For these men & their charges, laudable pus will be the least of their worries.
An intense and audacious tale of battlefield surgery, distressed surgeons,
and the insanity of life & death in the Civil War.
“Engaging, heart-breaking, & absolutely fantastic. A terrific book.”
—D. Buxman, a top 1000 reviewer & Vine Voice at Amazon
“What I like most about this book is that everything and everyone has a shade. There’s no absolute bad or good, just human, heroic, cowardly, robust, vulnerable, impervious, venal and just plain terrified and confused raw pain that matches the emotional and twangy verbal tones of the recurring characters as we follow them through the travesty and glory that was Gettyburg.”
—From a review on Amazon
It is the summer of 1863, and the greatest battle ever fought on American soil is in full tilt. Southern Pennsylvania has become one great grinding stone and thousands of dead or dying are its grist. In this tilted landscape, reputations are made, careers are ruined, and men and women are driven to the brink in the wake of two armies intent on killing one another. Yet opportunity is everywhere…
For the privates and officers who fight the battle, it’s a kill or be killed world, with salvation or damnation just a bullet away…
For one undertaker in particular, the dead are a canvas, and his ability to make a body reflect the living individual is nothing short of uncanny. For Jupiter Jones, the burgeoning dead themselves are the opportunity…
And finally, for one teenage former slave, alive only because his father had the courage to bury him, opportunity comes in the form of a ten-year-old boy with a creel and only one shoe, who may or may not be a ghost…
In the summer of 1863, humanity itself is under siege. What happens amid the carnage and human flotsam of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, will be unholy, unnerving, and all but unbearable, with only this certain: not one among them will escape unscathed.
Here, hell is in session.
And it’s the devil’s own day.
“McDaniels’ fine Civil War novel is not the world of Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant or even Abraham Lincoln. McDaniels’ Gettysburg is a microcosm, a seething world of its own from which no player escapes.”
— P.B. Sharp, an Amazon Top 500 Reviewer
~ THE CHARACTERS ~
Ezra Coffin, a severely wounded Union soldier, has never seen his infant son, and perhaps never will…
Major Tom Jersey, a Confederate officer, awakens terribly mangled in the aftermath of combat, his only companions: the wounded enemy, without whom he can’t survive, and the ghost of his son—who may be his only means of escape…
Major Solomon Hardy, chief surgeon, who stands at the tables until his health fails—then watches over his own dying son…
Major Josiah Boyd, a gifted surgeon but a flawed man. His time behind the knife may cost him everything—and his patients even more…
Captain Tobias Ellis, his courage under fire makes him a hero, but he may just be the most flawed of all—and the most dangerous…
Liza Coffin, who isn’t eighteen, but already has been a homeless orphan, a mother, and perhaps now a widow too…
Jupiter Jones, showman extraordinaire, itinerant undertaker, and reader of the dead. His healing Oil, acquired from the equatorial coast of West Africa, may be the real thing…
And finally Cuuda Monk, a teenage boy and former slave, alive today only because his father had the courage to bury him when the end came. His visions of the boy with the creel may make him the sanest man in the land—and just may be the means to all their salvation…
It is the summer of 1863 and humanity is under siege. What happens next amid the carnage and human flotsam will be unholy, unnerving, and all but unbearable.
It is the summer of 1863 and everything is about to change.
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Surgeon Josiah Boyd leaned toward the corner, pressed his tongue against his lips, and spat. Reflex mostly, something he did without thinking whenever the need presented, which was often. The gob splattered against the wall, joining the smear of juice already there. Assistant Surgeon Tobias Ellis gave little thought to the smear of tobacco, keeping his mind on the task at hand. Like Boyd, his hands and forearms were streaked with the blood of scores of men. They looked raw, almost skinned.
“Artery clamp.” Boyd stretched a palm out in waiting.
Tiny, the surgeon’s helper, was a heavyset kid in his early twenties, though he looked younger. His experience put the lie to his appearance. He’d spent the better part of two years—the worst part of a lifetime—with the field hospital. He rummaged in the dirty water of the basin even as he held a chloroformed mask over the patient’s face. His fingers made quick work in the cool, blood pink water, finding the instrument by feel. He slammed the clamp into Boyd’s hand with a sharp smack and Boyd squeezed the clamp around the femoral artery as Ellis lifted the great vessel out of its bed, the thrum of the pulse fighting back from within. The clamp clicked as it locked, and the artery beyond the obstruction went limp. “Ligature,” Boyd said with a practiced calm.
Major Josiah Boyd was old for his thirty-eight years. His hair had thinned up top and he hadn’t shaved in days. He was of lanky build and sallow complexion, possessed of a long drawn-out face almost ghoulish in its particulars, with prominent cheekbones high under his eyes. His lower jaw had been twice broken (once by a horse, once by a man) and poorly set. It jutted obtrusively and his teeth came together at an angle somewhat off the expected, so that the whole of his face looked skewed. His hands were large and his fingers long and spindly like the legs of a great spider. They were economical in their wanderings across the surgical field however, with no waste of motion.
The soldier on the table lay on his back. He was insensible to the workings both around and upon him, heavy under the influence of a chloroform-soaked towel. Boyd and Ellis worked quickly at their labors, their movements looking somewhat frantic at times. They had about them a look of resigned experience, showing both intolerable exhaustion and inordinate energy at the same time. They’d been working feverishly at one task or another since first light a dozen hours before. Their efforts had made not a dent in the line of men awaiting their services. At times, they worked so fast and the wounded spent so little time before them, it seemed they were cutting the same man over and over again.
