Thought I would put together a short reading list for those of you watching Mercy Street. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Rather, it offers a few suggestions to help get you started. Feel free to add further suggestions in the comments section below.
George Kundahl’s Alexandria Goes To War: Beyond Robert E. Lee offers a fairly comprehensive look at the city that serves as the setting for the show, but it does not delve much into the African-American experience.
There are a number of good books on Civil War hospitals. Shauna Devine’s Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science is the perfect place to start. Devine is a historical adviser for Mercy Street and this book recently won the SCWH’s Tom Watson Brown Book Prize. I also highly recommend Brian Craig Miller’s book, Empty Sleeves: Amputation in the Civil War South, which provides the most thorough analysis of this procedure and the soldiers’ experience.
On nursing during the Civil War, start with Jane Schultz’s book, Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America along with the diary of Harriet Eaton, who after Antietam served as a nurse in Virginia with the Army of the Potomac. For a look into the experiences of women who served as nurses to Confederate soldiers, see A Confederate Nurse : The Diary of Ada W. Bacot, 1860-1863 edited by Jean Berlin.
The African-American experience in Alexandria is a bit more difficult to nail down. For analysis of how the early stages of the war impacted Lincoln’s outlook on slavery and federal policy, start with Eric Foner’s award-winning, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. Although set in Washington, D.C. Kate Masur’s book, An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C., should give you some sense of what was going on in Alexandria given its proximity to the capital. Start with Andrew Ward’s, The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves, for how the slaves themselves experienced the war in 1862.
Mercy Street is set in the spring of 1862 as the Union army was making its way up the Virginia Peninsula toward the Confederate capital of Richmond. Many of the fugitive slaves or contraband fled this part of the state as a result of this large military presence. Glenn Brasher’s book, The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom, does a wonderful job of explaining the impact of Union policy on the lives of slaves and the shifting federal policies. Forthcoming studies by Chandra Manning and Thavolia Glymph will likely give us even more insight into the experiences of contraband slaves.
For an overall understanding of the Virginia Peninsula Campaign of 1862 start with Stephen Sears’s To The Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign. You may want to add Gary Gallagher’s edited collection of essays on the campaign, which includes two chapters that are directly relevant to the show.
That should do it. Again, feel free to add your suggestions below.