Monday, December 9, 2019

Book Review: 'An Imperfect Union' by Georgiann Baldino

American author Georgiann Baldino has a passion for history and the effect critical events have on people. In addition to writing (and she appears to have written at least forty-seven books ranging from history to suspense to travel) she is a people person: she co-facilitates a journaling support group at Edward Cancer Center and in addition to writing novels she authors magazine article of various subjects and gives presentations and provides workshops in her area.

Georgiann opens her tremendously impressive book with a note to her readers that bears sharing: This novel shows the American Civil War through the eyes of two real people, a surgeon and volunteer nurse. The first person is Dr. Frederick Dudley, who held a variety of medical positions for the Army of the Potomac from August 23, 1862, until May 31, 1865. Most of that time he served as a regimental surgeon for the 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, which fought in some of the conflict’s worst battles. The second main character of the book is volunteer nurse Cornelia Hancock, whose introduction to warfare came in the aftermath of the deadliest battle, Gettysburg. Cornelia adapted to harsh conditions better than most volunteers and continued to serve in field hospitals for nearly two years. At the time Fred Dudley attended medical school, medicine was emerging from the Dark Ages, but new research prompted some doctors to question therapies in use. The need to wash hands and sterilize instruments did not become known until after the War. Doctors did not understand the roles bacteria, viruses or insects played. Their cures were ineffective or even harmful. No one realized pathogens lived outside the body and spread from one person to another. The Civil War’s staggering death toll transformed the practice of medicine, as surely as it transformed hearts and minds. Fred was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, and Cornelia came onto the field to care for the men in his division. Fred’s courage impressed Cornelia, and her dedication impressed him. After Fred recovered and returned to duty, he convinced the corps medical director to send for her. Cornelia lived at the division hospital during winter encampment and stayed near the army as much as possible. Several times Union officials sent her home, but Cornelia found ways around the restrictions and returned. Living near army camps was a scandalous thing for an unmarried woman to do in 1864, but Cornelia and Fred became comrades. The concern Cornelia expressed for Fred in her letters to family also indicates an intimate relationship. Cornelia’s biographer Henrietta Stratton Jaquette writes, “There is room, perhaps, for speculation over a bundle of letters which were left at her death ‘to be burned without reading.’ Her real interest in Dr. Frederick Dudley with whom she worked in the Hospital at Brandy Station is apparent.” They relied on each other to get through the War’s darkest days. As fighting dragged on, Fred battled disease and surgical complications while Cornelia also fought against the injustice of slavery. Living through the ordeal created spiritual and emotional bonds. However, like many veterans, Fred and Cornelia found it hard to return to civilian life. After fighting ended, healing hearts and minds was more difficult than they imagined. An Imperfect Union shows two people, serving side-by-side and struggling to do their duty. The story portrays battles as they happened, but characterization, thoughts and dialogue turn it into fiction. To write a historical novel an author recreates voices and emotions appropriate for the time period. Apart from the well-known people, events and locales in the narrative, all the names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or have been used fictitiously. Resemblance to events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Fred Dudley’s Military Service Record, obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. is the timeline for the book. Medical and surgical case histories were excerpted from The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, Part III, Volume II, Surgical History as well as other sources.’

Rarely has the medical field in the Civil War been so carefully and lovingly examined. The story is excellent but it is the raising of the Curtain on the medical aspects of that period that will assure this novel finds a permanent place in every caring person’s library. Grady Harp, October 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.