“ It ’ s the sort of book that is a pleasure for people like me to read — people with children , and too much to do — because it gives the impression of being divided into manageable sections .”
frontier posts , whose only official capacity for the army was as laundresses . She details stories of army wives , hospital matrons , daughters and mothers , giving names and faces to their stories of the struggle of long separations from their husbands on duty , the fear of constantly giving birth on the frontier , the isolation of the wilderness , and the communities they forged .
One such chapter tells of Dr . Mary Walker , the only female recipient of the Medal of Honor to date , who was a contract army surgeon during the Civil War . Dr . Walker was denied a job with the Army Medical Department , whose requirements for surgeons included that they be exclusively male . Walker was the only female graduate of her class in medical school in 1855 , and one of only a handful of female doctors in the country at the time . The army was willing to have her as a nurse , however , and later as a contract surgeon . Dr . Walker was nominated for the Medal of Honor by two generals , including William Tecumseh Sherman , after treating soldiers on the battlefield at great personal risk . After crossing enemy lines to care for her patients , she was captured and spent four months as a prisoner of war at Richmond , before finally being traded for a Confederate surgeon .
She was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Andrew Johnson in 1865 at the age of 33 , but the U . S . government tried to rescind it in
George and Concepcion Bentley , who lost all seven of their children in the diphtheria epidemic in Fort Davis .
1917 when the eligibility requirements were changed . Dr . Walker refused to return it , wearing it until her death two years later at the age of 86 . Her niece lobbied tirelessly to have the honor reinstated posthumously , and President Jimmy Carter finally did so in 1977 .
Smith ’ s book is divided into short chapters and written in an accessible , conversational style . It ’ s the sort of book that is a pleasure for people like me to read — people with children , and too much to do — because it gives the impression of being divided into manageable sections . I found myself thinking , “ I ’ ll just read a chapter or two , here and there .” I could have done this , if it weren ’ t so easy to just keep reading . Instead , I gladly read the book in its entirety in two sittings . Each story is both highly personal and historically informative , with little “ factoids ” on nearly every page devoted to the science , history , local lore and medicine of each chapter ’ s subject . Full of beautiful historical photographs , the stories are alive with the people who lived them . Each chapter ends with a list of documents and sources under the heading “ Further Reading ,” providing tantalizing avenues that lead deeper into each story .
History is really just a record of facts , but what we synthesize from those facts is what informs our present . While I learned a great deal about Victorian frontier medicine ( it ’ s amazing how many ailments opium , arsenic , alcohol and lead were used to treat ), the real takeaway from Frontier Medicine at Fort Davis and Other Army Posts for me was the fortitude of the people who settled this region ; the hardiness , hopefulness and resilience that still characterize their descendants , and all those of us who have since traveled the pathways they carved for us from the frontier wilderness .
Frontier Medicine at Fort Davis and Other Army Posts : True Stories of Unglamorous Maladies by Donna Gerstle Smith , published by The History Press , is available at all major booksellers . �
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