Surgeon in Blue: Jonathan Letterman, the Civil War Doctor Who Pioneered Battlefield Care

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9781611458398: Surgeon in Blue: Jonathan Letterman, the Civil War Doctor Who Pioneered Battlefield Care

Jonathan Letterman was an outpost medical officer serving in Indian country in the years before the Civil War, responsible for the care of just hundreds of men. But when he was appointed the chief medical officer for the Army of the Potomac, he revolutionized combat medicine over the course of four major battles—Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg—that produced unprecedented numbers of casualties. He made battlefield survival possible by creating the first organized ambulance corps and a more effective field hospital system. He imposed medical professionalism on a chaotic battlefield. Where before 20 percent of the men were unfit to fight because of disease, squalid conditions, and poor nutrition, he improved health and combat readiness by pioneering hygiene and diet standards. Based on original research, and with stirring accounts of battle and the struggle to invent and supply adequate care during impossible conditions, this new biography recounts Letterman’s life from his small-town Pennsylvania beginnings to his trailblazing wartime years and his subsequent life as a wildcatter and the medical examiner of San Francisco. At last, here is the missing portrait of a key figure of Civil War history and military medicine. His principles of battlefield care continue to be taught to military commanders and first responders.

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About the Author:

Scott McGaugh, the marketing director of the USS Midway Museum, is a veteran journalist and the author of Battlefield Angels and several books on the USS Midway. His television appearances include the History Channel, Discovery Channel, and Fox TV, and he gives public speeches and travels regularly for the museum.


“McGaugh provides military history buffs, particularly those interested in military medicine, with a well-rounded picture of a man who greatly influenced our delivery of medical care for wounded warriors.” (Library Journal)

“McGaugh provides telling details within a concise narrative to give Letterman's personal story the context necessary for appreciating his influence . . . By following Letterman from one bloody battle to another, McGaugh's well-researched book adds a sobering tone to the 150th anniversary of a conflict that advanced medical care at a terrible cost.
” (Associated Press)

“In addition to being an incisive portrait of the great doctor and leader, McGaugh’s history is a testament to the brave men to whom Letterman dedicated his life.” (Publishers Weekly)

“A nicely crafted biography that also offers Civil War buffs an unusual ambulance-wagon view of the great conflict.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“As medical director of the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War, Jonathan Letterman made important innovations in the battlefield evacuation and treatment of wounded men that changed the history of military medicine. With sensitivity and insight, Scott McGaugh presents the story of this fascinating figure and his legacy, which has saved uncounted thousands of lives of soldiers wounded in many wars.
” (James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom)

Surgeon in Blue is a meticulously researched, totally fascinating narrative of Dr. Jonathan Letterman’s pioneering of modern battlefield medicine in the midst of the nightmare carnage of the Civil War. Scott McGaugh’s extraordinary work of military history documents a life-saving legacy that still echoes through Iraq and Afghanistan.
” (Richard Setlowe, author of The Experiment and The Haunting of Suzanna Blackwell)

“There was not a day during WWII that I did not thank God for Jonathan Letterman. He was truly a surgeon for the soldiers.” (Major General Paul R. Hawley, Chief Surgeon, European Theater of Operations)

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