Monday, August 7, 2017

Booknotes: Recollections of a Civil War Medical Cadet

New Arrival:
Recollections of a Civil War Medical Cadet: Burt Green Wilder edited by Richard M. Reid (Kent St Univ Pr, 2017).

In mid-1862, Burt Green Wilder had just finished his Harvard training as a comparative anatomist, and his scientific background allowed him to obtain a medical cadet slot at the Judiciary Square military hospital in Washington. "These qualities (of formal training) were increasingly valued in a medical department being reformed by the new surgeon general, William Hammond, who demanded a more scientific approach to medical care and to the creation and dissemination of medical knowledge. Forty-five years after the war ended Wilder began to draft his recollections of an era that had transformed him personally and radically altered American medicine." Edited by Richard Reid, Wilder's unfinished memoirs have now been published under the title Recollections of a Civil War Medical Cadet.

Reid's introduction discusses the often disreputable state of medicine at the time of the outbreak of Civil War and explains how the conflict raised the stature of the profession. It also includes "an extensive historiographical analysis of Civil War medicine and situates Wilder’s recollections in the changing direction of the field." Wilder's manuscript "is written with humor and grace and provides a revealing eyewitness account of Civil War relief services and hospital work. The army hospitals, dramatically different from the prewar institutions, became centers of medical innovation and analytical record keeping. Even medical cadets such as Wilder conducted postmortems and were encouraged to submit specimens of combat-related injuries to Hammond’s newly created Army Medical Museum. His discussions of the day-to-day practice in the hospital, the war’s expansion of medical knowledge, the duties of medical cadets, scientific activity, and gender relations are particularly compelling."

In addition to providing the volume's general introduction, Reid extensively annotates the material while also adding some context to Wilder's loosely arranged appendix collection.

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