The first full treatment of the father of battlefield medicine.
The carnage of the Civil War has been vividly rendered in the photography of Mathew Brady and the field-hospital writings of Walt Whitman. USS Midway Museum marketing director McGaugh (USS Midway: America's Shield, 2011, etc.) offers a solid, well-researched life of Jonathan Letterman (1824-1872), a Pennsylvania-born physician who, as medical director of the Army of the Potomac, instituted bold and far-reaching reforms to alleviate the suffering of men wounded in battle. At a time when Army medical care was chaotic and almost an afterthought—nearly 3,000 wounded lay unattended on the battlefield for three days after the Battle of Bull Run—Letterman provided “more humanitarian and effective care.” He created a chain of command for medicine, established an ambulance corps, overhauled battlefield evacuation, and improved camp hygiene and diet standards. During three years of war, his medical corps treated more than 60,000 casualties in battles from Antietam to Gettysburg, introducing a new era in battlefield care. Against the moans, mangled bodies and putrid odors of the war, McGaugh shows how Letterman, a quiet, private man with an analytical mind, reformed his medical corps. Through systemization and accountability, he spurred his several hundred physicians and others to reliably deliver medical care and supplies where they were most needed. The author also details Letterman’s earlier years serving on isolated outposts and his later careers as a failed wildcatter on California oilfields and a coroner in San Francisco. For all his medical acumen, however, Letterman misdiagnosed an illness that killed his wife.
A nicely crafted biography that also offers Civil War buffs an unusual ambulance-wagon view of the great conflict.