Reviewed by John Michael Priest in Vol XXVIII #5
As a historian, I have had a fascination with medicine throughout the ages, my favorite source being the ten volume Surgical and Medical History of the Civil War. I have visited the superb Civil War Medical Museum in Frederick, MD and have edited the wartime letters and diary of Hospital Steward John N. Henry, 49th New York. Burns’ wonderful book will also have a prominent place among my favorite books about the Civil War.
Doctor Burns begins the work with a detailed biography of Reed B. Bontecou, a person about whom I knew nothing, despite having seen samples from his collection in the surgical history of the war. Besides having the larges known collection of Civil War medical photographs, Bontecou later developed the first antiseptic wound packet for use by individual soldiers, and in 1897 he unsuccessfully attempted to repair a typhoidal intestinal perforation–the first such operation ever performed in the United States.
This book, the first in a series, contains 101 graphic images of identified Federal and Confederate casualties from the collection of Surgeon Bontecou, who had them taken at Harewood Hospital in Washington, DC. Each photograph includes Bontecou’s notations about the injuries. He meticulously recorded each man’s name, company, and regiment to preserve them for posterity. I could not get over how young many of these hapless individuals looked. The pictures drove home how terrible wounds actually looked.Shooting Soldiers is a masterpiece. It should be in the library of every serious Civil War student or novelist because it will dispel any prior conceptions about the effects of muzzle-loading projectiles on a human being. For me, seeing the faces of the men portrayed in this book and knowing who they were has made the war all the more personal.
A new edition of Mike Priest’s Before Antietam: The Battle for South Mountain with foreword by Ed Bearss was published in 2011.
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