The Civil War in Missouri

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Dr. Joseph McDowell

Watercolor by Elizabeth Van Syckel, 1907
MHM Collections

A native of Kentucky, McDowell headed the Missouri Medical College—more commonly known as McDowell’s College—before the war. One of his former students described him as both “awesome and peculiar,” in recognition of his brilliance as a doctor and lecturer, as well as his eccentricities. Some of McDowell’s bizarre antics and militant activities included keeping a live bear in the school’s basement and arming his students with muskets and a cannon. McDowell also requested that in the event of his death, his body be preserved in a coffin full of alcohol and suspended in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.When war broke out McDowell left St. Louis for Vicksburg. His college was confiscated by Union military officials and turned into the Gratiot Street Prison. McDowell served in the Confederate army as medical director for the Trans-Mississippi Department. After the war McDowell returned to St. Louis to resume operation of his medical school, but he died just three years later.