Veteran Reserve Corps

At our Civil War Round Table last night, we had an excellent presentation about medicine, and the question arose of what happened to troops who were wounded, and what happened to them.  In the North, the “Invalid Corps” gave duties to the lightly injured, and did so with dash – they had their own special uniforms to distinguish them from the regular ranks.

The corps was organized under authority of General Order No. 105, U.S. War Department, dated April 28, 1863. A similar corps had existed in Revolutionary times. The Invalid Corps of the Civil War period was created to make suitable use in a military or semi-military capacity of soldiers who had been rendered unfit for active field service on account of wounds or disease contracted in line of duty, but who were still fit for garrison or other light duty, and were, in the opinion of their commanding officers, meritorious and deserving.


via Veteran Reserve Corps – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Long Reach of Wounds

This is an article publicizing a reenactor’s appearance, but unlike other notices of the sort, it is very fleshed-out (emphasis on flesh). The reenactment is of a Civil War doctor, and the writer makes a point of discussing the realities beyond the wound itself, such as how saving an arm could cost a relationship 20 years later.

Richard Covell Phillips of Prattsburgh (44th New York) fought on after being wounded on the second day at Gettysburg, then made his way to a field hospital. There a doctor saved his arm, but he lost the USE of that arm. Later he and other walking wounded were ordered to make their own way on foot several miles down to town, picking their way through the decaying corpses of thousands of men, mules, and horses. After a night on the floor of a church the wounded went by train to Baltimore, where the hospitals were full. Diverted to Philadelphia he finally had his blood-soaked uniform cut away, a week or so after being wounded.

Philips stayed in the army, even serving a year or so postwar. But his wound exacted a toll from his family for decades. His oldest son wanted badly to get an extensive education, but the father insisted that he leave school as a teenager and work on the farm, doing the jobs his father couldn’t… an insistence that engendered deep bitterness.

Dr. Babcock and Dr. Annabel — Civil War Medicine Then and Now – Blogs – The Leader.

A Broken Regiment

The Smithsonian article I posted previously mentioned a new book that sounds fascinating: A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War.  The author has researched one badly mauled regiment to gauge how its veterans did after the war. Predictably, they didn’t do too well.

At war’s end, the emotional toll on returning soldiers was often compounded by physical wounds and lingering ailments such as rheumatism, malaria and chronic diarrhea. While it’s impossible to put a number on this suffering, historian Lesley Gordon followed the men of a single unit, the 16th Connecticut regiment, from home to war and back again and found “the war had a very long and devastating reach.”

The men of the 16th had only just been mustered in 1862, and barely trained, when they were ordered into battle at Antietam, the bloodiest day of combat in U.S. history. The raw recruits rushed straight into a Confederate crossfire and then broke and ran, suffering 25 percent casualties within minutes. “We were murdered,” one soldier wrote.

In a later battle, almost all the men of the 16th were captured and sent to the notorious Confederate prison at Andersonville, where a third of them died from disease, exposure and starvation. Upon returning home, many of the survivors became invalids, emotionally numb, or abusive of family. Alfred Avery, traumatized at Antietam, was described as “more or less irrational as long as he lived.” William Hancock, who had gone off to war “a strong young man,” his sister wrote, returned so “broken in body and mind” that he didn’t know his own name. Wallace Woodford flailed in his sleep, dreaming that he was still searching for food at Andersonville. He perished at age 22, and was buried beneath a headstone that reads: “8 months a sufferer in Rebel prison; He came home to die.”


A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War (Conflicting Words: New Dimensions of the American Civil War): Lesley J. Gordon: 9780807157305: Books.

Civil War PTSD

The Smithsonian Magazine investigates post-traumatic stress disorder amongst Civil War vets.  The condition was not understood then, and as the article states, “had a long reach”; effects were felt on individuals, families and communities long after the firing ceased.

