John Chisholm, surgeon and oculist, was born in Charleston, the son of Robert Trail and Harriet Emily Chisholm. He received his medical degree from the Medical College of South Carolina (1850) and continued his studies in London, Milan and Paris (1859). During the Crimean War Chisholm studied treatment techniques in European military hospitals.
At the outbreak of the Civil War he received the first Confederate military commission issued to a medical officer and attended the wounded at Fort Sumter. His Manual of Military Surgery (1861) was presented to the surgeon-general while the Battle of Bull Run was fought. Chisholm was the author of many articles on special surgical topics.
Drug supplies were limited during the Civil War. Chloroform was prefered to ether as it was nonflammable and could be used for operations performed near open fires.
Chisholm invented an inhaler for use of chloroform which helped prevent drug loss and also reduced doctors' and nurses' exposure to drug fumes. The inhaler was later used to treat throat infections.
Chisholm was among the first to surgically remove cataracts and to use cocaine in eye surgery.