Robert M. O’Reilly, Surgeon General

A small manuscript collection that I recently finished processing is the Robert M. O’Reilly papers (MC 34).

Robert Maitland O'Reilly (1845-1912) was the 20th Surgeon General of the United States Army serving from September 7, 1902 to January 14, 1909.  O'Reilly served a long military medical career beginning as a medical cadet in August 1862 during the Civil War.  Notable accomplishments include a position as the physician at the White House during both of President Grover Cleveland's administrations, Chief Surgeon of the First Independent Division at the beginning of the Spanish-American War, and delegate at the International Conference for the Revision of the Geneva Convention in Geneva in 1906.  The collection contains correspondence, general orders, assignments, certificates of appointment, circulars, clippings, invitations, a notebook and a scrapbook.

O’Reilly led a long and successful military career starting as a medical cadet during the Civil War.  His first assignment was at Cuyler General Hospital in Philadelphia followed by a general field hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee in March 1864 where he writes almost daily to his mother.  These letters to his mother are the bulk of the collection.  Below is a typical letter in which O’Reilly discusses his main duty of tabulating the lists of wounded and killed soldiers into reports.

Robert M. O'Reilly to his mother Ellen O'Reilly, June 21, 1864 (Front)

Robert M. O'Reilly to his mother Ellen O'Reilly, June 21, 1864 (Back)

On March 24, 1901 O'Reilly's son Jack died unexpectedly in early adulthood of peritonitis.  Below is a telegram and letter informing his sister, Mary "Siss" O'Reilly, of the event.

Telegram from Robert M. O'Reilly to Mary O'Reilly, October 24, 1901

Robert O'Reilly to Mary O'Reilly, October 24, 1901 (Front)

Robert O'Reilly to Mary O'Reilly, October 24, 1901 (Back)


When the Civil War ended O’Reilly finished his medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania.  After graduating in 1866 he served in the army around the country and was continually promoted to higher ranking positions.  The actual certificates are large in scale, below is a letter congratulating O'Reilly on his new position as Assistant Surgeon.

Letter from War Department, August 5, 1867

Letter from War Department, August 5, 1867

A high point in the collection is a scrapbook kept while O’Reilly was abroad serving as a delegate at the 1906 International Conference for the Revisions of the Geneva Convention for the conference.  The scrapbook contains calling cards, menus, invitations, and notes.

Scrapbook page, 1906

Scrapbook page, 1906


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