Swamp Doctor The Diary of a Union Surgeon in the Virginia & North Carolina Marshes
William Mervale Smith, MD, surgeon of the 85th New York Infantry, was a true child of the Victorian upper middle class: prissy, self-contained, opinionated, and dedicated to duty and honor. Smith's introspective musings cover matters both professional and personal, from the horror of battle and the almost equally terrible politics of war to his deepest longings and questions about love and spirituality. In private he ruminated on the possible infidelities of his fiance back in New York, and wrote her almost every day, warning her against attending too many parties. In public, he was a hard-working dedicated surgeon, busy all day with the sick and wounded.
His descriptions of the Battle of Kinston, North Carolina, and the Siege of Washington, North Carolina, are useful additions to combat literature. Luckily for him, he was home in New York when his entire regiment was captured and sent to Andersonville. At home, he married his fiance, who was not only faithful, but outlived him by twenty years. During his twelve post-war years as chief medical officer at Ellis Island, he saved New York City from devastating epidemics.
By modern standards, his life was boring: no sex scandals, no lurid divorces, no malpractice suits. Just unwavering attention to duty, a life style nearly extinct today. While some diarists wrote self-consciously, anticipating eventual publication of their words, Smith's entries, as author Thomas Lowry explains, "are of such a personal and self-revelatory nature that we can reasonably conclude that he wrote to himself alone, as a sort of spiritual exercise of self-communication." 2001, Stackpole Books, 256 p.