Special Ordering Information

The list price of Surgeon on Horseback, if ordered from the publisher, is $29.95 plus shipping. However, I can offer a special price through this website: HALF-PRICE, plus book rate postage. That is, I will mail a signed book to you for $15.00 plus $1.50 = $16.50 each.

Please mail your order, check included to:

James W. Wheaton
2405 Franciscan Drive #33
Clearwater, FL 33763-3232

General Information

In 1861 Dr. Charles Brackett left the peace and security of the family farm in Rochester, Indiana, for the great adventure of his life: defending the Union as a surgeon with two cavalry regiments. Throughout his service he recorded events almost daily in his journal and wrote often to his wife, Margaret. These letters and the journal have been preserved, and much of what he wrote is presented in this book.

He joined the First Indiana Cavalry in August 1861, and proceeded with them to St. Louis, where the regiment encamped just north of the fairgrounds. The regiment moved down to Pilot Knob, Missouri in September, but Dr. Brackett resigned his commission, "having no wish to remain where so much clashing of opinion prevails" and returned home. In January 1862 he went to Chicago to join the Ninth Illinois Cavalry, of which his younger brother, Albert Gallatin Brackett, was colonel, and two other brothers, Joseph and Dr. James, were officers. Dr. Charles Brackett remained with the Ninth Illinois Cavalry for the next year as they moved with the armies of Steele and Curtis south through Missouri and into Arkansas, and he accompanied units of the Ninth as they went up White River in January 1863 after the surrender of Arkansas Post. Overwork and constant exposure to the elements during this particularly cold winter resulted in his death at Helena, Arkansas on February 20, 1863. He left a widow and five young children in Rochester.

This unusually full and poignant collection includes not only Dr. Brackett's notes on medical procedures and movements of his regiment, but his observations of the character of the people he meets in places such as Pilot Knob, Missouri, and Pocahontas, Jacksonport, and Helena, Arkansas. He treated not only Union soldiers, but rebel prisoners; he delivered the baby of a slave woman. Throughout his writings comes his strong conviction that he is doing the right thing, no matter what his personal sacrifice.

Every new student of the Civil War, every inveterate buff, everybody interested in the human predicament in wartime will welcome this gripping collection, which throws light on Civil War medicine in specific detail, and provides first-hand information about a part of the war that has received little attention. It also--since the outcome was tragedy for his family--shows what it meant in human terms to offer up one's life for reasons of simple patriotism and duty.

The following is an excerpt from the Introduction to Surgeon on Horseback,published in March 1999 by Guild Press of Indiana. (For information about the descendants of Dr. Charles and Margaret Brackett, go to the Brackett Genealogy.)

The book is approximately 250 pages, hardbound, and illustrated with maps and photographs.

Dr. Charles Brackett background

Provenance of letters


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I would give all I have in this world except wife, & children to have peace once again, & I fear that Peace we will not have for some years. We are bound to succeed finally but it will be a long struggle unless our mode of fighting is changed. Our scout is just in with twelve prisoners, & horses caught beyond Lagrange...The Prisoners are all fine looking large men, & looked as if they had been well kept. They were well supplied with provisions which our boys got...The 5th Kansas was with us...

Dr. Charles Brackett of Rochester, Indiana found himself in a very strange war in 1861 and 1862. While the Seven Days' Battles, Second Manassas, and Fredericksburg were being fought in the east, he was part of an invading and occupying Union army west of the Mississippi that fought only minor actions, generally against bands of guerrillas or semi-organized partisans, and only rarely against Confederate regulars. Through Dr. Brackett's letters and journal, we follow the progress of this army from St. Louis to Pilot Knob, Missouri, and down along the Black River to Pocahontas, Powhatan, and Jacksonport, Arkansas, and finally to Helena on the Mississippi River. Through sheer numbers and power, the Union army inexorably deprived the Confederacy of this immediate Trans-Mississippi area -- and with it the hope of two strong Confederate states. Brackett lived this story.

The diaries and letters of this cavalry surgeon from Indiana to his family allow us to track what he was doing -- and thinking -- as assistant surgeon with the First Indiana Cavalry Regiment, and then with the Ninth Illinois Cavalry Regiment almost daily over a period of about seventeen months. Only part of his existing 170 letters and 355 diary entries from this period have been published here, and those that appear have been abbreviated and annotated to concentrate on the military aspects because so little first-hand information is available about this part of the war. Much local and family information remains, however, that provides a clear picture of Dr. Brackett's character and home life, reaction to the military environment, and provision of medical services.

