specimen is less certain, but it may have come from Dachau.
  11. Does the Museum have the mummy of Andy "Dutch" Kapler?
    • Yes. Andy "Dutch" Kapler (alias Harry Harpert, William Martin, William Hoffman, and Harry Hartman) was a member of the Losteiner Gang that robbed the First National Bank of Crafton, Pa. on Jan. 29, 1922 in which a cashier was killed before they made their getaway in a stolen car. Planning to flee to Indianapolis, the gang first took a detour to the Stark County Workhouse in Canton, Ohio, intending to free a fellow gang member who had been caught with burglary tools and arrested some time earlier. Acting on a tip, police and an armed posse of National Guardsmen, American Legion members, deputy sheriffs and civilians caught up to the gang on May 4, 1922 at a farm 5 miles north of Canton and in a one-hour gun battle killed two and seriously wounded two, including Kapler, who died on May 30, 1922. According to reports, after his death Kapler's body was taken to the local undertaker, who embalmed the body. The body was never claimed by Kapler's family, and was eventually sold by the funeral home to a San Francisco-based side show entrepreneur who charged customers to see it on display. Records show that a Virginia man, Lawrence K. Mooney, had Kapler's mummy in the late 1970s and sold it in the early 1990s for an undisclosed amount to a Maryland collector, Robert L. White. Upon White's death, the executor of his estate arranged for the transfer of the mummy to the Museum in December 2003. The Museum was interested in the specimen not because of who it was, but because it is an example of early 20th century preservation by embalming. While there are currently no plans to exhibit the specimen, it is now part of the Museum's small, but important number of specimens that were collected to document preservation of human tissue. (The head and torso of a Kentucky girl embalmed with an arsenic solution is currently on display.) The specimen is stored in the Museum's collections management facility.
  12. On the average, how many objects receive conservation treatment each year?
    • Treatments are prioritized depending upon the condition of the object and the loan or exhibition schedule.
  13. Who can see the collections in storage?
    • The Museum's collections may be available for research to qualified researchers and according to established procedures. Some reference services can be provided by telephone and mail. The Museum's website can be used as a beginning point to search the collections by referring to.
  14. Many people wonder whether Abraham Lincoln had Marfan's Syndrome. Does the Museum permit testing of its artifacts, such as Lincoln's hair and skull fragments?
    • The DNA test to determine whether or not the chromosomal marker for Marfan's Syndrome can be detected would require the destruction of the Lincoln biological materials. Multiple panels have determined that the greater public good is served by not destroying this non-renewable national historic treasure.
  15. How can I gain access to my old medical records from when I served in the armed forces or find out any specific information about the military service record and duty of my relative?
    • You can obtain information for free from the National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR), which has custody of the official individual personnel, health, and medical records for the commissioned officers and enlisted personnel of discharged and deceased veterans of all services during the 20th century. Information from the records is made available upon written request (with signature and date) mailed to National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records, 9700 Page Ave., St. Louis, MO 63132-5100.
  16. Are images from the Museum's collections available, and how do I get permission to use them?
  17. Are the collections open to researchers?
  18. How can I obtain a copy of the book that describes the contents of the Billings Microscope collection?
  19. Can the Museum provide information to me about what I think are old medical instruments and equipment I purchased for display in my home as antiques?
    • The Museum is sometimes able to provide information to the public about their privately owned medical artifacts unless the item is being offered as a donation to the Museum's collection. In that case, a thorough description of the item and a clear photograph should be e-mailed to
  20. Can the Museum offer appraisals of personally owned items?
    • No, NMHM staff may not assign appraisal values to items not in our permanent collections.
  21. I'd like to donate my body to your Museum when I pass away. How can I do this?
    • The National Museum of Health and Medicine does not have a body donation program. If you are interested in donating your body to be used in teaching medical students, you may consider contacting your State Anatomy Board.

Civil War

  1. What is the "Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion" and why is it important?
    • It is a compilation of information gathered by the Army Medical Museum (the original name of the National Museum of Health and Medicine) documenting illness and traumatic injuries suffered by the Union soldiers during the Civil War. It contains case histories on nearly all the current 2,000 skeletal and fluid-preserved specimens in the Museum's anatomical collections. A volume of the original six-volume set, published by the Government Printing Office, is on display in the Museum.
  2. Was every wounded or killed soldier given a case number, photographed, and documented in the "Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion" or is only a certain number of soldiers listed, and were they from both the Union and the Confederacy?
    • While more than 200,000 soldiers were wounded in the Civil War, thousands were killed in action and were buried with no case history on them. Survivors sent for treatment to the Division level and above were included in the "Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion," assuming that the physician actually reported the case. Despite their best efforts, not all Union cases were included. Each specimen in the Museum's collections from the Civil War has a unique number and a case history, which were used to compile the "Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion." Not all soldiers who had specimens in the collection were photographed, but many of the specimens themselves were photographed. "The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion" does contain information from Union and Confederate soldiers. As might be expected, the Union cases far outnumber the Confederate. Confederates are included because they were treated by Union surgeons, and those surgeons saw that those cases, just like any other medical case, were contributed.
  3. How were dead soldiers identified during the Civil War?
    • There was only a very basic system to identify dead soldiers during the Civil War, mostly relying on identifications made by fellow soldiers. Because the soldiers had uniforms (blue for Yankees, grey for Confederates) and battles were usually conclusive, soldiers were identified by whatever uniform they were wearing and were usually assigned to their respective army. There were also truces to remove the dead, a practice that faded in the 20th century. Soldiers killed on the battlefield were often buried on the battlefield, and whatever information available about them was recorded along with the burial site. Sometimes the bodies were later moved. But often, because many soldiers wore no uniform or carried no identification, they were marked "unknown" when buried. Soldiers who died in hospitals were more likely to be identified than those found on the battlefield. Army Regulations of 1913 made identification tags mandatory, and by 1917, all combat soldiers wore aluminum discs on chains around their necks. By World War II, the circular disc was replaced by the oblong shape familiar to us today, generally referred to as "dog tags".
  4. Were most of the soldiers photographed naked, to fully show their wounds, and when the photos were displayed back in the late 1870s, were they doctored to be covered with fig leaves painted on?
    • Not all soldiers were photographed naked. Those that had injuries to the thigh/buttocks area were photographed naked in order to show the extent of the injury and/or surgery. The leaves were painted on the negatives that were prepared for the 1876 Centennial Exposition- a decidedly public event, and one in which visitors might be offended by Civil War soldiers' genitalia.