An Amputation Table

by Lori Eggleston. 0 Comments

Since the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek is in just a few days, I thought this week I should feature an artifact from that battle.  It may not be what you expect though!

Normally when you hear a surgical procedure mentioned, there’s an associated image of a surgical table and an operating room.  However, surgeons on the battlefields during the Civil War didn’t have these luxuries.  They had to improvise with the supplies they could find in the immediate area.  Fashioning a surgical table could involve putting a door on top of two barrels or chairs, or commandeering a table from someone’s home.  That is exactly what happened to an otherwise very ordinary kitchen table in the NMCWM’s collection!


Usually when visitors see our amputation scene they notice the patient, the medical personnel, and the surgical instruments. It’s easy to overlook the actual artifact in this scene – the table.


It is a fairly basic pine kitchen table.  The top is composed of five wide planks.  Underneath, there is one drawer with two small ivory handles.  In the photo above, you can see some dark stains on the top near one end – possibly blood stains?  We haven’t had any testing done on the table, so we can’t say for certain.


The table and its former home, the Daniel Stickley House, were even featured on a postcard in the 1920s. According to the caption on the postcard, “This substantial house, built in 1859, is on the Shenandoah Valley Pike midway between Strasburg and Middletown, Va. During the Battle of Cedar Creek, fought October 19, 1864, between Federal forces under Sheridan and the Confederates under Early, a cannon ball passed thru the gable of the building. The house was converted into a field hospital, and scores of operations were performed upon the table, shown in insert above. So great was the call for surgical aid that the amputated arms and legs were piled higher than the table before they could be buried.”


The table was kept in the Stickley family for many years, and by their accounts was still used in their kitchen until sometime in the 1940s.  One person did note though, that she remembered the top being covered in linoleum in later years.  I would imagine that if you knew there had been amputations performed on your kitchen table, you might want to cover the surface!  There is another story about a Civil War veteran who had been one of the patients on the table, who returned to the house and carved a small sliver of wood from it as a souvenir.


There does appear to be a piece of wood missing from the frame!


That’s quite a story for a little wooden table!


Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

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