Sunday, October 7, 2012

Book Review--Mending Broken Soldiers

Hasegawa, Guy R. Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, IL, 2012. 126 pages, 80 pages of text, 2 appendicies, index, bibliography, notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9780809331307, $24.95.

The Civil War is without doubt the most deadly and life changing war that the United States has been part of. While the charged feelings on both sides were a huge part of this technology however was a major driver in the carnage that took place on the battlefield. The development and spread of rifled weapons along with the use of the minie ball led to injuries never seen before. When a soldier was struck by a minie ball the result was often shattered bone and massive tissue damage in the surrounding area. This type of damage often led to amputation of the injured limb. The Civil War led to somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000 such amputations.

With the large number of maimed soldiers returning home it became imperative that these men be taken care of. In his new book Guy R. Hasegawa introduces us to the artificial limb industry and how it developed during the Civil War.

The artificial limb industry was not new during the war however it did expand dramatically both in terms of patents and also in manufacturers. In the two decades leading up to the Civil War there were less than 25 patents issued dealing with artificial limbs. In the decade of the 1860s this exploded to over 100. None of these patents were issued to citizens living in the states of the Confederacy.

As was the case with headstones for the dead the federal government was willing to provide for Union soldiers but not those from the Confederacy. During the war the United States government agreed to pay authorized vendors $50 for an artificial leg. The program was later expanded to include payment for artificial arms as well. While this program went through growing pains the basics stayed the same with the government picking up the tab, including replacements, for Union soldiers.

Confederate soldiers were not so lucky. They did however have the Association for Relief of Maimed Soldiers (ARMS) which was a private organization formed by the Reverend Charles Marshall to help raise funds for and provide soldiers with artificial limbs. As with most things in the south at this time this was a struggle. A lack of everything: skilled workers, raw materials, technological knowledge and of course money, led to difficulties. These obstacles, and a lack of understanding, led to peg legs being seriously considered for a short while as they were thought to be cheaper, needing less repair and replacement, and also more useful for most men as they returned to daily life. Fortunately wiser thought prevailed however. Money was of course the overriding concern as inflation caused costs to be higher than the amount able to be paid. This led to issues with quality and consistency. As money continued to be a problem ARMS turned to various ways to raise funds including individual donations, with Robert E. Lee himself giving $500, state governments, and finally appeals to European countries thought to be friendly toward the Confederacy.

While the programs may seem to be different in many ways they had many similarities. In both the Union and Confederacy programs were led by energetic surgeons. These men, while considering cost, were interested in finding the best available product for soldiers. Quality and consistency from vendors was of paramount importance. Both organizations were concerned about the inconvenience to soldiers during the process. It was important for them to minimize the travel distance required. Both the federal government and ARMS provided no cost travel and lodging to soldiers during the fitting process.

The success of these programs could be debated of course and there is an interesting Appendix that outlines the various makers and the amount of limbs provided. While the government and ARMS provided limbs rehabilitation was unheard of. As the author says about soldiers "...a veteran with an artificial limb could not look to the government for assistance in mastering his prosthesis, finding a job, or dealing with the other difficulties that attended his injury."

Don't be put off the size lack of size on this book. Page counts do not matter when there is this much information provided. Well documented, with a full set of end notes and extensive bibliography this is a well researched book that anybody with an interest in Civil War medicine or technological advances to come out of the war would be wise to read and have on their shelves. Highly recommended!

Thank you to Southern Illinois University Press for providing a complimentary review copy.

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