According to family lore, my great-uncle Dr. John Cooper "was a surgeon on Gen. Sherman's and Gen. Fremont's staffs. Credited with the invention of the ambulance; soldiers nicknamed it as Cooper's "Pie Wagon."

Despite quite a bit of research, I have not been able to confirm either of these claims. I'm sure he didn't "invent" the ambulance, but is it possible he at least popularized it among some units?

  • 1
    Did you check with Wikipedia? The article suggests that the "invention" pre-dates Dr. Cooper by several hundred years.
    – Steve Bird
    Dec 28, 2019 at 17:44
  • An excellent article here does not list Dr Coopers model. A book on Grant does list something you might wish to pursue, Civil war reminiscences of Dr. John Cooper . An antique field desk for auction here repeats your family lore.
    – justCal
    Dec 28, 2019 at 18:51
  • I did see the field desk, the auction was in 2014 but the item didn't sell, it looks pretty amazing! I emailed the auction house for more info. I had also seen the bibliography that lists "Civil War Remembrances of Dr. John Cooper" but I can't find any living descendants so don't know where that ended up :-( Dec 28, 2019 at 19:12
  • The book linked by justCal names the owner of the manuscript. Dec 29, 2019 at 5:06
  • The owner of the manuscript is Harley Bronson Cooper, he died in 1964. That's why I'm searching for living descendants :) Dec 29, 2019 at 14:08

1 Answer 1


Dominique Jean Larrey developed an ambulance volante (flying ambulance) corps, in the service of first the French Republic and then Napoleon Bonaparte, after witnessing the speed with which French horse artillery maneuvered across the battlefield. He also pioneered many modern techniques of army surgery, and field hospitals. His success at not only saving lives but returning soldiers to active duty would be unmatched until the 20th century. From an earlier answer by yours truly:

Consider the 1200 or so Guard casualties at Aspern Essling (from Bowden & Talbot, Armies on the Danube 1809):

Returned to Active Duty    600  
Returned to France         354 (including amputees)
Dead                       145
Others                     101
Total                     1200

Let's think on these numbers for a minute. Two 12-pounder batteries, 12 guns total, firing canister at 100 yards say twice a minute, for an hour, fired a total of roughly 1,440 canister rounds in that time. All that shot inflicted less than one casualty per canister round fired, and barely 0.1 death per canister round fired. That's how good French skirmishers (granted, the Old Guard) were at avoiding fire! After an hour of this, the Austrian artillery retired due to excessive casualties, allowing the successful retreat of French forces back to Lobau Island.

I have seen it claimed that you had to be an Austrian Archduke in order to receive better medical care from the Austrian army than was routinely dispensed to the lowliest private in Le Grande Armee.

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