Interview: Guy R. Hasegawa, “Mending Broken Soldiers”

22 10 2012

I first became familiar Guy Hasegawa through his collaboration with Jim Schmidt on Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine. At Jim’s request Guy sent me a copy of his new book, Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs. OK, well, after I dropped a not very subtle hint to Jim on Facebook, that is. It’s a slim volume, only 80 pages of text with another 45 pages of appendices, notes, etc., but it’s chock full of good stuff all in answer to a question which perhaps you never actually considered – how did governments and industry satisfy the explosion in demand for artificial limbs brought about by the Civil War?

BR:  Guy, can you start off with a little background?

GH: I was born and raised in Santa Monica, CA, and received a B.A. in zoology from UCLA and a doctor of pharmacy degree from UC San Francisco. Further pharmacy training and jobs accounted for a series of moves eastward until I landed in suburban Maryland, where I have worked since 1988 as an editor for a pharmacy journal. I’ve published numerous articles on pharmacy and medical topics. My historical articles started appearing in 2000, and I collaborated with my good friend Jim Schmidt in editing and contributing to Years of Change and Suffering. I’m honored to serve on the Board of Directors of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (NMCWM) and am a Director Emeritus of the Society of Civil War Surgeons (SOCWS). My wife and I have two college-age sons. Our remaining family member is of the canine persuasion – a male Belgian Malinois.

BR: How did you get interested in studying the Civil War?

GH: I think I’ve always been interested in military history. The Civil War Centennial started when I was nine, and I remember ordering a map – by mailing in some cereal box tops, I think – that showed the location of various battles and had portraits of generals around the border. I didn’t really start studying the war, though, until I moved to Maryland and began visiting battlefields and other sites. After seeing NMCWM in Frederick, MD, I volunteered my services there and was assigned, because of my pharmacy and editorial background, to research and write a panel for a display of medicinal herbs. The Museum referred me to Dr. Terry Hambrecht, an expert on Confederate medicine, who became a friend and mentor and continues to be an invaluable sounding board and information resource. The herb project required examination of primary reference sources, and I soon became hooked on the challenge of finding obscure information and trying to make sense of it. I began attending and lecturing at NMCWM and SOCWS conferences and writing historical articles based on my research. The members of these organizations are knowledgeable, encouraging, and eager to hear about each other’s research. Interacting with them has taught me a lot and helped me differentiate between tired topics and those that warrant further investigation.

BR: Why prosthetics?

GH: Much of my research has been on the Confederate medical department, and I have spent considerable time at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility in Washington, DC. While scanning NARA holdings, I became aware of the record book of the Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers (ARMS), which I later learned was the wartime Southern organization that provided artificial limbs to amputees. I promised myself that I’d examine the volume when I had time, and once I did, I concluded that ARMS would be a good topic for an article or talk. A little more thought convinced me that the corresponding Union program also needed to be researched, and it eventually dawned on me that there might be enough material altogether for a book, especially if I included a description of the limbs industry. I didn’t start with an intention to learn about prostheses, but the story told by the records was too good not to relay. Because of my familiarity with Civil War medicine, I was pretty certain that the topic had not been explored in-depth and that I could handle it without wandering too far outside my areas of expertise.

BR: What will most folks, regardless of their experience studying the Civil War, learn from Mending Broken Soldiers?

GH: Mending Broken Soldiers is unique in numerous ways. It describes in detail the wartime efforts of both North and South to assist military amputees. Most of the existing literature deals with the postwar Southern programs, and the few brief descriptions of the wartime programs are incorporated into discussions of the social aspects of amputation and prosthetics.

My primary goal was to describe what happened and why, but this story cannot be appreciated without a basic understanding of prosthetics – how they were produced and by whom – so the book describes the intensely competitive limbs industry and includes an appendix of the makers important to the story. People interested in invention and technology should enjoy learning how the limbs were constructed and how makers used mechanical innovations and marketing to gain a competitive edge. I’m not aware of another modern work that provides this sort of information. One can find old articles and books about artificial limbs, but many of them were essentially advertising pieces and none, to my knowledge, provides a balanced overview of the business.

The book also serves as an effective case study demonstrating how the vast differences between the North and South influenced the respective programs’ ability to attain their goals. Constructing and distributing artificial limbs required, among other things, technical know-how, administrative competence, industrial capacity, manpower, raw materials, adequate transportation, and money. Although the Southern limbs effort did not lack for administrative ability and zeal, the book neatly illustrates how deficiencies in those other factors compromised the program. The tribulations of the Southern program provide insight about the difficulties that plagued other aspects of the Confederate war effort. Mending Broken Soldiers features a slew of illustrations, many of which have not previously appeared in print. The publisher has posted lists of soldiers who applied for or received an artificial limb through the programs. These lists, which are available at no cost, convey some idea of the war’s human toll and may be useful to genealogists and others who are researching individual soldiers. Readers looking for a connection between past and present will learn that today’s programs to supply prostheses to service members arose from the efforts described in Mending Broken Soldiers. Those interested in famous military men will learn something new about Union cavalryman Ulric Dahlgren and Confederate generals N. B. Forrest, J. B. Hood, and R. S. Ewell. The book is not just for Civil War medicine enthusiasts.

BR: Can you describe the project and what you learned along the way that surprised you?

