Friday, August 26, 2022

Booknotes: As Wolves upon a Sheep Fold

New Arrival:
As Wolves upon a Sheep Fold: The Civil War Letters of Ohio Surgeon William S. Newton edited by Aaron D. Purcell (UT Press, 2022)

Dr. William S. Newton served the officers and men of three Union regiments. He was "an assistant surgeon with the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, but also spent a few months as acting surgeon with the 2nd Virginia Cavalry (US). Toward the end of the war, he was promoted to surgeon for the 193rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry." The great many surviving letters he wrote to his wife and sons (but primarily to his wife) were recently acquired by Virginia Tech, and these have been compiled and edited in As Wolves upon a Sheep Fold: The Civil War Letters of Ohio Surgeon William S. Newton, the latest volume in UT Press's Voices of the Civil War series.

In the preface, it is noted that Newton writings are part of only a handful of available firsthand accounts of service with the 91st Ohio. From the description: "Newton’s units fought in the Appalachian Highlands, mostly in Virginia and West Virginia. He treated wounded soldiers after significant battles including Opequon and Cedar Creek. In May 1864, following the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain, John Hunt Morgan’s Raiders captured Newton and other medical personnel. After three weeks, Newton and his fellow prisoners were given the option of either treating Confederate soldiers or going to Libby Prison; they chose the latter. Newton spent only three days at Libby Prison before being released, but the experience took a significant toll on his health."

Like many Civil War officers and men, Newton undoubtedly employed the time spent writing home as a temporary escape from the stresses and horrors of his regular duties. According to the introduction, Newton "focused a majority of his words on more personal matters, observations, and friends and family," rather than his medical service activities. Nevertheless, his letters "provide a window into (the peculiar nature of the) fighting in the Appalachian borderlands, where the differences between battle, guerilla warfare, and occupation were often blurred. As a noncombatant, the doctor observed life beyond troop movements and the brutality of war. Newton’s detailed letters cover his living quarters, race relations, transportation and communication, the comfort of a good meal, and the antics of his teenage son Ned."

Editor Aaron Purcell's volume preface and introduction provide the reader with historiographical context, some biographical details (not much is known about Dr. Newton's early life), and thematic outline. Bridging narrative is placed at the beginning of each chapter, and there are copious endnotes. A brief epilogue explores Newton's postwar activities. Additionally, numerous mini-bios of individuals frequently mentioned in Newton's correspondence (ex. family members, friends, associates, and army comrades) can be found in the appendix.

In sum, As Wolves upon a Sheep Fold "provides new insights into the medical and social history of the war, the war in Western Virginia, local and regional history, the perspective of a noncombatant, life on the home front, and the porous lines between home and battlefront."

No comments:

Post a Comment

When commenting, PLEASE SIGN YOUR NAME. In order to maintain civil discourse and ease moderating duties anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments containing outside promotions and/or product links will also be deleted. Thank you.