February 21, 2008

Rare Confederate Book on Botanicals

"It was not President Lincoln's Union Army that dealt the Confederacy its greatest blow. While 94,000 Southerners died in battle, a staggering 164,000 died of disease. Much of the suffering was due to a rapidly declining supply of medicine in the South as blockades restricted importation of all essentials.
When enemy camps were overrun, speculators raided the medical stores, capturing morphine, quinine and chloroform to resell at 50 times their original value. It was such a problem that Gen. Lee called upon the secretary of war to put an end to the practice.

In anticipation of this supply problem, Surgeon Maj. Francis Perye Porcher set about creating a manual on indigenous botanical substitutes titled "Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests, Medical, Economic and Agricultural." Published in 1863, the 600-page book was distributed to medical officers to help aid the sick and wounded. It is said to have helped so many that Confederates were able to hold off the Union Army for two additional years."

So states this online article that highlights Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests by Francis P. Porcher, an extremely rare Confederate title that offers amazing examples of what the Confederate homefront went through in order to treat their sick civilians and soldiers. The article further notes that "thanks to the Internet and the University of North Carolina, this formerly obscure text is online and free for everyone to peruse.

According to Willian Reese Booksellers, "Porcher was one of the most prominent medical figures in the antebellum South, and the founder of a hospital for slaves in Charleston in 1855. His early work on medical botany and his reputation as a physician led to his appointment as Surgeon- General of the Confederate States. Porcher's book was roundly hailed in its day by Confederate boosters, and the work was commissioned by the Surgeon-General of the C.S.A. It remains a thorough and impressive work on the agricultural, botanic, and economic resources of the South." Richard Harwell in his classic In Tall Cotton (#150) described the book as "probably the most ambitious and important work produced in the Confederacy.

The book itself is obviously very rare in the first edition. The 4 copies I found on the internet range in price. from $2500 to $6000. A new edition was produced in 1869 and for Civil War booklovers of more modest means, it appears that a sturdy modern hardcover reprint from 2007 also exists that can be had for $75.

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