Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dr. William M. McPheeters: Confederate Surgeon

Recently, I reread I Acted From Principle: The Civil War Diary of Dr. William M. McPheeters, Confederate Surgeon in the Trans-Mississippi. Well edited by Cynthia Dehaven Pitcock and Bill J. Gurley, the book offers a number of insights into the life of a Confederate surgeon. A resident of St. Louis when the war started, Union officials levied fines on suspected Confederate sympathizers such as the doctor and his family. Since he refused to pay the levy, furniture and other items were confiscated from his house. Several months later, in June 1862, McPheeters fled St. Louis and became a Confederate surgeon. The diary contains entries from June 1, 1863 to June 20, 1865 and documents his close association with Arkansas and Missouri leaders such as Thomas J. Churchill, Mosby M. Parsons, Sterling Price, and James C. Tappan.
It seems to me that many published accounts by Civil War surgeons are lacking in medical information, but McPheeters regularly mentions patients that he is treating and discusses other work duties. In the winter of 1863, he organized the Army Medical Association that resulted in regular meetings and discussions among trans-Mississippi physicians. McPheeters documents also his long absences from his wife, Sallie, and their two daughters. Luckily, McPheeters seemed to be a social man, and he frequently mentions visitors and acquaintances in almost every area that he traveled through. There are many topics of interest in the diary such as the poignant entries that document his family’s banishment from St. Louis in January 1865. Sallie and her daughters traveled more than 400 miles south on the Mississippi River and then debarked in Arkansas. Afterwards, the anxious Dr. McPheeters searched for his family in southern Arkansas and finally reunited with them in Warren. As for military service, McPheeters wrote of the battles of Helena, Mansfield, Pleasant Hill, Jenkins’ Ferry, as well as Price’s 1864 Missouri Expedition. If you enjoy firsthand accounts, this is a highly recommended read!
Here is the full bibliographic citation for the book:
Cynthia Dehaven Pitcock and Bill J. Gurley, eds. I Acted From Principle: The Civil War Diary of Dr. William M. McPheeters, Confederate Surgeon in the Trans-Mississippi. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2002.


  1. I read this book a few years ago and your review is spot on. I especially liked his details of Price's 1864 campaign.

  2. Sounds like a very good read. Thanks for heads-up and the review.