Thursday, May 8, 2014

What's in the Box?

     Last week I posted about my trip to North Carolina to pick up an artifact for my museum.  This week I’ll finally tell you about the artifact! 

No, this isn’t the artifact!  It was made by the artifact’s owner to protect and store it.  You can probably guess that it belonged to a Civil War soldier named Mason Myers.  Do you have any ideas about what could be in this box?  Maybe a little more information will help…. 

     Private Mason Myers was a Union soldier from Orwell, New York.  He enlisted in September of 1861 at the age of 19 years.  His enlistment papers list him as being a farmer.  He was 5’8” tall, with a light complexion, dark eyes, and light hair.  He served with the 24th New York Infantry, and later with the 76th New York Infantry.  He was wounded in action during the Battle of Bull Run in 1862 and also during the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.  He was discharged for disability in September 1864.

This undated photo shows a uniformed Mason Myers (right) with his brother-in-law Robert Armstrong.  I can say for certain that this image was taken before he was  wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg though.    Image from the “76th NY Roster” at

     By now, you probably have a good idea about what is contained in the box.  Private Myers was shot in the right leg on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and his leg subsequently had to be amputated.  Afterwards, he needed a prosthetic leg.  

This is the wooden peg leg which is said to have belonged to Mason Myers.

     The U.S. government did have a program which supplied the Union veterans with prosthetic legs.  Mason Myers received an articulated prosthetic leg, which would have looked more like a real leg, through this program in 1864.  He may have used this peg leg before he was fitted for his government leg, or he could have simply preferred using a peg leg.  There were some Civil War veterans who were not satisfied with the articulated legs and chose to use peg legs instead.

A slightly closer view of the peg leg shows the leather straps which held it in place.  These could have attached to a shoulder strap or belt to keep it in place.  You can also see a bit of the edge of the cloth padding for the interior at the very top of the leg. 
     There’s an interesting story about how Mason Myers coped with one aspect of being an amputee:

This image shows Mason Myers (left) and his brother-in-law (right) in 1910.  You can see that they are both wearing peg legs.  This isn’t the same peg leg though.  The caption with the photo reads, “Syracuse New York, June 21, 1910 – Three comrades from Orwell, Oswego County, here in the G.A.R. encampment are M.S. Myers, A.J. Potter, and Robert Armstrong, life-long friends and members of Post No. 387.  Comrades Myers and Armstrong are brothers-in-law and both were wounded in the battle of Gettysburg.  The former lost his right leg and the latter his left leg.  They are neighbors and wear shoes of the same size.  Now, when their footwear gives out, they buy one pair of shoes between them and Mr. Myers wears the right and Mr. Armstrong the left.”    Photo taken from the 1962 edition of the Oswego County Historical Society Journal.

     This peg leg is on loan to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine from Gene and Carol Carmney of Marion, North Carolina.  We are grateful to them for the opportunity to study and display it.  We are working on an arrangement to eventually purchase this peg leg, so that it will become a part of the NMCWM’s permanent collection.  Watch for it to be put out on display in the very near future! 

Thank you Gene & Carol – you’ve helped to share the story of Mason Myers and his peg leg!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.

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