Tuesday, July 24, 2018

New and Noteworthy: Death, Disease and Life at War--Letters of a Civil War Surgeon

Death, Disease, and Life at War: The civil War Letters of Surgeon James  D.  Benton, 111th and 98th New York Infantry Regiments, 1862-1865, Christopher E. Loperfido, Savas Beatie Publishing, 2018, 170 pp., 26 images, four appendices, list of works consulted, index. $16.95

Christopher Loperfido offers the letters of James D. Benton as both a scholarly resource for educators and enlightening story for general readers of Civil War history. There are 42 letters spanning August 1862 through the post war era.

Among the several strengths of Loperfido's work are the introduction to each letter which includes a summation of the 98th and1 New York Regiment's history and combat experience, marches, winter encampments. Intriguing is the regiments' capture while at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1862, the branding of  them as the 'Harpers Ferry Cowards', and their interment at Camp Douglas while waiting parole.

Located at the bottom of the pages, Loperfido's notes are clear, concise and very helpful regarding, geography, diseases, medicines, and biography. Benton's presence in the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns is detailed in five letters which are enhanced by Loperfido's own experience and knowledge as a National Park Ranger at Gettysburg.

During the late autumn of 1863 Benton enters, as a patient,  the Seminary Hospital located in Georgetown, District of Columbia. His chronicling of his symptoms, diagnosis and remedies is insightful. He also at times discusses his pay, and his accompanying the paymaster on several occasions. His reflections on the temperaments of the Army of the Potomac, news reports of Grant and Sherman east of the Appalachians, and the  politics of the 1864 presidential election and the nominating conventions of both the Democratic and Republican parties is both informative and frank.

Loperfido places these letters in their proper context and needed transitions between each of them. He also describes Benton's life after the war; The four appendices review the work of Jonathan Letterman, director of the Army of the Potomac's medical division, the development of the Ambulance Corp, the use of amputations and dressings and the work of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.  Loperfido's work is accessible to those in high school and those readers who specialize in American Civil War medicine.

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