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“I Hope to Do My Country Service”

The Civil War Letters of John Bennitt, M.D., Surgeon, 19th Michigan Infantry

Edited by Robert Beasecker with a foreword by William M. Anderson

Publication Year: 2005

In 1862 at the age of thirty-two, Centreville, Michigan, physician John Bennitt joined the 19th Michigan Infantry Regiment as an assistant surgeon and remained in military service for the rest of the war. During this time Bennitt wrote more than two hundred letters home to his wife and daughters sharing his careful and detailed observations of army life, his medical trials in the field and army hospitals, dramatic battles, and character sketches of the many people he encountered, including his regimental comrades, captured Confederates, and local citizens in southern towns. Bennitt writes about the war’s progress on both the battlefield and the home front, and also reveals his changing view of slavery and race. Bennitt traces the history of the 19th Michigan Infantry, from its mustering in Dowagiac in August 1862, its duty in Kentucky and Tennessee, its capture and imprisonment by Confederate forces, its subsequent exchange and reorganization, its participation in the Atlanta and the Carolinas campaigns, its place in the Grand Review in Washington, and the final mustering out in Detroit in June 1865. John Bennitt’s significant collection of letters sheds light not only on the Civil War but on the many aspects of life in a small Michigan town. Although a number of memoirs from Civil War surgeons have been published in the last decade, “I Hope to Do My Country Service” is the first of its kind from a Michigan regimental surgeon to appear in more than a century.

Published by: Wayne State University Press


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pp. vii-viii

List of Maps

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

Since the publication of Bell I. Wiley’s two signal works on the common soldier, The Life of Johnny Reb and The Life of Billy Yank, readers and military historians have been interested in allowing soldiers to tell their story. Bruce Catton followed Wiley’s lead in using firsthand observations of soldiers gleaned from regimental histories ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

There are many people I wish to thank for their assistance and encouragement, but two individuals need special mention at the outset. First of all, gratitude must be expressed to Harvey Lemmen, who located and purchased the Bennitt letters and diaries for Grand Valley State University Library. ...

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pp. xv-xxiii

The Civil War is arguably the defining event in the history of the United States. It has had enormous impact on the history of this country and still projects its influence on American culture, society, politics, and the national psyche to the present day—and undoubtedly will far into the future. ...

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Editor’s Note

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pp. xxv-xxvi

Although for the most part John Bennitt’s letters are well written, they do exhibit some literary idiosyncrasies. His spelling is not always standard; for example, he consistently spells “cannon” as “canon” and is often heedless of the rules of capitalization. I have left his spelling as it is, adding missing letters within square brackets ...

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1 “I Am Not Very Anxious to Go into the Army”

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pp. 1-44

Dr. John Bennitt’s letters to his wife, Lottie, and daughters Clara and Jennie begin the day he arrives in Ann Arbor to take classes in the Department of Medicine and Surgery at the University of Michigan. He has left his family and medical practice ostensibly to “improve” himself professionally; ...

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2 “I Am Near the Land of ‘Dixie’”

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pp. 45-84

In August, Bennitt enlists as assistant surgeon in the 19th Michigan Infantry, which is in the process of mustering in Dowagiac. It is not known exactly what transpired in the thirty-nine days after Bennitt wrote from Port Huron to convince him that a military commission was more desirable than remaining in private practice. ...

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3 “Our Regiment Is Completely Destroyed”

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pp. 85-130

Assistant Surgeon Bennitt, through his conscientious medical work, continues to be in demand at the divisional hospital at Nicholasville and is ordered to Lexington to assist at the General Hospital in treating the wounded from the December 1862 Battle of Murfreesboro. The divisional commander, however, who wants to retain Bennitt’s medical services, ...

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4 “I Am Beginning to Like the Service”

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pp. 131-170

After the 19th Michigan has been reorganized and officially exchanged, it is ordered to Nashville, Tennessee, and from there to rejoin Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland as it begins the Tullahoma campaign against Bragg’s Confederates. Bennitt learns of the imminent resignation of the regiment’s surgeon ...

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5 “We Are Here among Secessionists”

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pp. 171-220

At Murfreesboro, Bennitt notices the passage of Union regiments from the Army of the Potomac on their way to reinforce Rosecrans’s army currently besieged at Chattanooga. At the end of October the regiment is ordered to McMinnville, Tennessee, to garrison the town that is astride a Confederate communications route ...

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6 “Poor Rebels!—Poor Rebeldom!!”

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pp. 221-252

The new year finds Bennitt still in McMinnville, reporting that the winter is colder than normal. Smallpox has begun to appear, and he is vaccinating both the regiment and the town’s citizens. The 19th Michigan is reassigned to the 11th Army Corps, and there are rumors that the regiment will be sent elsewhere, ...

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7 “We Expect to Be Soldiers in Earnest Now”

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pp. 253-288

Although Bennitt enjoys the quiet garrison duty at McMinnville, with the coming of spring he expresses a desire for the regiment to be put into the field against the enemy. By the third week in April, the 19th Michigan is ordered south toward Chattanooga to join other Union regiments concentrating for what will become General Sherman’s ...

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8 “The Rebels Mean to Make an Obstinate Resistance Here”

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pp. 289-336

Sherman’s army continues its advance into Georgia, and the 20th Army Corps, including the 19th Michigan, is engaged in a number of battles before Atlanta is finally captured in September. Bennitt describes these maneuvers and battles from his vantage point at the divisional and brigade hospitals. ...

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9 “A Glorious Future Awaits Our Country”

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pp. 337-378

After his medical examinations in Cincinnati, which are bracketed by two short visits to Centreville, Bennitt is sent to Charleston, South Carolina, until he can make his way to the 19th Michigan and Sherman’s army, which is now engaged in the Carolinas campaign. He is assigned as chief surgeon to a mixed brigade ...

APPENDIX A: “When Will My Dear Husband Come Home to Remain?”

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pp. 379-382

APPENDIX B: “Timely Aid Rendered”

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pp. 383-384

APPENDIX C: Calendar of Bennitt Letters

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pp. 385-390


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pp. 391-394


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pp. 395-409

E-ISBN-13: 9780814337349
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814331705

Page Count: 440
Illustrations: 6
Publication Year: 2005