Book Reviews -- A Surgeon's Civil War: The Letters and Diary of Daniel M. Holt, M.D. Edited by James M. Greiner, Janet L. Coryell and James R. Smither
Kreiser, Larry, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)
A Surgeon's Civil War: The Letters and Diary of Daniel M. Holt, M.D. Ed. James M. Greiner, Janet L. Coryell and James R. Smither. Kent: The Kent State University Press, 1994. xvi + 289 pp. Index, biblio, notes.
The majority of the memoirs and letters of the "common" soldiers of the Civil War published during the last half-century have recounted the experiences of combat troops. A Surgeon's Civil War provides a rare glimpse of the conflict from the perspective of a Union medical officer. Daniel M. Holt served as a surgeon in the 121st New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment from the organization of the unit in August 1862 until he resigned because of ill-health in October 1864. The regiment participated in most of the battles and campaigns in the war's eastern theater.
Holt's writings offer valuable insights into the medical practices of the Army of the Potomac. He discusses his procurement of medical supplies, the establishment of field and divisional hospitals, and the effects of illness on the men in his regiment. Although the author does not relate the specifics of battlefield surgery, he makes several references to its horrors. Holt grimly writes that "if there is one thing more disagreeable or more dirty than another, it is that of dressing sloughing, stinking gun shot wounds" (124).
Holt strongly believed in the righteousness of the Union's war effort. He wrote prior to the battle of Chancellorsville in 1863 that the North "never shall succeed until we let the oppressed go free" (91). …