1. Carlson, Elizabeth Ann

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I thought I would review books about nurses for this column. The Wall Street Journal reviewed two books which brought them to my attention. The one is Louisa on the Front Lines: Louisa May Alcott in the Civil War by Samantha Seiple and the second book is Clara Barton's Civil War: Between Bullet and Hospital by Donald C. Pfanz.


Louisa on the Front Lines: Louisa May Alcott in the Civil War by Samantha Seiple, Seal Press-Hachette Book Group NYC 2019. 243 pages (197 text) Acknowledgments 199 Source Notes 201 to 224 Selected Bibliography 225 to 228 Index 229 to 243.


Truthfully, I have never read a biography of Louisa May Alcott so I did not know that she served as a nurse in the Civil War. Louisa May Alcott lived in Concord Massachusetts, which was known to be a town that had a large number of abolitionists who had assisted run-away slaves. In addition, one of the great philosophers and reformers of the time, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was a Concord resident and friend of the Alcott family. Louisa's family lived on the edge of ruin because the father considered himself to be a great philosopher as well and pursed his philosophical dreams with complete disregard for his family's basic needs. Louisa May Alcott was not from a typical family and she was not a conventional woman. She was a feminist, a "red-hot" abolitionist, an avid runner, and single at 28 when the Civil War began. Louisa May Alcott saw herself as a writer and someone to drive the fight for human rights, as she and her family believed that men and women, regardless of race, deserved equal right and opportunities.


Alcott saw the fact that nurses were needed to care for soldiers during the Civil War as a way to push the boundaries for women while gaining experiences that would fuel her writing. Another compelling argument for Alcott was the pay she would receive for her work, which she needed to support her family. Seiple thus begins Alcott's decision to join the war as a nurse and a detailed description of the 6 plus months Louisa May Alcott served as a nurse for the Union Army.


Seiple details who were allowed to serve as a nurse and the rules surrounding the nurses. Of interest are the descriptions of the treatments and procedures used at the time and the eye-witness descriptions of how a Civil War hospital functioned. Dorothea Dix is mentioned as one of the nurses of prominence that Alcott knew of as part of the nurses' corp. The reader is provided materials from Alcott's diary. The reader learns of Alcott's loves and how these men shaped her future writings.


Alcott becomes ill, nearly dying before her father is summoned to bring her home in late January 1863. The remainder of the book follows Louisa May Alcott's life including her work as a suffragette. On March 29, 1880, Louisa and 20 other women voted in the Concord election for the new school committee, the first time women voted in Concord. I will not reveal the interesting twist to this election to encourage you to read the book.


Overall, I enjoyed reading this book although I thought it would have more of a focus on Civil War nurses. Truthfully, it is only moderately about Alcott as a nurse (around 6 months or so) and more about Alcott's life but I found it was interesting especially if you read Alcott's book, Little Women. You see the people from her experiences reflected in this book and other writings.


Clara Barton's Civil War: Between Bullet and Hospital by Donald C. Pfanz (2018) Westholme Publishing LLC, Yardley, Pennsylvania. 228 pages. The book includes a Preface, seven chapters, Appendix, Notes, Bibliography, Acknowledgements, and Index. $18.26


One of the most well-known Civil War nurses is Clara Barton. I remember reading about Clara Barton at a very young age along with the fictional Sue Barton series and the Cherry Ames series. As I read Clara Barton's Civil War: Between Bullet and Hospital by Donald C. Pfanz, I learned that some of what I had previously read about Clara Barton was also fictional.


The author, Donald C. Pfanz is a historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park. In the preface, he says he first became interested in Clara Barton while reading a book about her actions in the Civil war. Barton was described as a "heroine of mythical proportions, standing up to corrupt and incompetent officials, overcoming obstacles that would have defeated others and saving countless lives by her resourcefulness and determination" (p. ix). As the stories multiplied, he became suspicious and looked at the footnotes, only to discover the majority were Barton herself. As a historian, this was problematic and he began to look for original sources. He had read thousands of letters by Union soldiers over the years and he did not remember Barton ever being mentioned in any letter. Pfanz discovered Barton was a remarkable nurse and did contribute but her role on the battlefields may have been less important and influential as was the legend. Pfanz's book is the result of his inquiries.


Barton moved from her home town in Massachusetts to Washington, District of Columbia, and was working in the U.S. Patent Office in April 1861 when Fort Sumter was fired upon. She began her association with the Massachusetts Militia units when she visited wounded 6th Massachusetts soldiers at the Washington Infirmary after they were wounded defending the capitol from Confederate troops. She saw the needs the men had for supplies and this was the beginning of her mission to collect supplies for distribution to the troops. During the Civil War, she was effective at raising money to buy supplies and did distribute them to field surgeries. Barton also understood the needs for food and shelter for the soldiers who were not wounded but hungry and tired. She became good friends with Union General Rucker and Senator Henry Wilson, who provided her with information about troop movements so she could be in attendance with her supplies in close proximity to the battles. She had powerful men who not only gave her information but also requisitioned horses and wagons for her use.


Clara Barton certainly had an impact on the troops during the Civil War, but her exploits grew and magnified with each retelling. Pfanz cites several discrepancies between what happened and what was reported or written. Clara Barton was an expert at self-promotion especially after the Civil War, as she traveled and spoke to groups that had supported her during the war. Pfanz recounts her life post-war and her travels. He also includes some of Barton's own writings-Clara Barton in her own words. It is very interesting reading and describes conditions that were awful.


Overall, I really enjoyed readings this book and would highly recommend it. Pfanz does point out discrepancies and situations that increased Barton's reputation that more likely were improbable, but the fact remains Clara Barton did risk her life providing needed relief for troops during the Civil War. She also founded the Red Cross, which continues today to provide needed relief to victims of disasters. She is a nurse we all can and should be proud of and I encourage you to read this engaging book.


I enjoyed reading both of these books so much so that I have begun to read books about nurses during World War II and will review those books in my next column. I strongly recommend both of these books, as they describe what nursing and medical care was during the Civil War thus explaining, in part, why so many men and women died while serving.