Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A New Way of Looking at Civil War Medicine

As a chemist by training and profession (for 21 years), I consult journals and other literature almost on a daily basis. As a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry, one of my favorite tools is PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, which contains keyword-searchable access to bibliographic information, abstracts, and/or full-text for millions of articles from several thousand medical and scientific journals.

Several years ago, on a lark, I entered the phrase "Civil War" as a keyword and was amazed at the number of references that were returned. As PubMed carries citations as far back as the 1950s, there was definitely some "dated" material. But what was most interesting was that there was a good amount of current research on medicine in the Civil War, including new looks at old cases.

Civil War medicine was already one of my special interests by then, and I was certainly aware of classics such as Doctors in Blue and Doctors in Gray; I had never thought, however, to consult the current issue of the Journal of Urology! Thinking that many others interested in Civil War medicine either weren't aware of these new reports, or didn't have ready access to them, I pitched an idea to Kathryn Jorgensen, editor at The Civil War News, for a new column for their paper: "Medical Department." The mission of the column would be to bring to the general Civil War audience some of this interesting new research. I also took time to interview the doctors, nurses, and scientists who wrote the articles, so that the column included additional and fresh information.

The first column was about two surgeons who took a new look at the accidental wounding of James Longstreet in The Wilderness in 1864. That was in the September 2000 issue, and I have been writing the column regularly ever since. The most enjoyable part of the experience has been corresponding with the authors whose work I'm bringing to light. Many of them are Civil War enthusiasts themselves who have mixed that interest with their professional expertise. I was especially happy to meet a number of my interview subjects in person this past March at the 14th Annual Conference of the Society of Civil War Surgeons in St. Louis.

I'll post that first column - "Who Shot J.L.?" - later today.

Jim