Robin Oliveira has debuted in a powerful way with her Civil War novel, My Name is Mary Sutter. She states in her explanation behind the book that after she learned that seventeen Civil War nurses became surgeons “ a beguiling stranger began to declare herself”. Mary Sutter was the name she gave to this strong, determined young midwife who had a passion to learn everything she could about medicine. Mary leaves her very comfortable home and practice to apply as a nurse to the wounded troops in Washington DC. Excluded by Dorothea Dix, Superintendent of Army nurses, because of her young age she finds the worst hospital in the city and makes herself useful doing the most menial work of scrubbing and cleaning. The brutal necessity of amputation became her proving ground as she aids a doctor as he learns through trial and error. The errors resulted in the deaths of many of the men from either overdoses of chloroform or infection because of unclean conditions and instruments.
Mary takes supplies out to the battlefield after the carnage of Antietam and becomes one of the surgeons doing multiple amputations. The book has sad drama as we follow her twin sister’s love and marriage to the same man that Mary loves. When a baby is to be born to the couple, Mary is torn between leaving the needy injured soldiers and going home to be midwife to her twin. The wealth of research that Ms. Oliveira crafted into this novel makes it a remarkable telling of one little known aspect of the Civil War.