cover image Louisa on the Front Lines: Louisa May Alcott and the Civil War

Louisa on the Front Lines: Louisa May Alcott and the Civil War

Samantha Seiple. Seal, $27 (240p) ISBN 978-1-58005-804-9

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 laser-focused 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.)