Book Review: Health of the Seventh Cavalry: A Medical History


by P. Willey and Douglas D. Scott, editors

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015. Pp. xxxii, 446. Illus., maps, tables, append., gloss., notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 080614839X

Health and Medical Care in the “Indian Fighting Army”

Both in cooperation and separately the editors have several works to their credit on forensic and battlefield archaeology, such as They Died with Custer, Archaeological Perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and Mystery of the Bones, and in this work have collected more than a dozen essays on various aspects of medical history and battlefield forensics related to the 7th Cavalry, which provide important insights into the lives and deaths of men in the army on the frontier, and the state of American medicine in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

After an interesting introduction discussing the purposes of the book, there is an essay that covers the history of the 7th Cavalry. This is followed by two papers on medical practice, one on the state of medicine in late-nineteenth century America and one on the contemporary classification of diseases by military physicians, a matter of some importance since the germ theory of disease was not yet firmly established. These are followed by a discussion of the medical records available for the regiment and another giving an overview of the personnel of the regiment.

There follow seven essays discussing the individual categories of disease or injury in the regiment, such as malaria, cold injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, and even post-traumatic stress. These address the prevalence of the various disorders, problems of diagnosis, and treatment, which was often harsh.

The four concluding essays cover what can be learned from comparing an examination of the battlefield remains with the regimental medical records, a comparison between the medical problems of the men of the regiment with those of the troops in the rest of the army, a look at the medical problems of urban America in the day, and a thoughtful conclusion.

While perhaps too esoteric for the average reader, or even the ardent “Custer “buff,” this will prove of interest to anyone studying military life in the Frontier Army of the history of military medicine.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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