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Can honour set to a leg? no: or an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is honour? a word…King Henry IV. Part I. ACT V Scene 1.

A surgeon’s Civil War : the letters and diary of Daniel M. Holt, M.D. Kent, Ohio : Kent State University Press, c 1994 Daniel M. Holt, M.D. : edited by James M. Greiner, Janet L. Coryell & James R. Smither United States History Civil War, 1861-1865 Medical care Hardcover. xvi, 289 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 272-276) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Unidentified soldier in Confederate captain’s uniform with black[sic] cuffs to indicate that he is a surgeon… Library of Congress photo


Daniel M. Holt, a successful country doctor in the upstate village of Newport, New York, accepted the position of assistant surgeon in the 121st New York Volunteer Army in August 1862.  At age 42 when he was commissioned, he was the oldest member of the staff.  But his experience served him well, as his regiment participated in nearly all the major campaigns in the eastern theater of the war — Crampton’s Gap before Antietam, Fredericksburg, Salem Church, the Mine Run campaign, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign, and Appomattox.

Photograph shows deformed leg of a Private of Company G, 7th New York Volunteers, who was wounded at South Side Railroad, near Petersburg, Virginia, on March 31, 1865, by a conoidal musket ball… Library of Congress photo

In A Surgeon’s Civil War, the educated and articulate Holt describes camp life, army politics, and the medical difficulties that he and his colleagues experienced.  His reminiscences and letters provide an insider’s look at medicine as practiced on the battlefield and offer occasional glimpses of the efficacy of Surgeon General William A. Hammond’s reforms as they affected Holt’s regiment. He also comments on other subjects, including slavery and national events. Holt served until October 17, 1864 when ill health forced him to resign.

Embalming surgeon at work on soldier’s body… Library of Congress photo

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