Porcher, Francis Peyre (1825-1895)
Resources of the southern fields and forests… being also a medical botany of the Confederate States… Charleston: Evans & Cogswell, 1863.
Francis Porcher, valedictorian of his 1847 graduating class at the Medical College of the State of South Carolina and well-respected writer of several works on the medicinal properties of plants, was the ideal person for Confederate Surgeon General Samuel Moore to assign the important project of preparing a treatise on the indigenous plants of the South for the Army. Porcher was born and educated in South Carolina. After his graduation from medical school, he continued his education in Paris and Florence, and returned to this country in 1849. During the next few years, he published several works on the subjects of botanicals and medicine, maintained a private practice, co-founded the Charleston Preparatory Medical School in 1852, and traveled again to Europe, visiting many hospitals along the way. Later in the 1850s, he became professor of clinical medicine and materia medica and therapeutics at his alma mater. He was an editor of the “Charleston Medical Journal and Review” for five years and an attending physician at the Marine Hospital in Charleston. Despite all his pre-war responsibilities, Porcher joined the Confederate Army at the war’s start, and remained in military service until the end (Atkinson 58; Kelly & Burrage 975; Rutkow, Resources of the Southern Field, v-vii).
Porcher started out the war as surgeon to the Holcombe Legion, later moving to the Naval Hospital at Norfolk, Virginia, and concluding at the South Carolina Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia. Shortly after the outbreak of war, a Northern blockade of Confederate ports prevented access to European medicines. Aware of Porcher’s background in botany, Surgeon General Samuel Preston Moore asked him to survey the plants of the South in an effort to find local medicines for the Confederate troops. He was temporarily excused from field and hospital duty to work on this project. The Reynolds Historical Library has a first edition of the resulting 1863 publication, Resources of the southern fields and forests, a comprehensive listing of all regional plant life, with an analysis of uses (Freemon 112). It was the first extensive study of Southern indigenous plants, and it was the only regional materia medica resource available to the Confederacy. But most importantly, even given the doubtful efficacy of its medicinal recommendations, it provided the Southern states with necessary information for surviving off their homeland during the war with a valuable listing of economically useful botanicals (Norman 1865.1).
When peace returned, Porcher went back to South Carolina and worked for the City Hospital for the next twenty-one years. He also resumed his academic positions and made many written contributions to the medical field, especially on the topic of yellow fever. Porcher was president of the South Carolina Medical Association in 1872, vice president of the American Medical Association in 1879, and an associate fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. He was one of a select few physicians chosen to represent the United States at international medical conferences in Berlin and Rome, and he served as president of the general medicine section of the Pan-American Congress in 1892 (Atkinson 58; Kelly & Burrage 975; Rutkow, Resources of the Southern Field, viii).
Image: Francis Peyre Porcher, Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.