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Black Civil War Soldiers: Disparities in Wartime Medicine

Date: December 10, 2012
Time: 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM


Cheryl Wills, NY1 News television anchor and author; Harold Holzer, Chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation

Sponsored by: NYAM Section on the History of Medicine and Public Health

Location: The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029

As the nation commemorates the 150th Anniversary of The Civil War, The New York Academy of Medicine will present an informative and critical discussion of the experiences of Black soldiers during and after the Civil War, and their treatment by medical and government institutions. Cheryl Wills, NY1 News television anchor and author of the scholarly and important biography, “Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale” is a direct descendant of Private Sandy Wills, who served from 1863 – 1866 as a member of the United States Colored Troops. Cheryl’s great-great-great grandfather, Sandy, fled his slave plantation with five of his brothers (James Wills, Andy Wills, Mack Wills, Dick Wills and Richard Wills) and together they served in the 4th Heavy Field Artillery based out of Columbus, Kentucky. Upon obtaining their pension and medical records more than a century later from The National Archives vaults in Washington, D.C., Cheryl found startling disparities in their medical treatment as the old soldiers aged. Wartime medicine during the Civil War era was the first large-scale encounter between the U.S. Government, Africans and an organized health care system. About 33,000 black soldiers died during The Civil War, but only 4,000 deaths were from combat. Black soldiers were much more likely to die from infectious disease that afflicted camp life: diarrhea and dysentery, pneumonia, TD, malaria (despite the belief that Africans were less susceptible) and smallpox.

It should come as no surprise that at the turn of the century in 1900, only 40 percent of black veterans were alive compared to 60 percent of white veterans. Astonishingly, it took the United States Army almost a century, until the Korean War, to fully integrate its black soldiers and provide them with the same standard of care that it provided white soldiers.

Cheryl will bring these statistics to life through her family's harrowing journey from slavery to freedom with a presentation that includes surgeon’s reports from the Civil War era and the decades that followed.

Cheryl will be joined by one of the nation’s preeminent Lincoln Scholars, Harold Holzer. In Holzer's book, Emancipating Lincoln, the critical process whereby Lincoln penned the Emancipation Proclamation was investigated. Holzer also examined Lincoln's image as the "Great Emancipator" and the ways that Americans have come to understand and interpret the proclamation in the decades that followed.

About the Speaker(s)

Cheryl Wills is a nationally recognized television personality, host and the author of the acclaimed autobiography, "Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale and an award-winning anchor and reporter for Time Warner Cable's flagship news network, New York 1 News, based in New York City. Her work is seen nationally on all Time Warner Cable stations coast-to-coast. She has been with the news channel since its launch in 1992.

Cheryl has been invited to speak before The General Assembly of The United Nations, The National Archives with Ken Burns and she addressed an international forum in Senegal, West African, where she discussed the legacy of The United States Colored Troops.

Her acting work has included playing herself on the NBC hit series "Law & Order: SVU," CBS' "Golden Boy" and major motion pictures such as Freedomland, starring Samuel Jackson, and The Brave One, with Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard. Wills is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University, and is Vice President of The New York Association of Black Journalists. She is also an active member of The Women's Forum, The Inner Circle of City Hall Journalists, The New York Press Club, The Links, Inc., and The Screen Actors Guild.

Harold Holzer is the Chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation, the official successor organization of the U. S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, which he co-chaired for nine years, appointed by President Bill Clinton. He is the author, co-author, or editor of 42 books on Lincoln and the Civil War era. Holzer's most recent books are Emancipating Lincoln (2012); Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861 (2008), which won the Barondess/Lincoln Award and the Award of Achievement of the Lincoln Group of New York; The Lincoln Anthology (2009), a Library of America collection featuring 150 years of great writers on the subject of Abraham Lincoln; In Lincoln’s Hand (2009), featuring Lincoln's original manuscripts with commentary by distinguished Americans; Lincoln in New York, the catalogue of a 2009-10 New-York Historical Society exhibition for which he served as chief historian; and The Lincoln Assassination, a collection of essays from The Lincoln Forum, which Holzer serves as founding vice-chairman. He and Craig L. Symonds are the coeditors of The New York Times Complete Civil War.


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