The Civil War was the greatest health disaster the United States has ever experienced, killing more than a million Americans and leaving many others invalided or grieving. Poorly prepared to care for wounded and sick soldiers as the war began, Union and Confederate governments scrambled to provide doctoring and nursing, supplies, and shelter for those felled by warfare or disease.
During the war soldiers suffered from measles, dysentery, and pneumonia and needed both preventive and curative food and medicine. Family members—especially women—and governments mounted organized support efforts, while army doctors learned to standardize medical thought and practice. Resources in the north helped return soldiers to battle, while Confederate soldiers suffered hunger and other privations and healed more slowly, when they healed at all.
In telling the stories of soldiers, families, physicians, nurses, and administrators, historian Margaret Humphreys concludes that medical science was not as limited at the beginning of the war as has been portrayed. Medicine and public health clearly advanced during the war—and continued to do so after military hostilities ceased.
About the Author
Margaret Humphreys is the Josiah Charles Trent Professor in the History of Medicine, a professor of history, and a professor of medicine at Duke University. She is the author of Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the American Civil War, Malaria: Poverty, Race, and Public Health in the United States, and Yellow Fever and the South.
An immensely readable synthesis of what [Humphreys] terms 'the greatest health disaster that this country has ever experienced.'
Humphreys' work accomplishes several tasks. It puts mid-nineteenth century health care through a prism of military concerns, civilian responses to war, medical science, and women's environment. It offers clear and concise depictions of individuals and their vendettas, such as military officers embracing or not tolerating civilian efforts. Marrow of Tragedy presents a compelling story of Americans, civilian and military, struggling together to do acts of mercy and create better environments during an era of brother against brother bloodshed.
In many ways, Marrow of Tragedy is likely to remain the definitive general medical history of the war for years to come... The book has high production values and makes one of the most important contributions to our understanding of that so-called third army of the Civil War—disease—and the efforts of those on both sides of the Mason-Dixon to fight it. It needs to be read by specialists and nonspecialists alike and should find a place on the shelf of every academic library worthy of the name.
Margaret Humphreys has made a significant contribution to the literature of Civil War medicine and of medicine in general by sharply focusing on rear-echelon military healthcare. She adroitly uses primary and secondary sources to explain the implications of such innovations as hospitals, nongovernmental organizations, reforms in sanitation, and the employment of women as nurses and other healthcare workers. For anyone interested in war and medicine, Marrow of Tragedy shines a bright light on previously unexplored aspects of the Civil War and their impact on American society.
Through each chapter, Humphreys challenges our understanding of mid-nineteenth-century American medicine... Humphreys has done an outstanding job presenting a comprehensive picture of the stat of health care before, during, and in the years following the Civil War... Marrow of Tragedy is a valuable contribution to the literature of the history of medicine during the Civil War and should be read by anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the time period. Margaret Humphreys is to be commended for work well done.
A consistently engaging overview of Civil War medicine in its every aspect. Based on careful research and mastery of an abundant literature, Marrow of Tragedy provides a powerful depiction of a subject revealing of a dynamic and increasingly complex American society.
If there is one study that shows us the significance of sickness in the Civil War, and the attempts to define and counter it, this is it. With admirable scholarship and an eye for key turning points, Humphreys has written a compelling history of the war’s medical costs and achievements.
Full of fresh perspectives, thoughtful insights, and judicious re-assessments, this sweeping synthesis by an outstanding historian will fundamentally change the way we think about Civil War medical history. For scholars and general readers alike, Marrow of Tragedy is a must-read book.
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