“I Hope to Do My Country Service”
The Civil War Letters of John Bennitt, M.D., Surgeon, 19th Michigan Infantry
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: Wayne State University Press
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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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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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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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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 ...
1 “I Am Not Very Anxious to Go into the Army”
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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; ...
2 “I Am Near the Land of ‘Dixie’”
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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. ...
3 “Our Regiment Is Completely Destroyed”
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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, ...
4 “I Am Beginning to Like the Service”
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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 ...
5 “We Are Here among Secessionists”
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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 ...
6 “Poor Rebels!—Poor Rebeldom!!”
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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, ...
7 “We Expect to Be Soldiers in Earnest Now”
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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 ...
8 “The Rebels Mean to Make an Obstinate Resistance Here”
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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. ...
9 “A Glorious Future Awaits Our Country”
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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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APPENDIX B: “Timely Aid Rendered”
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APPENDIX C: Calendar of Bennitt Letters
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Page Count: 440
Publication Year: 2005