Saturday, October 26, 2013

New and Noteworthy---Surgeon in Blue, Jonathan Letterman: Triage, Ambulances and Battlefield Farms

Surgeon in Blue: Jonathan Letterman, The Civil War Doctor Who Pioneered Battlefield Care by Scott McGaugh, Publisher: Arcade, 368pp., notes, bibliography, b/w photographs, $25.95
Scott McGough’s Surgeon In Blue is the first full length biography of Letterman. The author’s narrative is accessible to a variety of readers. It is not a detailed account of military campaigns nor is it a densely written example of medical history. It offers minimal insight into Letterman’s character and motivation. Jonathan Letterman did not leave a trove of personal letters. A current edition of his Medical Recollections of the Army of the Potomac is 204 pages in a slim trade paperback edition. Letterman’s narrative is similar to an analytical treatise: clear, precise and dispassionate.McGough gives other medical reformers credit where credit is due. He notes that Letterman in early 1863 “could set aside the continuing refinement of battlefield care that he had organized. Fredericksburg validated the Letterman System. Though the system was Letterman’s achievement, it had been built in part on the work of Napoleon’s surgeons more than sixty years before and of Union army surgeons under Ulysses S. Grant earlier in 1862.” 
McGough’s work accomplishes several tasks.  It puts Letterman and his work in the context of the mid-19th century U.S. army. Surgeon in Blue offers a clear depiction of the personalities and political vendettas of the Army of the Potomac, the presidential cabinet, the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Sanitary Commission. McGough has researched the appropriate archival material and enhanced his efforts by consulting historians of the National Park Service and the U.S. Army, the Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides, and the staff of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. Surgeon in Blue offers the compelling story of American physician’s life lived during the sobering era of the American Civil War.

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