Union Army Surgeon. Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac. Born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, the son of Anna Ritchie and Jonathan Letterman, an eminent surgeon. He attended Jefferson College (present day Washington and Jefferson College), and Jefferson Medical College, graduating with a medical degree in 1849. That summer, he was appointed an assistant surgeon in the Army when he was assigned duty in Florida during the Seminole Wars. In 1853, he was transferred to Fort Ripley, Minnesota, and the following year to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1858, he was granted a leave of absence after four years on the frontier. In 1859, he was at Fort Monroe, Virginia. After the commencement of hostilities during the American Civil War, in 1862 he was appointed Medical Director of the Department of West Virginia, but less than two months later, was assigned as Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac. Under his direction, his 'Letterman Plan' created the Union Army's first ambulance corps; a uniform system of first-aid stations and field hospitals; and instituted standards for prioritizing treatment based on the severity of injuries and the likelihood of survival. He also organized a more reliable system to provide surgeons with the medical equipment and supplies they needed; reorganized military hospitals, favoring the most skilled medical officers, as opposed to the three highest ranking, and removed the responsibility of dispersal of medical supplies from the office of the quartermaster. His Medical Corps was faced with over 12,000 wounded at Antietam, and removed all wounded from the battlefield within 24 hours, a previously unmatched achievement. His plan was established as the medical procedure for the US Army by Act of Congress in March 1864. In December of that year, he resigned his commission after a political altercation. He practiced medicine in San Francisco where he also held the office of coroner from 1867 to 1872. In 1866, he published his Civil War memoirs, 'Medical Recollections of the Army of the Potomac.' He died at age 47, a few years after the death of his wife. In 1911, the Army hospital at the Presidio was named in his honor. In 2009, the Annual Major Jonathan Letterman Award for Medical Excellence was established. He is today regarded as the father of battlefield medicine. His headstone was inscribed: "Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, June 23, 1862, to December 30, 1863, who brought order and efficiency into the Medical Service and who was the originator of modern methods of medical organization in armies."
Bio by: Iola
Mary Digges Lee Letterman