Academic journal article Nursing History Review

Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the American Civil War

Academic journal article Nursing History Review

Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the American Civil War

Article excerpt

Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the American Civil War By Margaret Humphreys (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) (197 pages; $40 cloth)

Military mortality rates during the Civil War led to sweeping changes in military medicine, nursing, and ultimately, civilian medicine. Many publications addressing Civil War soldier health and mortality focus more on the White soldier. However, within all troops existed a subgroup whose health has not had the closer examination of the whole: the Black soldier. The Black soldiers had higher mortality rates than their White counterparts. Margaret Humphreys's Intensely Human addresses and explores the reasons behind these higher mortality rates. The book's title derives from the reply of a military physician responding to the reasons for a Black regiment's susceptibility to disease and response to treatment.

Black soldiers were more likely to die than their White comrades as they entered the war with innate disadvantages of poor nutrition and immunologic isolation. Coming proportionally from a more rural environment on the whole from the White soldier, the Black soldier entered camp with an increased susceptibility to disease. Indifference to their deprivations encountered prior to camp and the sometimes calculated decisions made by authorities resulted in a greater death rate for the Black soldier.

Humphreys presents a compelling preface detailing the challenges faced in researching this particular group of soldiers within the larger Civil War archive. Recordkeeping was not exact during this time. Name changes among Black regiments were fluid in a way not seen in White regiments. Consistently short of medical personnel and probably led by less experienced officers, soldiers in Black regiments were an inherently higher risk group for recovery when injured or ill. Regiments led by conscientious commanders fared better. While researching the archives for information on Black soldiers' health, Humphreys found information specific to this group remains somewhat sketchy and anecdotal. …

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