The mission statement for the National Museum of Civil War Medicine states that we are the premier center for the preservation and research of the legacy of Civil War medical innovation. It should be no surprise then that our displays deal with subjects such as the medicines used during the Civil War, the equipment and instruments used, and the medical practices of the time. While all of this information is quite valuable, it is the personal stories which have the greatest impact though. So, today I thought I’d share just a few of the stories of some wounded Civil War soldiers.
Private Pease was wounded on July 1, 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg. He was struck in the right leg by a Minié ball which entered the back of his thigh, fractured the upper portion of his femur, and lodged inside his leg. While at Gettysburg, he had three surgeries in which the bullet and three inches of his femur were removed. By the time Pease was mustered out of the army in 1864, he was able to walk using crutches. However, after returning home to Indiana, he experienced problems with his wounds. After three additional surgeries it was discovered that there were still fragments of the Minié ball in his leg. They were finally removed thirteen years after his original injury! He was eventually able to walk with the assistance of a cane and a six-inch lift in his boot.
Private Lewis Martin enlisted in Illinois in February of 1864. A muster roll record lists his place of birth as Arkansas, his age as 24 years, his height as 6 feet, 2 inches, and his occupation as a farmer. A few months later he took part in a battle at Petersburg, Virginia and was wounded in the arm and the leg, resulting in the amputation of both limbs. His wounds were described in his discharge form: “Loss of right-arm and left-leg by amputation for shell and gunshot wounds received in battle at Petersburg on July 30, 1864 in charging the enemies works. In consequence of which is totally disabled for military service and civil occupation wholly.” Unfortunately, not much is known of Martin’s life after the war.
Private Reardon was wounded by a shell fragment in the right arm on October 11, 1863 at Culpepper, Virginia. An account of his treatment can be found in Images of Civil War Medicine by Gordon Dammann and Alfred J. Bollet. “Private Reardon….was admitted to the Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C. only one day following his injury. Surgeon D.W. Bliss….found that Reardon’s right humerus was shattered by a fragment of shell, which was removed…. The fragment was four inches long, one inch broad, and weighed nine ounces. Surgeon Bliss excised the head and six inches of the shaft of the humerus through a straight incision on the outside of the limb. His case was written up as illustrating retained mobility of the arm after excision. The arm was three inches shorter than the other, but muscle development was comparable. Reardon was able to move the arm in all directions except abduction (i.e. movement laterally, away from the body)….
After recovering in March 1866, Reardon was reenlisted and assigned to duty as an orderly in the Army Medical Museum…. he served….suffering very little inconvenience “from the mutilation he has undergone.” The record of his case….went on to state that “Without difficulty he can place his right hand on the top of his head; he can lift a weight of two hundred pounds or more with the injured limb without pain. The movements of the forearm and hand are not in the least impaired, and there is great freedom of all the movements except abduction.”
These men are certainly quite the testament to the medical innovation of the time!