Louisa on the front lines Louisa May Alcott in the Civil War

Samantha Seiple

Book - 2019

"Louisa on the Frontlines is the first narrative nonfiction book focusing on the least-known aspect of Louisa May Alcott's career - her time spent as a nurse during the Civil War. Though her service was brief, the dramatic experience was one that she considered pivotal in helping her write the beloved classic Little Women. It also deeply affected her tenuous relationship with her father, and inspired her commitment to abolitionism. Through it all, she kept a journal and wrote letters to her family and friends. These letters were published in the newspaper, and her subsequent book, Hospital Sketches, spotlighted the dire conditions of the military hospitals and the suffering endured by the wounded soldiers she cared for. To this da...y, her work is considered a pioneering account of military nursing. Alcott's time as an Army nurse in the Civil War helped her find her authentic voice--and cemented her foundational belief system. Louisa on the Frontlines reveals the emergence of this prominent feminist and abolitionist--a woman whose life and work has inspired millions and continues to do so today" --

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BIOGRAPHY/Alcott, Louisa May
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New York, NY : Seal Press, Hachette Book Group 2019.
Main Author
Samantha Seiple (author)
First edition
Physical Description
v, 243 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 225-228) and index.
  • Introduction: The Heroine's Journey
  • Part 1. The War at Home
  • Chapter 1. Wayward Daughter
  • Chapter 2. Stitches
  • Chapter 3. A Soldier's Story
  • Chapter 4. Help Wanted
  • Chapter 5. Georgetown or Bust
  • Chapter 6. Burnside's Blunder
  • Chapter 7. The Hurly-Burly House
  • Chapter 8. A Bitter Pill
  • Chapter 9. Duty's Faithful Daughter
  • Chapter 10. A Gift
  • Part 2. Where Glory Waits
  • Chapter 11. Unfulfilled Destiny
  • Chapter 12. The Chariot of Glory
  • Epilogue Still on the Front Lines
  • Acknowledgments
  • Source Notes
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Seiple (Ghosts in the Fog: The Untold Story of Alaska's WWII Invasion) provides unique insight into Louisa May Alcott's time serving as a nurse during the Civil War, explaining how her experience at the Washington, D.C., Union Hotel Hospital essentially launched her writing career. Seiple sets the scene by chronicling Alcott's home life, both its boons (being raised in a politically and intellectually enlightened environment) and its difficulties (desperate poverty). Alcott ardently wished to be a soldier, but as women were not allowed to serve, she determined that nursing was her "destiny." She arrived at the hospital in 1862 and began work immediately, tending to the wounded and observing surgical operations. Alcott's service at Union Hotel was cut short after she contracted typhoid, and Seiple chronicles her slow and agonizing recovery in detail, along with the period of refreshment and renewal afterward in which she published "Hospital Sketches" (her correspondence from the hospital), and the novels Moods and Little Women. While other biographies may provide a more complete picture of Alcott's life, Seiple's version is laserfocused on this particular period, convincingly making the unique argument that Alcott's difficult trials forged her personality and informed virtually every facet of her work. Lovers of Alcott and fans of Civil War history will be equally pleased. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A tightly focused biography on a brief period in the life of Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888): her time as a nurse during the Civil War.Alcott's life seems like something out of our imagination. She was raised in Concord, Massachusetts, with a transcendentalist father and social worker mother, and she became closely acquainted with John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass, with whom she shared abolitionist sympathies. Though she experienced a wealth of intellectual stimulus, she and her family also struggled financially, causing her and her sisters to seek work where they could find it. As young adult nonfiction author Seiple (Death on the River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Amazon Adventure, 2017, etc.) shows, that was a most difficult task in 1860s America, where options for women were severely limited. Thankfully, Alcott realized her writing talent early, and by her late 20s, she had published a book as well as articles in the Atlantic Monthly. In 1858, tragedy struck with the death of her younger sister, despite Louisa's devoted nursing. By 1862, she discovered the popularity of sensational thrillers published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and provided a steady stream of stories under a male name, thus providing a small income. Even with her literary success, she felt the need to affect the ongoing war, so she volunteered and traveled to Washington, D.C., to serve at the Union Hotel Hospital. There she met a badly wounded man who opened her heart and wakened her authentic voice, transforming her characters and stories forever. During her time at the hospital, Alcott nearly died of pneumonia and returned to Concord. There she wrote Hospital Sketches, Thoreau's Flute, and Pauline's Passion and Punishment, which earned enough to save her family. Then she published Little Women, in which "she expertly weaved her progressive beliefs and empathetic insightscreating original and unforgettable characters." Throughout, Seiple's fluid style of writing displays few fireworks but makes the story read like a novel.A useful addition to the Alcott archives that would also appeal to younger readers. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.