Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott

Suzie Eisfelder

This is a book I bought during my American trip in 2019. We were staying with my Travelling Companion’s cousin close to Harpers Ferry, not Harper Valley. Harpers Ferry had a federal armoury. In October 1859, John Brown lead some people to capture the armoury, it was supposed to be the first stage of an independent stronghold of freed slaves. After a couple of days of fighting they were captured or killed. John Brown and his surviving abolitionists were hanged. This provided a martyr for the abolitionist cause and was also the start of the Civil War. Following the Civil War it was in ruins, some of the town has been restored and is now a tourist site. I found it an interesting place to visit. The Gift Shop was really great. At my age I find very little that I absolutely need to buy, except for this book.

This book was very important to me. I’ve read a number of books by Louisa May Alcott. She wrote the Little Women series which were a part of my childhood. I always felt some sort of kinship with them as there were four girls in the family and four in mine. But these books were set around the Civil War in America and that had nothing in common with me, but I still loved them. One of the girls marries a man who goes away to fight in the Civil War. I have often wondered why those parts felt so real, reading this book I now understand.

Alcott went to become a nurse during the Civil War. She put her time and health were here mouth was and went to work. She had little real nursing experience, something which didn’t seem to stop people back then.

Reading this book gives a real flavour of what it must have been liked to be a nurse following the Battle of Fredericksburg. It was a dreadful battle with heavy casualties. Alcott would have seen people with holes in various parts of their bodies. She details some of this and how she treated them, as well as how one doctor took off limbs that would not have healed.

Despite that there’s very little actual blood or gore depicted. It’s sensitively written. Some of her wording had me giggling. She talked about one young lady with some issues with blood and gore and no stamina to speak of, she was dismissed. Alcott gives a summation of where she might be best suited ‘I…fancy a comfortable bandbox on a high shelf would best meet the requirements of her case.’ I feel Alcott had a fairly low esteem for this lady.

I love this book because of all the real history in it, and also because of where I bought it. A good souvenir of an important place in America.

If you’re hankering after a bit of real history, or some words by Alcott I’d totally recommend this book.


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