GH: My research started in mid-2009 and continued until I submitted the final manuscript about two years after that. It would have taken much longer if I had not already been familiar with Civil War medicine and with some of the resources at NARA and other repositories. A major difficulty, common to much Civil War research, was the incompleteness and scattering of records and the difficulty of piecing together documentary evidence into a cohesive story. Much of the documentation I used was in the form of letters that had to be gathered from various sources and put in chronological order to get a picture of events. The U.S. Surgeon General’s records were particularly troublesome because they are massive and require you to look in registers and indexes to find possibly pertinent letters, which are often mis-filed. All this takes time because of the limits that NARA puts on the number of records you can request – not to mention the mental fatigue that sets in after a few hours of trying to read strange handwriting in disappearing ink. I was dismayed at my inability to find some vital reports to the Surgeon General, without which I’d have to make some risky inferences. These were referred to but not filed with the Surgeon General’s correspondence, and I almost gave them up for lost when I discovered them among records of the Adjutant General. Another obstacle was the lack of cooperation from an important archival source, which I will not name. I eventually got what I needed, but it was like pulling teeth.

Since I started with no knowledge about the limbs programs, everything was new and interesting. One of the neat things about the Union records was correspondence from prominent physicians – guys you hear about when studying the history of medicine, like Valentine Mott and Samuel Gross. I had no idea that ARMS, a civilian agency, was administered by a Confederate surgeon. This helped explain why the organization operated as well as it did, and it also accounted for the ARMS documents showing up among official Confederate records. I was surprised at the difficulty that ARMS had in finding decent artificial limbs to copy. There must have been Southerners wearing high-quality Northern prostheses, so I’m perplexed about why they were so hard to locate. I was also surprised that when amputees were given a choice, after the war, between a replacement prosthesis and cash, the vast majority took the money. The archival material is sprinkled with bits of unexpected information, and many of these nuggets made it into the book.

After a while, any researcher starts to see that the investment of time is yielding less and less new information. I reached a point at which I considered the narrative fairly coherent and detailed enough for most readers. I also had a deadline for submitting a finished manuscript, so that forced me to halt further research and devote my remaining time to cleaning up my writing and making sure all the pieces were in place. At this point, I don’t think I omitted anything important.

BR: You’ve covered some of this above, but can you expand on your research and writing process, and where you found your information?

GH: The bulk of my research was conducted at NARA. I transcribed nearly all of the Confederate material I found into Word documents. This greatly facilitated later reading and made it possible to use the search function to locate pertinent documents or passages. I should have done the same for the Union documents but didn’t. Beyond that, I cast a wide net to gather as much pertinent information as I could and always tried to trace it back to its original source. I consulted the Official Records and the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion and searched the Surgeon General’s Index Catalogue (the predecessor of Index Medicus). Google books and other online sources provided lots of leads and many complete documents, including government reports. Fold3, a great online source for Confederate compiled service records, census records, and city directories, saved me many trips to NARA. I’m lucky to be close not only to NARA but also to other important information sources that I visited or contacted for this project. These included the National Library of Medicine, Library of Congress, National Museum of Health and Medicine, and NMCWM. I used WorldCat and other sources to identify libraries and other repositories holding important documents, and in almost all cases, I successfully obtained electronic or mailed copies.

As an editor, I often advise aspiring authors to write an outline and not to worry too much about eloquence or style when preparing initial drafts. My own practice is pretty much the opposite and did not change with the book even though it was a larger project than my articles. While I’m reading and organizing my stacks of references, I picture how the information is coming together and how it can best be arranged. By the time I actually begin writing, I know what I want to do with only a mental outline. For the book, I created a decent draft of one chapter before starting on the next, and the order in which I wrote the chapters depended on how complete my information was for the subject at hand. As I wrote, I discovered holes in the information or in my understanding of the topic, and this prompted additional research or reexamination of the sources. I also refine organization and wording constantly, starting with the first draft, so a piece of my writing is altered scores of times before I’m happy with it. I don’t recommend my approach, and it has probably worked for me only because my projects have been relatively small.

BR: Is there another Civil War related book in your future?

GH: I have another possible book in mind that would allow me to use a lot of material I’ve collected over the years on Union and Confederate medical purveying. As is the case with Mending Broken Soldiers, I’d like the material to demonstrate how conditions forced the two sides to take different approaches. I also want the work to be relevant to a wide range of readers, not just those specializing in Civil War medicine. Until I figure out how to do all of that, I won’t know exactly what the book will cover or how much more research I’ll need to do. For now, I’ll be promoting Mending Broken Soldiers, attending Civil War medicine conferences, and keeping my eyes open for something new to research.

Thanks, Guy, for a truly enlightening look into how Mending Broken Soldiers came about!

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2 responses

23 10 2012
Jim Schmidt

Harry – Great interview with my good friend, Guy Hasegawa! As hinted in the interview, Guy is an expert user of archives and he has given me essential advice that has made my own archive visits more productive. From an interview I did with him myself several years ago:

“First, do your homework, and be as specific as possible in stating your research interest,” he told me…His second suggestion is to allow plenty of time: “It takes time to locate microfilm or have paper records retrieved,” he said. He also noted that Civil War documents are generally handwritten and are difficult to read quickly. In short, he concludes: “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that any sizable project can be done in one day.”

His expet use of NARA an dothers ources really shows up in Mending Boken Soldiers, an I loved how in your interview he was able to explain how some letters are misfiled, etc., but can still be found.

Really great questions you asked, Harry. Well done.

23 10 2012
Harry Smeltzer

Jim, I was surprised at the level of detail Guy gave on his research and writing techniques – it was just what I was looking for!

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