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Although books on the military and political aspects of the Civil War abound there are surprisingly few books devoted to the study of Civil War medical care. There are fewer books still that examine in detail medical care within the Confederacy. H.H. Cunningham's "Doctors in Gray" first was published in 1958 and remains an excellent study of the Confederate medical service.
The book begins with an examination of the specific medical problems the Confederacy faced in 1861 which intensified as the War continued: lack of medical personnel, lack of medical supplies lack of food, an ever-tightening blockade, among others. Cunningham then proceeds to examine the ways in which the Confederate government and military tried to bring sufficient medical care to its troops and to prisoners of war within its lines.
Cunningham describes the organization of the Confederate medical service and the large general hospitals the Confederacy opted to establish for the care of its sick and wounded. The largest of these hospitals (and the largest Civil War hospital) was Chimbarozo in Richmond. The book then considers the field hospitals established in line of battle. Cunningham stresses the flexible, mobile nature of these hospitals and how they were constructed to move in a short time as required by the hazards of battle.
There are discussions on the ways in which the Confederate Medical Service endeavored to procure supplies and of how the availability of supplies changed with the South's military fortune. There are detailed discussions of the diseases which claimed the lives of many soldiers and sailors and their sources in the unhygenic conditions of camps and ships. The book discusses medical care at the time of the war -- the use of chloroform, the prevalence of amputation, and experiments with various remedies to cure prevalent diseases. Interestingly, the Confederate Medical Service was the first in wartime to establish a dental care unit for its troops. It was well ahead of the Union army in this respect.
Cunningham discusses Confederate medical officers, their training and the difficulties under which they labored. He offers judicious and thoughtful assessments of the successes and failures of the Confederate Medical Service. He concludes, reasonably enough, that it performed as well as could have been expected during that time under highly difficult circumstances.
"Doctors in Gray" remains an excellent study for readers interested in the Civil War and in the provision of medical care under trying circumstances.
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