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Practicing Medicine in a Black Regiment

The Civil War Diary of Burt G. Wilder, 55th Massachusetts

edited by Richard M. Reid

Publication Year: 2010

In early 1863, in the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Massachusetts began recruiting black soldiers to serve in the Civil War. Although the first regiment formed, the 54th Massachusetts, would become the best-known black regiment in the war, the second regiment raised, the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, performed equally valuable service in the Union Army. Burt Green Wilder, a Boston-born, Harvard-educated doctor-in-training, was among the first white officers commissioned to staff the 55th Massachusetts. Like other officers serving in the state’s African American units, Wilder was selected for his military experience, his “firm Anti-Slavery principles,” and his faith in the value of black troops. From the time he joined the 55th in May 1863 until the regiment was discharged in September 1865, Wilder recorded his experiences and observations. He described the day-to-day activities of a Civil War surgeon, the indignities suffered by black enlisted men at the hands of a War Department that denied them the same treatment offered to white troops, and the role of the regiment in the campaign around Charleston and in Florida. Service in the southern states also allowed Wilder to indulge a passion for natural science and comparative anatomy, including the collection of unusual species, one of which—the spider known as Nephila wilderi—still bears his name. After the war he completed his medical studies at Harvard and joined the faculty of Cornell University, where he became a distinguished professor of zoology as well as an outspoken advocate of racial equality. In his introduction to the volume, Richard M. Reid analyzes Burt Wilder’s diary and places it within the context of the war, the experience of African American troops, and Wilder’s life and career.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

Some years ago, while working on North Carolina’s black Civil War soldiers, I made use of the extensive Burt Green Wilder Papers at Cornell University, including Wilder’s Civil War “diary.” The author’s account of life in the 55th Massachusetts during the early summer of 1863 certainly allowed me to better understand life in General Edward A. Wild’s ...

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pp. 1-46

... immediately following the outbreak of the American Civil War, young black men across the Northern states attempted to volunteer to fight against the Confederacy. Given widespread white racism, however, the government was unwilling in 1861 to use black troops. Just two weeks after Fort Sumter surrendered, Secretary of War Simon Cameron announced that “this Department has no intention to call into the service of the Government any ...

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The Civil War Diary of Burt Green Wilder, 1863-1865

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pp. 47-262

1. In June 1862, Wilder had entered the U.S. Army Hospital at Judiciary Square in Washington as an acting cadet. After three months of studying with Dr. Brown, he passed the required examinations to become a medical cadet. He was later detailed for special duty under surgeon John H. Brinton, “then engaged upon the Surgical History of the War. The Judiciary Square Hospital was one of the new pavilion-style hospitals built in 1862 at the ...

A Selected Bibliography of B. G. Wilder

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pp. 263-274


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pp. 275-282

E-ISBN-13: 9781613760352
E-ISBN-10: 1613760353
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558497399
Print-ISBN-10: 1558497390

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 12 illus.
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 794700502
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Practicing Medicine in a Black Regiment

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Subject Headings

  • United States. Army -- Surgeons -- Diaries.
  • Massachusetts -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Participation, African American.
  • Wilder, Burt G. 1841-1925 (Burt Green), -- Diaries.
  • United States. Army. Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, 55th (1863-1865).
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Medical care.
  • Massachusetts -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • Surgeons -- Massachusetts -- Diaries.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Participation, African American.
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