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ca. 1861-1865, Nashville, Tennessee, Confederate States of America --- Two wounded Federal soldiers are cared for by Anne Bell, a nurse during the American Civil War. --- Image by © CORBIS

Books Unbound – ‘Hospital Sketches’ by Louisa May Alcott, Part Two


The dauntless nurse of Hospital Sketches gains a deeper understanding of the effects of war from the wounded men she cares for in the second part of Louisa May Alcott’s fictionalized memoir.

Beloved as the author of Little Women, Alcott drew on her own brief service as a Union nurse during the Civil War in creating an authentic voice that launched her serious writing career. Sarah Torbeck reads an episode that moves with Alcott’s characteristic energy from satire to pathos, brisk efficiency to descriptive luxury. Critics have praised particularly the heartbreaking sequence about the handsome and stoic “John,” the real-life soldier John Suhre. Michael Perry reads a letter home written by Suhre, whose biography was recently reconstructed by the scholar John Matteson. Listeners can hear a related interview with Matteson by Doug Storm, who announces for the Books Unbound series. Heather Perry hosts.

Special music comes from the Trio in E-flat Major for Piano, Violin and Horn, Op. 40 (1865) of Johannes Brahms, as performed at the La Jolla Music Society SummerFest 2014. Break music comes from the 1867 hymn  “In the Sweet By and By,” performed on Weissenborn guitar by Kawamura Seiji; and “Weeping Sad and Lonely (When This Cruel War Is Over),” performed by the 97th Regimental String Band. Published in 1863, “Weeping Sad and Lonely” sold more than a million copies of sheet music and was popular in both Union and Confederate states. Sound effects from Civil War reenactments by Freesound.org. Theme music by The Impossible Shapes.

Hospital Sketches is produced and written by Cynthia Wolfe, with production assistance from Doug Storm and Heather Perry, and edited by Cynthia Wolfe and Sarah Torbeck. Executive producer is Joe Crawford.

IMAGE CREDIT: A Confederate nurse tends to Union soldiers in a Nashville, Tennessee, hospital during the war (Wikimedia Commons)

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