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Bleeding Blue and Gray: Civil War Surgery and the Evolution of American Medicine 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0375503153
ISBN-10: 0375503153
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

During a 39-day period in the spring of 1865, 45,000 Union soldiers were killed or wounded. The wounded received the best care available at the time—care that by current standards is horrifying. In this fast-moving and informative book, Rutkow (Surgery: An Illustrated History) recreates the experience of the common Civil War soldier: it "was more sharply defined by agony, butchery, and loneliness than anything else." Simple gunshot wounds necessitated amputation; lack of antiseptics meant more soldiers died from postoperative infection than from their wounds. Communicable diseases ravaged the armies on both sides of the conflict. Rutkow charts the progress of the military medical system during the course of the war, focusing on the struggles (against political opposition) of Sanitary Commission director Frederick Law Olmsted to establish a humane and scientific system of care for the fallen. As Rutkow shows, such medical developments as the construction of hospitals and the specialization of surgery aided in the "professionalization of American medicine." With plenty of historical context, Rutkow's book should appeal beyond hardcore Civil War aficionados to a larger readership interested in a gritty, compelling story well told. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW.
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Review

“Ira Rutkow takes his place as our leading authority on Civil War Medicine. Utilizing his historian’s gift of a perspective that is panoramic even while it is detailed, he has given us a gripping narrative that flows with the rhythms of the best of well-told stories. This is a book that will enrich the scholar and fascinate the general reader. As for the Civil War buff — Bleeding Blue and Gray is not only essential, but unforgettable.” -Sherwin B. Nuland, M.D.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (April 19, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375503153
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375503153
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Informative. A pleasure to read. Rutkow is a genius though. His beautiful book, SURGERY, AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, is still his masterpiece and will always be a prize on my bookshelf. Other reviewers have already gone into great detail on the contents of this volume, so I will just say that if you are interested in some little-known facts, stats, and extreme in-depth coverage of medicine during the Civil War, this is the best place to start. You WILL find plenty here that is new and fascinating.
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Format: Hardcover
This book delivers a well written account of the politics and practices that led to revolutionary changes in American medicine during the Civil War.

Author Ira Rutkow is adept at exploring how medical realities taken for granted today, such as knowledge of bacteriology, a well defined concept of nursing, and a unified medical profession were all "rough drafts" of what exists today, if they existed at all.

One reads with shock how most "nurses" were wounded soldiers who cared for other wounded soldiers. In the era fifty years before women obtained sufferage in America, the nursing profession was rife with sexual harassment, incompetent leadership and riddled with more moral than medical concerns--that is, when women were included at all. It was fascinating to read that women nurses were valued more for their appearance (the ideal nurse was expected to be over 30 and "homely"--at least there was no ageism!) than any objective standards.

If nursing was abysmal, doctoring was worse. The author describes how gangrene was "cured" with undiluted hydrochloric acid, most injuries were treated with botched amputations, and everything else was "cured" with poisonous drugs like the mercury containing Calomel or tarter emetic that created "volcanic vomiting" and diarrhea, as per the allopathic concept of curing through purging and bleeding.

If that wasn't enough, different aid groups like the Sanitation Commission and the Christian Comission sabotaged each others' efforts in campaigns of backstabbing and malcontentery. These cynical machinations reached the highest echelons of U.S. government and advanced the careers of ambitious, unworthy men, while brushing visionary women and men to the wayside.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is an excellent look at a broad spectrum of Civil War medical issues. The author touches on the medical training of doctors in the 19th century, and even discusses the role of nurses in patient care at the time. Much of the information in the book was new to me, rather than a rehashing of common information, As a physician, I marvelled at how little the medical personnel of the time had to work with. The administrative structure of the Medical Corps is covered in almost too much detail, but this information is made more palatable by vivid portraits of some of the leading figures. I wanted this book to be longer-- I hope that Dr. Rutkown returns to writing soon!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent! What a research project that Dr. Rutkow undertook with this book and then gave it back to us in an interesting, informative read! Thought I might get bored with all the history details and names, but I did not. Funny how much of the major movements in healthcare came with our experiences with war. Thought Vietnam was primarily the determinate change, but the Doc shows us how medicine evolved during the Civil War, but stayed stagnant at the same time. Read the book!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a great book about the development of field care for the sick and injured during a time when it was not so common. Presented within the book is a review of past practices and development with an eye on current care principles. Rutkow is a great author providing complex medical topics with an eye on informing and making the information available.
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Format: Hardcover
Bleeding Blue and Gray is a great book. I read it several years ago and found it one of the most engaging and informative books on the history of medicine I have ever encountered. The author weaves so many different themes into the story that it leaves the reader wanting more. He writes it from someone a background in surgery but it is accessible to everyone.

I am writing this review now because I just went on Amazon to buy another copy as a gift and was amazed at how expensive it is. Presumably it is out of print. This is a book that should be available to everyone who cares about the history of the American civil war, the history of medicine, and the history and mission of the Army surgeon general, etc, etc. If it is not feasible to do another printing, surely an e-book is warranted.

In fact, writing this review has prompted me to resolve to read it again!
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Format: Kindle Edition
I would have rated this book more highly if not for the misleading title - there are no "Bleeding Gray" to be found anywhere. As the author states, it is understandable that the loss of the Confederate medical records during the fire resulting from the evacuation of Richmond is a roadblock to comprehensive research into CSA medical practices. It is also fair to point out that, since the South lost, there is no continuity of medical progress to be considered. However, there should be enough information available regarding Confederate medicine to have, at the very least, merited one chapter in this book. As I recall from the excellent Civil War series by Ken Burns, Chimborazo Hospital was considered to be the best facility on either side, and in some cases, wound dressings used by Southern medical personnel were more hygenic (scarcity of supplies lead to the use of Spanish moss, which when boiled, was rendered sterile). The author does acknowledge that Confederate mobile medical facilities were the precursers of modern MASH units, but the sum total of his investment into research of Southern medicine consists of a few sentences in the book's preface. Otherwise, this is a well researched, informative book, but the author should seriously consider rectifying the title for future editions.
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