Book Review: North Carolina’s Confederate Hospitals, 1861-1863, Volume 1

When Wade Sokolosky embarked on his ten-year research project to examine the organization of Confederate hospitals in North Carolina, he admirably adhered to some advice given to another historian: “Put in everything; no one will ever work over again the documents from which you draw your account, and what you omit will be permanently lost…”(p. ii) The resulting book, volume one of North Carolina’s Confederate Hospitals, 1861-1863, is packed to the brim with valuable information about nearly every military hospital that operated either in the state or in neighboring Virginia but specifically served North Carolinian troops. He doesn’t skimp over the details of the hospital, including when it was officially opened, which surgeons ran it, the number of beds, the supply situation, its role within the community, and even some additional human-interest stories about those who passed through its doors. Even when the history of some smaller hospitals have become lost to the depths of time, the author includes as much as he could find about the origins of the building and what little is known about its operations. Sokolosky provides a wealth of information about a rather niche subject that would fascinate those who are interested in the state’s history during the Civil War, or those who want to understand the medical side of the Confederate government.

North Carolina's Confederate Hospitals, 1861-1863, Volume I: 1861-1863, Volume I by Wade SokoloskyWhat I found most satisfying about the book was its inclusion of women and African Americans – free or enslaved – and their roles in Confederate hospitals.(p. 8) While the North has its Sanitary Commission and valiant heroines like Dorothea Dix and Clara Barton, Sokolosky draws attention to the previous unknown ranks of Confederate nurses who volunteered their time and efforts in the hospitals. He sprinkles their individual stories throughout the narrative, while he gives a general nod to those collective women of the community who helped to support the needs of the hospitals in their town. Wayside hospitals, those temporary hospitals set up to treat transient soldiers, for instance, were often the direct product of civilian women seeing a need and rallying others to fill it.(p. 115) Additionally, I liked the way that Sokolosky covered some of the debate over state-run and government-run hospitals, and how authority and rank were contested when policies changed as the war progressed. Beginning in the summer of 1862, the Confederate government transferred all state-operated hospitals in Virginia and North Carolina to the Confederate Medical Department, resulting in a change in how supplies were distributed and if the surgeons who operated in that hospital were on a state commission or part of the military.(p. 125-128)

Those looking for a detailed history of military events on North Carolina’s soil will be disappointed. Sokolosky warns in his forward that he purposefully did not spend much time explaining the battles, skirmishes, and raids in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean he omitted them completely. Instead, he explains the military actions through the lens of the surgeons and hospitals that were directly impacted by, say, Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside’s capture of Roanoke Island and his move toward inland North Carolina.(begin p. 76) The author gave the basics of the events, but spends much more time explaining how hospitals would be closed and patients relocated in the wake of the Union advance. It’s an aspect of war that is seldom talked about and I applaud Sokolosky’s coverage of these details.

Overall, the book is thoroughly researched and packed with footnotes that hold additional information apart from the general narrative. The books’ series of appendices also include interesting transcribed letters and correspondences between surgeons that add greater context to the inner politics of the medical department. It’s a shame that this volume only covers up to 1863, though the author has implied the forthcoming second volume to cover the remaining wartime years. Hopefully we will not have to wait an extra ten years before its publication.

 

North Carolina’s Confederate Hospitals, 1861-1863, Volume 1
by Wade Sokolosky
Fox Run Publishing, 2022, $32.95 Hardback
Reviewed by Sheritta Bitikofer



3 Responses to Book Review: North Carolina’s Confederate Hospitals, 1861-1863, Volume 1

  1. Thank you very much for taking the time to write this review. The good news is you won’t have to wait ten years for the next one. Volume II, which covers the last two years of the war, has an anticipated release date of November 2024.

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