Charles Brackett, born on June 18, 1825, was one of seven sons and one daughter of James and Eliza Brackett of Cherry Valley, New York. Of the seven sons, remarkably, four served together in the Ninth Illinois Cavalry: Albert, James, Charles, and Joseph. The youngest, Albert, was a professional soldier and was colonel of the regiment; James and Charles were physicians and served as surgeon and assistant surgeon, respectively; and Joseph was quartermaster. John and Lyman had both died before the war, and William chose not to participate. Their sister, Elizabeth Cary, was living in the east with her husband and family. Dr. Brackett's immediate family, his wife, Margaret, and four young children, Louise, Lyman, Rose Anna, and Mary, stayed behind, with Margaret trying to manage the 90-acre farm, supervise the hired man, pay debts (and collect past-due medical bills) -- give birth to a new baby (Charles W.), and tend to the needs of four active children. The family was together for the last time in November 1862.

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It is not strange that the Brackett family wrote so many letters -- after all, there was no other means of communication. What is strange, and wonderful, is that the letters have been preserved and are available to us today. The Brackett archives go back to the late 18th century in New Hampshire, and allow us to follow this family and its participation in the growth of the new nation throughout the entire 19th century. The wonder is not so much that these letters were passed down to the next generation by their recipients; rather, that at every later opportunity to throw away old things, they were saved.

This particular part of the Brackett archives was made available to me beginning in the late 1960s by a number of distant cousins whom I can't ever thank sufficiently. In particular, the late sisters Helen Brackett Knapp and Elizabeth Gearn of Damariscotta, Maine preserved the letters sent by James Brackett to his brother Adino Nye Brackett of Lancaster, New Hampshire. At Margaret Brackett's death in 1908, Charles's letters to her and his diaries were given to their eldest daughter Louise Holman. From her they went to her children Lucille Leonard, Hugh Brackett Holman, and Grace Beach. Lucille's son George Holman Leonard and his daughter Polly Keener provided copies and transcriptions of letters, as did Hugh's son, Hugh Bankson Holman. Some of the diaries were in the possession of Grace Beach's daughter Margaret Beach Anderson, and she graciously permitted me to have them. Others had been given to my grandfather, Fred C. Williams. With the help of my former wife, Nancy Wheaton, I began transcribing the letters and diaries in the early 1970's by typewriter, and finished in 1979. The typed manuscript has lain untouched until now. Thanks to computers and Optical Character Recognition software, it was not necessary to retype all of this material for publication.

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Biographical sketches of early residents of Rochester, Indiana, mentioned by Dr. Brackett appear in two publications reprinted by the Fulton County Historical Society: Kingman's New Historical Atlas of Fulton County, Indiana (1883), and Marguerite Miller's Home Folks. The latter, in particular, has anecdotes of early Rochester days in which Dr. Brackett is mentioned. The publications of the Jackson County Historical Society (Arkansas) provide a wealth of information about the situation in Jacksonport during the war, and refer often to people Dr. Brackett mentions, such as Miss Mary Tom Caldwell and her grandfather, Thomas Todd Tunstall.

The existence of the internet has made this publication possible. Not only is it an infinite resource for historical research, it is also the avenue through which I first learned about Guild Press of Indiana. My intensive editing communication with Publisher/Editor Nancy Niblack Baxter has been almost exclusively by Email. (For additional information about other Civil War books on their list, go to the Guild Press website.)

A number of people provided helpful comments as this book reached completion; among them, Brick Autry of the Fort Davidson State Historic Site in Pilot Knob, Missouri, and author Curt Anders, who reviewed the final manuscript. I am grateful to Charlotte Plegge, Curator of the Jacksonport State Park Courthouse Museum, Evelyn Griffin of the Phillips County Museum, and Susan Hamilton of the Phillips County Library, all of Arkansas, and to the Missouri Historical Review for their cooperation in providing illustrations. Finally, my thanks to Nancy Baxter for her faith that we could, in fact, turn this mass of material into a readable book, and to all of the staff at Guild Press for their elegant production of Surgeon on Horseback.

James W. Wheaton
Email: Jim
Page Revised December 2000

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