Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mending Broken Soldiers

By Guy R. Hasegawa

During the American Civil War when heavy lead bullets slammed into their targets, shattering bones and ripping apart muscle, the damage was catastrophic.  Field surgeons of the time were unable to repair such wounds and amputation was the easiest, quickest, and in all likelihood, best option when a Union or Confederate soldier found themselves shot in the arm or leg.  Four years of fighting saw bloodshed on an unprecedented scale.  Eye witness accounts of piles of arms and legs outside field hospitals after battles during the war are numerous.  What we consider unsanitary surgical practices today, coupled with yet to be discovered microorganisms, caused infections which many amputees simply did not survive.  But what about the soldiers, who wore the blue and the gray, who did survive missing one or more limbs?
With his latest book, Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs, Guy R. Hasegawa, coeditor of Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine, director emeritus of the Society of Civil War Surgeons and a member the board of directors of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, has written a detailed account of the Union and Confederate programs to supply their wounded warriors with serviceable prosthetics.

Mr. Hasegawa’s remarkably detailed research covers both the Union and the Confederate efforts to supply their maimed soldiers with artificial legs and arms, their manufacturers, their  manufacture and durability, the approval process, their costs, their fitting, and their maintenance.  No stone of this long neglected topic is left unturned.  The narrative is tilted more towards the Union efforts rather than the Confederate, but that can easily be explained by the North’s superior record keeping and surpluses of manufacturers and material over their Southern counterparts.

The author’s narrative is supported by two appendices: Makers and Inventors Associated with the Union and Confederate Artificial-Limbs Programs; and Artificial Limbs and Resection Apparatus Supplied to U.S. Soldiers and Sailors by May 10, 1866.

Too often many books published on the Civil War have subtitles such as “The Untold Story of the Civil War,” and most are topics that have been written about again and again. Guy Hasegawa’s “Mending Broken Soldiers” is one work that can justly claim (though it does not) that it is an “untold story” of the Civil War.

ISBN 978-0809331307, Southern Illinois University Press, © 2012, Hardcover, 160 pages, Photographs & Illustrations, Appendices, End Notes, Bibliography & Index. $24.95.  Click HERE to purchase this book.

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