For Zabdiel Boylston Adams, an 1853 graduate of Harvard Medical School, the Civil War was a watershed and a defining period. On the afternoon of July 2, 1863, the doctor set up a makeshift hospital close to the field of battle. Having noticed how many soldiers were dying during transport from combat to distant medical care, Adams pioneered on-site medical treatments. He labored so long in surgeries at Gettysburg that he was nearly blinded with exhaustion. At the Battle of the Wilderness Adams was severely wounded. Captured by Confederate forces, his shattered left leg useless and gangrenous, he treated himself by pouring pure nitric acid into his wounds, a treatment that must have been as excruciating as it was efficacious. A man at the nexus of two distinguished New England families—Boylston and Adams—at a particularly dramatic moment in history, Dr. Adams is more than an ancestor or historical figure; to his great-grandson, Mitchell L. Adams, he is a legend.
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