By Jill Newmark
Featured title in our 2024 Book Talk Series!
Of some twelve thousand Union Civil War surgeons, only fourteen were Black men. This book is the first-ever comprehensive exploration of their lives and service. Jill L. Newmark’s outstanding research uncovers stories hidden for more than 150 years, illuminating the unique experiences of proud, patriotic men who fought racism and discrimination to attend medical school and serve with the U.S. military. Their efforts and actions influenced societal change and forged new pathways for African Americans.
Newmark presents all available information about the surgeons’ early lives, influences, education, Civil War service, and post-war experiences. Many of the stories overlap, as did the lives of the men. Each man, through his service as a surgeon during the war and his lifelong activism for freedom, justice, and equality, became a catalyst of change and a symbol of an emancipated future.
Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press (May 31, 2023)
Length: 312 pages
Individual biographies bring to light Alexander T. Augusta, who challenged discriminatory laws; William P. Powell Jr., who pursued a military pension for twenty-five years; Anderson R. Abbott, a friend of Elizabeth Keckley’s; John van Surly DeGrasse, the only Black surgeon to serve on the battlefield; John H. Rapier Jr., an international traveler; Richard H. Greene, the only Black surgeon known to have served in the Navy; Willis R. Revels, a preacher; Benjamin A. Boseman, a politician and postmaster; and Charles B. Purvis, who taught at Howard University. Information was limited for five other men, all of whom broke educational barriers by attending medical schools in the United States: Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed, William B. Ellis, Alpheus W. Tucker, Joseph Dennis Harris, and Charles H. Taylor.
Jill L. Newmark, independent historian, is a former curator and exhibition specialist at the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Her exhibits include “Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine,” “Within These Walls: Contraband Hospital and the African Americans Who Served There,” and “Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons.” She has published articles in Prologue and Traces, as well as online in Circulating Now and blackpast.org. Find more about her work at www.blackcivilwarsurgeons.com.
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