Thursday, April 24, 2014

Faces of Civil War Medicine

     Though my job does focus on caring for and displaying artifacts, not all of the displays at my museum contain artifacts.  One of the newer displays at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is a video display titled, “Faces of Civil War Medicine.”  It features images and descriptions of people who have an association with Civil War medicine.  Of course this includes the surgeons and assistant surgeons, but it also covers nurses, hospital stewards, ambulance drivers, wounded soldiers, and even some civilians.  As the title of the display implies, it allows our visitors to see some of the actual faces of the people involved in the story of Civil War medicine.  It’s much more compelling to be able to see the human side of any story.

The Faces of Civil War Medicine is one of the first displays visitors see at the museum!
     Here are just a few of the faces in our display:

Henry Alanson Barnum - Union Colonel
Born:  September 24, 1833, in Jamesville, New York
Served:  Captain and Major of the 12th New York Infantry April 1861; Colonel of the 149th New York Infantry September 1862 to January 1866
Died:  January 29, 1892 in New York City
Photo courtesy of the Otis Historical Archives

     Colonel Barnum was wounded in July 1862.  The wound through his side had passed through his hip bone and was considered fatal.  He was left in a field hospital where he was taken prisoner, then exchanged within a month.  Barnum led his unit at Gettysburg while still recovering, and later received two more wounds.  The first wound never fully healed, although he was in comparatively good health.  He died of pneumonia.

Edson D. Bemis - Union Private
Born:  April 16, 1841 in Chester, Massachusetts
Served:  Private 15th Massachusetts Infantry, December 1861; re-enlisted February 1864, 20th Massachusetts Infantry to July 1865
Died:  November 9, 1900 in North Brookfield, Massachusetts. 
Photo courtesy of the Otis Historical Archives
     Private Bemis was wounded three times during the war; his left arm was fractured by a musket ball in 1862; he received a severe abdominal wound in 1864; and his skull was fractured in 1865.  Part of the temporal bone lodged in his brain and was removed, but the wound healed and his mental facilities were not impaired.  His death at age 59 was "cerebral degeneration as a result of gunshot wounds during the Civil War."

Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson - Confederate General
Born:  January 21, 1824 in Clarksburg, Virginia
Served:  General, April 1861 - May 1863
Died:  May 10, 1863 in Fairfield, Virginia
Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
     After military service in the Mexican War, Jackson became an instructor at the Virginia Military Academy.  He joined the Confederate Army in April 1861.  He was seriously wounded at Chancellorsville in May 1863 when accidentally shot by Confederate troops, and his left arm was amputated near the shoulder.  He was recovering from the amputation when he developed pneumonia and died on May 10.

John Lynch - Union Sergeant
Born:  May 14, 1843 in Westford, Vermont
Served:  Private, Corporal, Sergeant, 11th CT Infantry 1861 to 1865
Died:  April 14, 1906 in Pepperell, Massachusetts
Photo courtesy of Jon Regan
     John Lynch apparently claimed to be 19 years old when he enlisted at the age of 16.  Though he was hospitalized for a hernia at one point, unlike many of the other young soldiers Lynch did not suffer debilitating health issues which would have limited his usefulness as a soldier. Rather, he served throughout the war, enlisting twice, and being promoted to sergeant - also twice, since he had been reduced in rank for disobeying orders in 1864.  He is also my favorite face in the display since he is my great-great-great-grandfather!

Albert Sidney Johnston - Confederate General
Born:  February 2, 1803 in Washington, Kentucky
Served:  General 1861 – 1862 
Died:  April 6, 1862 at Shiloh, Tennessee
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

     Albert Johnston graduated from West Point in 1826 and served in the U.S. Army before joining the Confederate Army at the start of the war.  At the battle of Shiloh he was hit in the knee by a rifle bullet.  The wound bled profusely, and while non-medical people attended to him, he bled to death.  Tragically, Johnston had a tourniquet in his pocket which could have saved his life had it been used.

     These are just a few of the faces and their stories in our display.  If you get the chance, come visit the museum to see the rest of them!


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