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  • More Than Paper and InkConfederate Medical Literature and the Making of the Confederate Army Medical Corps
  • Lindsay Rae Privette (bio)

When the Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal first appeared, in January 1864, it flourished. Despite the challenges of war, shortages of materials, and scarcity of labor, the Journal survived its first year of publication and lived to see 1865. Preparing to pen his first editorial of the new year, James B. McCaw marveled that "the circulation of the Journal … surpassed any reasonable expectation" and encouraged his fellow "physicians of the South" to continue their contributions. "If the Journal fails" he warned, "the fault shall be laid to the door of the Southern profession, who refused to … shew themselves true lovers of their calling."1 To McCaw and other physicians living in the Confederate States, this was more than a wartime publication. It was a symbol of nationalism, proof of intellectual independence, the foundation for a Confederate medical community that would outlive the war; and as of January 1865, it was the only southern medical periodical in publication.2 Its success was crucial to the future of Confederate medicine.

Over the years, historians have struggled to understand the nature of Confederate nationalism. They have sought to determine when it began and when it ended, who participated in its construction and how it related to the war effort. Some have even questioned its existence entirely. However, many historians agree that forging a national identity was essential for the Confederate project. Traditionally, nationalism has been characterized as a political tool, vital to proving the legitimacy of the Confederacy, but there were also cultural implications.3 By creating a national [End Page 30]

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Frontispiece, Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal, 1864.

identity, southern whites attempted to define and reinforce their own cultural values while advertising them to the world. Recent scholarship has taken to examining this cultural nationalism in an effort to trace how it was created and who was involved. Since print culture has long been a favorite source, several historians have sought answers in southern and Confederate literature. These studies examine southern intellectuals' efforts to reduce the South's reliance on northern print culture in a quest for a Confederate intellectual independence.4 Originally, they met with limited [End Page 31] success. Yet, when secession exposed the cultural and intellectual weaknesses in Confederate society, intellectuals worked diligently to strengthen them. In doing so, they struggled to provide the Confederacy with one of the mainstays they thought essential to a healthy nation-state: a thriving intellectual community.5

It seems obvious that southern physicians were among those intellectuals who had an opportunity to shape—and be shaped by—Confederate nationalism. Yet, until recently, their voices have been largely ignored.6 This is mostly due to a lack of public dialogue among Confederate physicians during the early years of the war.7 But by 1864, much literature had already been published and distributed among professional circles in the medical community, namely, the Confederate Medical Department. This literature, trumpeting physicians' importance in sustaining the Confederate nation, capitalized on antebellum anxieties to earn the allegiance of Confederate surgeons. By 1861, the American medical community had been engaged in a twenty-year "reformation" to reclaim professional authority by defining clear credentials for practicing physicians.8 During this process, southern physicians suffered a twofold identity crisis. They were engaged in the usual struggle to redefine and validate their professional careers while at the same time concerned for their status as intellectuals in a profession seemingly dominated by northerners. This need to establish their authority as both professionals and southerners continued after secession and became a dominant goal of the Confederate Medical Department. While the department's primary concern was always to organize, train, and regulate a medical corps capable of sustaining the Confederate war effort, it did so by appealing to a communal patriotism. Declaring that dedicated physicians were vital to winning the war, the Medical Department argued that the creation of an independent and self-sustaining medical community helped legitimate Confederate sovereignty. Ultimately, it would be through this process [End Page 32] that Confederate physicians could build their...


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