Tiny passed the silk ligature and Ellis encircled the artery twice with it, just above the clamp. His fingers blurred with movement as he tied the thread and occluded the artery. He repeated the exercise on the thinner-walled vein beside it. Tiny retrieved a pair of scissors from the basin and slapped them into Ellis’s hand even before the man could ask for them. The assistant surgeon divided the vessels—artery and vein—below the ligatures and removed the clamp.
They had cut away the soldier’s trousers and filleted his thigh to the bone midway between hip and knee ten minutes before. Now, with the last of the muscle and flesh parted and only the bare thigh bone joining the lower leg to the upper, the amputation was complete in all but fact. Only the saw cut remained.
“Capital saw,” Ellis said, and out of his side vision he caught Boyd turning to spit again. This time he had time to consider the action, something he’d seen Boyd do a thousand times in a dozen hovels just like this one. In the instant before the handle of the bone saw struck his palm, Ellis wondered at the incongruities of the man who was his direct senior. He had ‘good hands’. Goddammit that ain’t true, Ellis thought, he’s more than that, a genuine honest-to-God born surgeon. Ellis had seen a lot of men work the tables in his almost two years as an assistant surgeon and Boyd was, hands down, the best cutter out there. But it was also true the man had odd ways. Like his want to chew during surgery, which perhaps wasn’t all that bad, except it meant he was always spitting. And there was his habit of spacing out in the middle of an operation. He’d suddenly walk away from the table, turn his back to the room or go behind a wall, then reappear before too long as if nothing had happened. Except something had happened, Ellis would always think. At such times Boyd looked different. Certainly not better, and not worse (or probably not worse, he’d had occasion to think a few times—and how curious was that?). Just different. It showed most in his hands, which looked somehow, he tried to think of the correct word, revitalized? Was that it? Upon returning to the table, those hands, which had seemed worn and tired, would now be spirited and quick to perform. But it was Boyd’s eyes that bothered. Once the surgeon reappeared, Ellis always found those eyes…unsettling. As if Boyd’s eyes had developed an unpleasant ‘lag,’ a sort of disparity with his hands. As if the one had given to the other, Ellis suddenly thought. He swallowed hard then, tried to put that absurd notion out of his head. A fevered product of his own exhausted mind, he decided. After all, once a battle was joined and the bloodletting began, there was never enough rest.
Tiny put the saw in Ellis’s palm and he came back to the moment. He curled his fingers around it—they seemed to have conformed to it over the endless months of the war—and went to task on the soldier’s femur. Boyd held the meat of the leg out of the way as Ellis laid the business side of the saw against the lower end of the bare thighbone and began to run it back and forth. The blade’s teeth bit at the glistening bone with a gritty feel and flecks of ivory dust and crimson blood peppered the air as he worked. The sawing took more force than Ellis supposed it should and he made a mental note to have Tiny replace the blade before the next patient. When he’d about sawn through the whole of the femur, the remnant snapped with the pop of a dry twig and the leg fell away. Tiny stuffed a wad of lint against the bleeding stump as Boyd removed the now useless limb.
Tiny anticipated the request and passed it without hesitation. Ellis grasped the narrow, five-inch flat metal file and worked the roughened side against the sharp edges of the bony stump. When he was satisfied with its appearance and feel, no sharp edges to work through the skin later, he nodded at Boyd, who took a quick feel as well. “That’ll do,” the senior man said. Ellis handed the file back to Tiny and Boyd took up an amputation knife—its long, sharp edge might easily slice a ham—and carved away a bit of remaining muscle and flesh on the back of the thigh, until he was satisfied with the look and feel of the flap to lay over the stub of bone.
They continued to work largely in silence, with no idle chit-chat. Ellis removed the lint from the end of the sawn bone. Satisfied the wound was not oozing too much blood, the surgeons flapped the skin up and approximated the edges with several silk stitches placed an inch apart. Ellis dressed the incision with a plaster cap and Tiny fanned the man to purge the chloroform from his system. A quick whiff of liquor of ammonia served finally to bring him back to consciousness, where upon he began to groan. Judging the man was safely over the effects of the chloroform, Boyd dribbled a few drops of laudanum, a sweet concoction of opium and alcohol, on the soldier’s tongue to dull him to the agony of the hours to come. Ellis had seen its effect on men time and again. Some the laudanum slept, others it simply relaxed. Ellis himself had taken it once or twice to kill a headache. Its effect had felt something akin to salvation—removing him from the horrors of the field hospital and the tussle of war, albeit transiently. Good stuff, he thought, and dangerous. Too much of that could turn a man out.
A pair of stretcher bearers stepped forward and lifted the patient with only a bare afterthought of gentleness, grabbing him under his butt and armpits. The man’s grunts as they carried him outside to be deposited alongside the other unfortunates were lost in the chaos of the battlefield hospital. Boyd stood off to one side of the room, several men interposed between he and Ellis. Ellis watched as the surgeon put his hands out, looking at the trembling, blood soaked palms as if they might suddenly fall off. Another of Boyd’s odd behaviors. There followed a curious moment in which Boyd looked about, spotted Ellis, and slipped awkwardly out the back of the building.
Another soldier was placed on the table. As Tiny pressed a cloth over the man’s nose and mouth and chloroformed him, Ellis probed the wound in his calf with a stiff finger, feeling for splinters of bone and the ball that had done the damage. The soldier winced, not quite under yet. As Ellis pulled his finger from the man’s innards, Boyd appeared at the side of the assistant surgeon and chuckled in an odd, not at all funny way. “The truth of the flesh,” he said, or something very much like it. Ellis couldn’t be sure. It was a small thing, but as Boyd called for a scalpel, it disturbed Ellis nonetheless and he had no idea why.
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