Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grudging Witnesses

"Louisa May Alcott and Walt Whitman served as nurses and eyewitness reporters in the hideous Union hospitals in Washington, D. C. Alcott contracted typhoid in the septic wards and wrote Little Women, about the daughters of a father wounded in the war, while treating herself with mercury. Whitman ministered to the needs of wounded soldiers while also keeping a careful visual record of everything he saw, 'this other freight of helpless worn and wounded youth,' as he wrote to Emerson. 'Doctors sawed arms & legs off from morning till night,' he reported in his journal. He was dismayed to see 'a heap of feet, arms, legs, etc., under a tree in front of a hospital.' As he moved from bed to bed in the overcrowded wards, he was shocked by the youth of the victims. 'Charles Miller, bed 19, company D, 53rd Pennsylvania, is only sixteen years of age, very bright, courageous boy, left leg amputated below the knee.'
     The remarkable medical photographs of the Civil War surgeon-photographer Reed Bontecou—now published in their entirety for the first time [Shooting Soldiers: Civil War Medical Photography By R.b. Bontecou by Stanley B. Burns] and recently shown at The Robert Anderson gallery in New York—bring us closer still. Bontecou, from Troy, New York, was a classifier of seashells and an ornithologist who had traveled in the Amazon before the war collecting specimens. A pioneer in surgical procedures known for the dexterity and speed of his operations, he was also a photographer of genius. His iconic image, 'A Morning’s Work,' shows a pile of amputated legs he himself had sawed off earlier that day."
— Christopher Benfey, The New York Review of Books

"A remarkable number of well known authors were ambulance drivers during World War I. Among them were Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, E.E. Cummings, and Somerset Maugham. Robert Service, the writer of Yukon poetry including The Shooting of Dan McGrew, and Charles Nordhoff, co-author of Mutiny On the Bounty, drove ambulances in the Great War. [...]
     If the list were expanded to include those working in medically related fields during the war, such names as Gertrude Stein, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and E.M. Forster could be added."

No comments:

Post a Comment