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Joseph Jones, M.D.

Joseph Jones, the descendant of a prominent Southern family, was born in Liberty County, Georgia on 6 September 1833, to Charles Colcock and Mary Sharpe Jones. Since education was such a high priority of the family, Joseph began his college career at South Carolina College and then transferred to his father’s alma mater, Princeton. After graduating from Princeton in 1853, Jones enrolled into the medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he received his M.D. degree in 1856.

After graduation from Medical School, Jones taught at several colleges including Savannah Medical College, University of Georgia, and the Medical College of Georgia. It was at the University of Georgia that Jones met Caroline Smelt Davis. The two fell in love, and on 26 October 1859, the couple exchanged vows at the bride’s home.

In addition to teaching during the regular school year, Jones did much research during the summer. However, these teaching positions paid very little, and consequently, Jones’ teaching career was bothered by his constant money problems. As a way to supplement his teaching income, Jones enlisted in Georgia’s Liberty Independent Troop at the rank of Private.

His act of enlisting was questioned by friends and family, and a close family friend advised Jones not to “expose all of that skill and science which he has acquired to be a mark for a sharpshooter.” Jones didn’t remain at the rank of Private for long because on October 21, Jones was appointed surgeon of the Liberty Independent Troop. It was his job to take care of the men and slaves of his troop, as well as their families. In this position, the most common afflictions that were treated in his troop were typhoid fever, malaria, intestinal disorders, and children’s diseases.

After proving to be such a competent surgeon within his troop, Jones was promoted to the rank of full time surgeon in the Confederate Army in 1862. It was in this position that Jones first came across gangrene. At Jones’ request to the Surgeon General of the Confederate Army, Samuel Moore, Jones was granted permission to study all cases of gangrene.

Though Jones collected much data about gangrene and did research within the Confederate States, Jones did his most prolific work concerning gangrene at Andersonville, a Confederate prison camp that held Union Prisoner’s of War. Originally, Andersonville was built to hold only 10,000 prisoners, but by August 1864, it held over 32,000. At one point, gangrene was taking anywhere from 90 to 130 deaths per day and the surgeons there found that almost every amputation to remove and gangrenous limb was followed by a return of the disease and eventually death. The conditions at Andersonville were so terrible that Jones said there were so many flies that they “swarmed over everything and covered the faces of the sleeping patients, and crawled down their open mouths and deposited their maggots in the gangrenous wounds of the living and in the mouths of the dead.”

Because of his detailed records of the conditions at Andersonville, Jones was forced to go to Washington after the war to testify against Captain Henry Wirz, the Commandant of Andersonville. After testimony Jones returned home, but Captain Wirz was executed.

Though the end of the war proved to be a trying time for the South, Jones’ career did not die out along with slavery. He accepted a teaching job at the University of Nashville and then went on to the University of Louisiana (later Tulane University). He built a new life as well as a new career in science, a life that surpassed his former accomplishments and achievements that he found in the Civil War.


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