Thursday, August 9, 2007

Elmira and Abu Grahib: The Sins of Our Fathers?

Just saw a citation on PubMed about a new journal article that promises to be most interesting; a link to the abstract can be found here:

The Civil War POW Camp at Elmira, NY, has been the subject of several recent studies, including Michael P. Gray's The Business of Captivity in the Chemung Valley: Elmira and Its Civil War Prison (Kent State University Press, 2001) and Michael Horigan's Elmira: Death Camp of the North (new edition, Stackpole, 2006).

Jesse Waggoner, a recent Duke University School of Medicine graduate, won the Osler Medal from the American Association for the History of Medicine for the paper, and according to the abstract he goes much farther than just a biographical sketch of Sanger, the prison's chief surgeon:

"This article places his actions at Elmira in the context of medical ethics, Army orders, and Northern opinion in 1864, and it will argue that the lack of Federal response to Eugene Sanger's poor record while serving at the prison set a precedent for inferior medical care of POWs by American military physicians."

I'm looking forward to receiving the article soon and will provide an update as soon as I've had a chance to read it in full.

Best Regards,

Jim Schmidt


Anonymous said...

Comparing Elmira to Abu Grahib is like comparing apples to corn - both were brutal, true, and there is a record of deliberate harsh treatment of the inmates. But Elmira is in a different context than AG was, I think. It's kind of like comparing Missouri guerilla bushwhackers to extremist insurgents today. Similar tactics, but totally different motivations and context.

Unknown said...


As always, thanks for reading the blog and for your comments.

I finally got a copy of Dr. Waggoner's paper and a chance to read it thoroughly.

To be fair, Dr. Waggoner was not comparing conditions at the two prison (Elmira and AG); he does have a provocative thesis - that the behaviour of some Civil War physicians at POW camps - he uses Sanger as an example - provided a bad example that resulted in institutionalized neglect among physicians that manifests itself to this day.

Personally, I think it's a stretch and that he doesn't provide enough examples in the nearly 150 years in between. I'll try and flesh that out in a future blog post (right now I'm a day's drive away - on the other side of Texas - getting my daughter settled in at school) and hopefully in an interview.

For my part, the best part of the paper is his description of the unique moral dilemma that POW camp surgeons face...between patriotism and giving "aid and comfort to the enemy."

Please keep in touch!

Jim Schmidt

The Cranky ED said...

You have to remember that during the CW, many people looked at the opposing side's troops in the same way we look at "extremist insurgents" . The context is not as different as you would like to think.