Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Review: Years of Change and Suffering

Schmidt, James M. and Guy R. Hasegawa, ed. Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine. Edinborough Press, Roseville, MN. 2009. 182 pages, 158 pages text, end notes, bibliography, index, b/w photos, charts, author information.

James Schmidt and Guy Hasegawa have put together an interesting series of essays that deal with many facets of Civil War medicine. I found all of them to be interesting and readable but as with any collection like this some were of more interest than others. Each chapter was brief enough to easily be read at a short sitting. Each included end notes and the majority were illustrated with b/w photos.

I'm going to provide just a brief description of each chapter and then talk about my favorites in a bit more detail. In order of publication: Jodi L. Koste discusses the Medical College of Virginia in the years 1860-1865, James Schmidt introduces us to Scientific American magazine and Civil War medicine and inventions, Alfred Jay Bollet outlines Civil War doctors and amputations, F. Terry Hambrecht writes on J. J. Chisolm the Confederate medical and surgical innovator, Harry Herr discusses urological wounds and their care, Guy R. Hasegawa writes about Southern resources and medicine, D.J. Canale talks about "the Firm" and Civil War neurology, and rounding out the book is Judith Andersen with her important work on combat exposure and mental health.

As I was reading through the table of contents before starting all I could think was "the more things change the more they stay the same". Many of these articles deal with issues that are still relevant for today's military and I got to thinking that maybe our current military brass should take a look at Schmidt and Hasegawa's book to see that while different in some ways war is war. I would suggest they begin with Judith Andersen's contribution "Haunted Minds: The Impact of Combat Exposure on the Mental and Physical Health of Civil War Veterans" Andersen begins by telling us the story of Nellie Kinsman Lang and her husband the Union veteran Frank Lang. Frank was a member of Co. K of the 7th Michigan Infantry who saw combat at places such as Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, and The Wilderness. As a hospital attendant Lang of course saw the carnage left by these battles and his post-war anger and violence toward his family was a direct result of what he witnessed firsthand. Obviously post-traumatic stress disorder is nothing new for soldiers. I would also highly recommended military leaders read Alfred Jay Bollett's "Amputations in the Civil War" and "The Privates were Shot: Urological Wounds and Treatment in the Civil War" written by Harry Herr. Despite our huge improvements in medicine and in the care of injured soldiers we also need to deal with the psychological aspects of these injuries and these articles help point out the importance of this.

Several of the articles had a more historical slant including one written by F. Terry Hambrecht titled "J. J. Chisolm, M.D.: Confederate Medical and Surgical Innovator". Chisolm wrote the major book on surgery that was available in the Confederacy: A Manual of Military Surgery , for the Use of Surgeons in the Confederate Army. This went through several editions with updates made each time. Despite being against the use of whiskey in hospitals Chisolm sought out better quality goods "...that our sick soldiers should not be poisoned by the vile stuff sold as whiskey..." (p. 78).

To continue with cliches "necessity is the mother of invention" and James Schmidt writes in "A Multiplicity of Ingenious Articles: Civil War Medicine and Scientific American Magazine" how the magazine has dramatically changed over the years. During the Civil War years the magazine reported on inventions that would have battlefield impact. Improvements came in areas such as ambulances, medicines, and great improvements in prosthetics. There were also large advances in coffins, biers, and in embalming. In discussing these improvements Scientific American said "...any invention which will tend to ameliorate these afflictions and assist in the performance of this sad duty is worthy of special notice" (page 48). Schmidt also points out the increase in the number of women receiving notice in SA for patents.

Overall Schmidt and Hasegawa have put together a highly readable volume that gives the reader much to think about. Each article stands on its own and no level of medical knowledge is needed to read them. Highly recommended!

While I am including a link to Amazon (only the hardcover edition is available but the trade paperback is now out) I would personally suggest heading to Jim's blogs here and here. Besides being able to order nicely signed and inscribed copies you can keep up with his research. I can guarantee you'll be fascinated with what he finds!

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