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Books, Journals, New Media
September 8, 2004

Civil War, Illness

Author Affiliations

Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(10):1240-1241. doi:10.1001/jama.292.10.1240

More than 620 000 American soldiers died between 1861 and 1865, a cost as great as all other US wars combined through Vietnam. One of four soldiers died of disease, and another 500 000 men were left permanently disabled. In Rehabilitating Bodies: Health, History, and the American Civil War, Lisa A. Long analyzes the physical and psychological significance of this human slaughter and carnage.

Long begins on July 21, 1861, when hundreds of District of Columbia residents packed picnic lunches to view the first Civil War battle. Expecting victory, these picnickers soon panicked as shells exploded around them and the equally frightened Union soldiers retreated. Accounts of what happened at Bull Run were intent on imposing some order on the panic and confusion. However, because the war was "shockingly unreal, unpredictable, and ultimately untellable," such accounts failed. This first scene becomes a symbol for the war's destruction and chaos and the tens of thousands of books have tried to recapture, reenact, and rehabilitate Civil War bodies since that time.