Medical Histories of Union Generals.

Medical Histories of Union Generals. – book reviews

James O. Breeden

By Jack D. Welsh. (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1996. Pp xx, 422. $35.00.)

It is well known that disease and injury were constant companions of the Civil War soldier and influenced the outcome of battles and campaigns. But comparatively little attention has been paid to the role of health on the performance of military leaders. Intrigued by this question, Jack D. Welsh, a physician and an avid student of the hostilities, undertook the study of the health histories of the general officers on each side. His efforts led first to Medical Histories of Confederate Generals, which appeared in 1994, and the recently published Medical Histories of Union Generals.

In the latter work, Welsh reconstructs the medical profiles of the 583 Union general officers included in Ezra Warner’s Generals in Blue. In the belief that focusing solely on the war years would produce an incomplete picture of the significance of disease and injury on these men’s performance, he prepared lifetime medical histories. Welsh found medical data for the period before the war on almost half of his subjects, some of whom were affected in varying degrees by these health problems for the remainder of their lives. Nonfatal medical events were identified during the war years for 83 percent of these men: three-quarters experienced medical illnesses and approximately one-fifth had accidents. Nearly half sustained one or more nonfatal wounds. Sixty-eight died during the war: twenty were killed in action; twenty-eight were mortally wounded or died later from the effects of their wounds; sixteen died from medical illness; three died from accidents; and one died at home after discharge from active duty. Postwar information was found for over half of the 515 survivors, the last of whom died in 1933. Their medical problems consisted of two types: the sequela of wartime health problems and, in most cases, problems associated with aging.

Welsh refrains from drawing conclusions on the effects of health on the wartime careers of the Union’s general officers, deferring to trained military historians. But a likely correlation between multiple illnesses and injuries resulting from wounds and accidents and field performance is inescapable. The case of George Stoneman, chief of cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, is instructive. From the 1850s, Stoneman suffered from hemorrhoids. He experienced constant pain and copious loss of blood and by June 1863 was under constant medical treatment. Stoneman himself attributed much of his poor showing on a disastrous raid during the Atlanta campaign to prostration from blood loss.

Welsh has produced an impressive volume–exhaustively researched and painstakingly prepared. A glossary of the most frequently encountered conditions and terms from the era’s outdated medical nosology is included to assist the modern reader Also useful is a sequence section that includes the dates of wounds, accidents, and deaths inflicted as well as geographic locations. Like Medical Histories of Confederate Generals, this volume will have a wide appeal to those interested in the Civil War and medical history.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Kent State University Press

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