Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Civil War Surgeon's Diary - Caleb Dorsey Baer - New Book

I had the great pleasure of recently receiving a review copy of a new book from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine Press: Caleb Dorsey Baer: Frederick, Maryland’s Confederate Surgeon.

The book is a transcript of the wartime diary of Dr. Baer, ably edited by Terry Reimer and F. Terry Hambrecht, M. D., both associated with the Museum (Reimer as Director of Research and Hambrecht as Senior Technical Advisor).

The book is a bargain at only $17.95 for 238 pages including index, bibliography, illustrations, and exceptional content as I detail below.  It is available directly from the Museum bookstore (301.695.1864).

A description of the book from the publisher:

The diary and letters of Dr. Baer open a window into a little-known aspect of the American Civil War. Caleb was born in Maryland and served in Missouri, both of which were border states with divided loyalties. Caleb served initially with the Missouri State Guard, a pro-Confederate force, and later with Confederate States Army units from Missouri, but his family members in Frederick County, Maryland, were staunch Union supporters. The split within the family created by this difference of opinion was not overcome before Caleb’s death in 1863. These never-before-published documents show a human side to the Civil War, including the toll the war took on families, magnified through the always-changing fortunes of the border states.

My review:

The book consists of an Introduction with biographical details on Dr. Baer and his family and excellent section on the diary's provenance: acquisition, transcription, and donation to the Museum.

The first part of the diary (from June 1861 to October 1861) details Dr. Baer's service with the Missouri State Guard; the second part of the diary (October 1861 to March 1862) details Dr. Baer's travels as he waited for another assignment with the Confederate Army.  From September 1862 until his death in August 1863, he served as a surgeon at the regimental and brigade level with Missouri troops.

The book also includes the transcripts of letters from Dr. Baer to his family.

Each of the parts is rich in different kinds of detail.  The first part has excellent first hand accounts of some of the early fighting in Missouri, including the Battles of Carthage, Wilson's Creek, and Lexington.  This aspect alone makes this book of a previously unpublished diary a valuable resource for those interested in that part of the Civil War in terms of people, places, events, and medical content. Indeed, this appealed to me greatly:  I lived in Missouri for several years and visited the battlefield park at Wilson's Creek several times. is description of the disposition of the Union dead after the battle is grim but interesting.

The second part of the diary, in which he is unattached from the service, is also interesting in that Dr. Baer was exceptionally literate and politically astute: he comments often on the state of affairs in the Confederacy as a whole, disparaging those not sufficiently committed to the cause; he comments often on newspaper coverage of battles and does not hold back in criticizing some of the generals in the western theater.  

The letters are rich and very moving, providing detail on his work, the schism between himself and his Unionist family in Maryland, and the circumstances surrounding his death from disease in 1863.

The diary is annotated with details on some of the principal people and places mentioned; call out boxes provide some additional detail as well; the book also includes illustrations of people and places mentioned in the diary.  Among the best illustrations are some hand drawn maps from Dr. Baer's diary.

I also appreciated the slightly larger font than usual, which made for easier reading on my (aging) eyes.

No book is perfect, and it could have used a better eye in terms of formatting; the book is organized by diary page with (unnecessary) page breaks resulting in disrupted text and a lot of unused white space.  It's important to note that this does not detract from the utility of the book as an important document, previously unpublished and now accessible.

I hope we'll see more ofthis type of publication from the NMCWM Press.

Thank you to the Press for sending me a review copy.



Readers of this blog know that I happily support the Museum and its many resources and outreach efforts...you can read previous posts:

My interview with NMCWM Executive Director George Wunderlich here.

My interview with Dr. Robert G. Slawson about his own NMCWM Press book, Prologue to Change: African Americans in Medicine in the Civil War Era, here.
My coverage of their excellent annual conferences here.

The royalties of my (co-editor/contributor) book, Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine (Edinborough Press, 2019) were donated to the Museum.  You can read about Dr. Hambrecht's excellent contribution to Years of Change here.

1 comment:

Mark said...

What a great primary source:) It looks liek it covers some overlooked parts of the war as well, very neat:)