Empty Sleeves
Amputation in the Civil War South

Brian Craig Miller

How amputation influenced definitions of manhood, allowing dependency to be recognized as part of southern masculinity


"Some passages of this book are so deftly written. . . that they remind the reader of the importance of good writing to good scholarship. Brian Craig Miller has crafted a beautifully written and extensively researched book on a topic we must give greater attention: the bodily ramifications of the Civil War. Empty Sleeves is a powerful addition to a growing field of work."
—Sarah Handley-Cousins, The Civil War Monitor

"Miller's finest points are made in retelling the tragic stories of many of these Confederate soldiers, gathered from a thorough search through pension and medical records. Detailed footnotes and a comprehensive biography indicate that Miller has done his job."
—Robert Grandchamp, Blue & Gray Magazine

"This relatively short monograph includes thoughtful analysis of a variety of primary sources—surgical manuals, letters, memoirs, photographs, legislative records, and even Reconstruction-era theater—to offer a unique, wonderfully complex look at Southern wartime experiences, postwar policies, and changing ideas of manhood. . . . In all, Empty Sleeves is a fascinating and valuable addition to the historiographies of the Civil War and disability in the United States."
—Dea H. Boster, Journal of American History

"This is an excellent and timely book."
—David Silkenat, North Carolina Historical Review

"This impressively researched and well written book seeks to fill a glaring hole in Civil War historiography. . . . Empty Sleeves breaks new ground by exploring those consequences specifically for Confederate soldiers and Southern society writ large, with particular attention to the gendered nature of the surgery. . . . This extremely valuable study of the lives of Confederate amputees, the gender implications of their disabilities, and the societal responses to t he war wounded is very timely in our own day, when ,as Miller notes in his epilogue, more amputees are coming home from America’s wars in the Middle East than have since the war in Vietnam."
—Dillon J. Carroll, Michigan War Studies Review

“Miller has written a truly exceptional book that offers keen insights into the impact of amputation on soldiers, medical officers, women, and the state. This reader cannot find any major criticism of the book as it stands, for the author has written the book that he set out to write and has done so in a compelling and graphic manner. . . . Empty Sleeves stands as an excellent addition to the field and truly expands our understanding of the complex issues that arose from wounds and wounding in the American Civil War.”
—Ryan W. Keating, The Journal of Southern History

"Empty Sleeves belongs to a growing body of Civil War writing that goes beyond analysis of military campaigns, political machinations, unit histories, and soldiers' biographies, to look at the conflict's lasting impact upon cultural development, broadly defined. . . . The book is well researched, clearly written, and logically organized."
—Michael C. C. Adams, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"This book is written for a general audience and does not contain medical jargon as to make it unreadable. Indeed, the descriptions of surgery are highly detailed and in some cases sickening to imagine what both patient and surgeon went through on the battlefield. . . . Miller's finest points are made in retelling the tragic stories of many of these confederates soldiers, gathered from a thorough search through pension and medical records. Detailed footnotes and a comprehensive bibliography indicate that Miller has done his job."
—Robert Grandchamp, Blue and Glory

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The Civil War acted like a battering ram on human beings, shattering both flesh and psyche of thousands of soldiers. Despite popular perception that doctors recklessly erred on the side of amputation, surgeons labored mightily to adjust to the medical quagmire of war. And as Brian Craig Miller shows in Empty Sleeves, the hospital emerged as the first arena where southerners faced the stark reality of what amputation would mean for men and women and their respective positions in southern society after the war. Thus, southern women, through nursing and benevolent care, prepared men for the challenges of returning home defeated and disabled.

Still, amputation was a stark fact for many soldiers. On their return, southern amputees remained dependent on their spouses, peers, and dilapidated state governments to reconstruct their shattered manhood and meet the challenges brought on by their newfound disabilities. It was in this context that Confederate patients based their medical care decisions on how comrades, families, and society would view the empty sleeve. In this highly original and deeply researched work, Miller explores the ramifications of amputation on the Confederacy both during and after the Civil War and sheds light on how dependency and disability reshaped southern society.

Uncivil Wars

Page count: 280
20 b&w photos, 13 tables
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Brian Craig Miller is associate professor of history at Emporia State University. He is the forthcoming editor of the journal Civil War History and the author of John Bell Hood and the Fight for Civil War Memory and The American Memory: Americans and Their History to 1877.