Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hambrecht & Reimer, eds.: "CALEB DORSEY BAER: Frederick, Maryland’s Confederate Surgeon"

[Caleb Dorsey Baer: Frederick, Maryland’s Confederate Surgeon edited by F. Terry Hambrecht, M.D. and Terry Reimer (National Museum of Civil War Medicine Press, 2013). Softcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 238 pp. ISBN:978-0-9712233-7-0 $17.95]

Doctor Caleb Dorsey Baer, a native Marylander and 1848 graduate of Jefferson Medical College, moved to Dover, Missouri with his young wife sometime between 1852-55. In Lafayette County, Baer did double duty as Justice of the Peace and practicing physician. When a clash with the federal government seemed imminent, he joined the Missouri State Guard, a move unpopular with his Unionist family back east. With the commencement of hostilities, Baer was appointed regimental surgeon with two different commands and he also helped administer a military hospital in Carthage.  When the pro-secessionist Missouri state military apparatus was scaled down, Baer joined the Confederate army. He was Staff Surgeon attached to the 9th Battalion Missouri (Pindall's) Sharpshooters, regimental surgeon with the 9th Missouri Infantry of Mosby Monroe Parsons's brigade, and later occupied a string of other divisional and brigade level postings until disease took his life on August 30, 1863.

Like many Civil War diarists, Dr. Baer frequently comments on matters far outside his own sphere of duties. While he certainly does in many places mention his medical department responsibilities and health problems, Baer devotes greater space to military events, personalities, and places encountered while on the march. He writes some informative passages about the Battle of Wilson's Creek and the Lexington siege, but his discussions of the battles of Carthage, Helena (Ark.), and Dry Wood Creek should draw special attention. Baer's accounts of his medical role at Carthage (and accompanying hand drawn maps of the locations of his field dressing stations) and Helena add a new dimension to the source information available for those battles, while his description of the Dry Wood Creek fight is more detailed than those found in most published histories. Some of the most extensive and vividly written passages [the one relating his observations of the crossing of the Boston Mountains was particularly memorable] document a long journey, accompanied by General Parsons, to Memphis. However, upon arrival, Baer seemed almost to have been forgotten by his superiors and no explanation of the mission's original purpose is offered.  The whole episode is rather indicative of chaotic organization of the Confederacy's Trans-Mississippi war effort, especially early on.

Baer's written opinions expose many of the provincial qualities that marred relations between Trans-Mississippi allies. He expresses nothing but contempt for Confederate General Benjamin McCulloch (a sentiment returned in spades by the Texan, who never reserved a kind word for Missouri state forces) and high praise for MSG commander Sterling Price. Baer also has little positive to say about Arkansas forces, who fought side by side with Missouri state forces on several occasions, accusing them of not possessing the same spirit and fighting qualities of their friends to the north. He also has a low opinion of the patriotism of Memphis's civilian population, believing them to elevate crass money concerns above all thoughts of the welfare of the Confederacy. In one of his rare moments of directing venom toward a fellow Missourian, the doctor labels General John S. Marmaduke a coward, intimating that it was a widely shared opinion*.

The original Baer diary, with its many missing pages and drawings (all of which are noted in the book), was in rough physical shape as well before been stabilized and preserved by the archive specialists at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. For this publication, editors F. Terry Hambrecht and Terry Reimer have transcribed the source writing as closely as possible, with spelling corrections in brackets, and have reproduced good scans of the two surviving map sketches. Rather than scholarly annotation, the footnotes mainly consist of providing the full names of those mentioned only by last name in the text. Sidebar micro-biographies and event descriptions are also scattered about.

The Baer diary's informative qualities largely outstrip those of the average published Civil War primary source, making Caleb Dorsey Baer: Frederick, Maryland’s Confederate Surgeon an important new tool for those researching Confederate Arkansas and Missouri [though one wishes the title, which strongly implies eastern theater related subject matter, better represented the geographical focus of the content]. Additionally, the publication of Missouri State Guard material of any kind is very rare, and this book constitutes a notable contribution to that body of literature. Highly recommended.


* - Marmaduke had many faults as a general, but this is the first reference to actual cowardice that I've encountered anywhere, leading me to speculate its source to be some sort of personal animus.

[ Thanks to Jim Schmidt from Civil War Medicine for bringing this book to my attention. His own views on it can be found here ]

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