“We’ve tended to see soldiers in the 1860s as stoic and heroic—monuments to duty, honor and sacrifice,” says Lesley Gordon, editor of Civil War History, a leading academic journal that recently devoted a special issue to wartime trauma. “It’s taken a long time to recognize all the soldiers who came home broken by war, just as men and women do today.”

Counting these casualties and diagnosing their afflictions, however, present considerable challenges. The Civil War occurred in an era when modern psychiatric terms and understanding didn’t yet exist. Men who exhibited what today would be termed war-related anxieties were thought to have character flaws or underlying physical problems. For instance, constricted breath and palpitations—a condition called “soldier’s heart” or “irritable heart”—was blamed on exertion or knapsack straps drawn too tightly across soldiers’ chests.

via Did Civil War Soldiers Have PTSD? | History | Smithsonian.

“Uncivil War”

Another medical article, this one a review of the Mutter Museum’s Civil War exhibit.  For those with strong stomachs, it looks like a fascinating visit.

The new exhibition focuses in part on Philadelphia’s role in the Civil War. It was not a battleground, but about 157,000 injured soldiers were transported here by train or steamboat for treatment. Though civilian clinics admitted some, a number of military hospitals were also built, including two that were almost cities unto themselves, each with more than 3,000 beds.

On display are surgical instruments like a hammer and chisel, knives and saws used for amputations and an unnervingly long pair of “ball forceps” for extracting bullets. Most of these grisly operations were done with the soldiers knocked out by chloroform or ether, the curators note — contrary to the common belief that there was no anesthesia back then and only a bullet to bite on.

One display case holds the broken skull of a soldier who was shot through both eye sockets. Stark photographs reveal young men with limbs missing, faces mutilated, and piercing, haunted eyes. Others, still able-bodied, are shown burying the fallen.

via ‘Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits’ at the Mütter Museum –

Civil War Medical Implements

NB: This is another post that might not be of interest to the squeamish.  Sorry – bit of a trend this week, apparently!

I usually avoid the Daily Mail, but this “article” was too good to pass up.  Please ignore all the Kardashian-heavy gossip stories on the right and check out this fascinating collection of photos.  The writer has assembled images relating to Civil War medicine and hospitals.  There’s not a ton of background information or detail, but they’ve been well chosen for theme.  Lots of new-to-me images here, and some really intriguing ones, to boot.


Civil war surgery: The grisly photos that show how wounded soldiers were treated | Mail Online.

Waterloo Teeth

Here’s a story to chill the blood.  If you’re squeamish, look away!

There was an offhand mention in a Reddit conversation about teeth that sent me scouring the web for an article that Smithsonian magazine no longer has archived.  The gist of it is in this macabre webpage:

By this time, the first porcelain teeth had begun to appear. To start with they were too white, too brittle and made a horrid grating noise. Then, in 1837, London denture maker Claudius Ash, driven by his hatred of handling dead men’s teeth, perfected porcelain dentures and began to manufacture them commercially. Even so, trade in the real thing continued well into the second half of the century. Supplies increased during the Crimean War of the 1850s and in 1865 the Pall Mall Gazette reported that some London dentists still refused to switch to porcelain. They now had a whole new source: on the other side of the Atlantic the tooth robbers were hard at work, cleaning up behind the armies of the American Civil War.

And here I thought the worst of the battlefield ghouls just stole haversacks and shoes.  Shudder.

via Waterloo Teeth.

Civil War Surgery Reenactment

I’m fascinated by the wartime medical practices, though they are generally shudder-inducing.   These reenactors bring up a point I’ve never thought about from my modern, accessible viewpoint.

The “amputee” in this case was only concerned with whether he would live, but medical re-enactor Trevor Steinbach said in other cases soldiers would protest that they were losing their livelihood.

“You can’t do a lot of chores on a farm with no arms,” he said.

(You’ve got to love how relaxed that amputation patient looks in the pictures – the guy’s clearly not a method actor.)

via Civil War surgery re-enactors wow library visitors – LaSalle News Tribune – LaSalle, IL.