Civil War Amputees

Trigger Warning

There was a new discovery recently that kind of touched my heart in a weird painful way. I was scrolling through the depths of the internet finding new stories to write about and voila there it was just on the surface.

Reading article after article I began to learn things that I hadn’t known prior and then after I had learned of these instances it seemed a little silly that it would be so surprising, but then again, I don’t think of heart-wrenching things daily and ignorance is bliss if you catch my drift. Without further ado, I’ll hop to it.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) was an outrageously tragic event, brothers killing brothers. With a combination of roughly 3 million soldiers fighting, approximately 620,000 soldiers died from combat and other factors pertaining to the war. This makes the number of deaths in the American Civil War higher than any other war fought by the USA, including but not limited to WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Korea, etc.

While the Civil War was fought on many different battlegrounds it wasn’t until just a few days ago that the National Park Service announced that archeologists had found the buried and forgotten limbs of approximately 11 soldiers accompanied by two soldiers in what is now known as the “limb pit” located near Manassas, VA. It was said that one of the officers that were found in this shallow pit must have been shot while retreating and that the bullet which claimed this young hero’s life was embedded just below the hip in his thigh bone.

There have been tales such as the one by a union officer, Alfred Bellard, who drew illustrations with descriptions. One of which said, “The doctors were busy in probing for balls, binding up wounds, and in cutting off arms and legs, a pile of which lay under the table,” (Alfred Bellard, 1860s)

 To think that these poor soldier’s identities were lost and their fate unknown to their loved ones kills me. Though, I have hope that who they are will now come to light and their families, even generations that have come and gone, will know the truth.

This story really got me to thinking about so many things. For instance, around ¾ (three-fourths) of the operations performed during the Civil War were amputations. In just the Union Army alone there were more than 30,000 amputations and as many as 60,000 operations overall performed during the civil war were amputations.  

After the Civil War there was obviously a huge need for something to be done in the wake of this “amputations epidemic.” Amputee veterans needed to tend to their farms and support their families just as any other person. It wasn’t until North Carolina came to the rescue of said amputee citizens. North Carolina became the first former Confederate state to provide artificial limbs (prosthetics) to amputees and if those who couldn’t use a prosthetic leg due to illness, length of residual limb, etc. they would be provided with the amount in money that an artificial limb cost at the time that was around $70.

The infamous Jewett’s Patent Leg was given to a veteran by the name of Robert Alexander Hanna, who had struggled a great ordeal before finally going ahead with an amputation. The leg was said to only be used for special occasions as he had built himself his own limbs to use while working on his farm, one of which is said to have a bull’s hoof as it’s foot. Robert Hanna ultimately passed away at the ripe, old age of 85 (huge for those days). He had owned and used the Jewett’s Patent Leg for around 50 years.