The most famous death from “friendly fire” was the accidental shooting of Stonewall Jackson by one of his own men in May 1863.

His death had serious consequences, since he no longer was there to be Lee’s “eyes and ears” when, a few weeks later, the Confederate patrol looking for shoes stumbled on to the Union army in a southern Pennsylvania college town called Gettysburg. The Battle of Gettysburg, on July 1-3 1863, was the turning point of the war.

Some argue Jackson wouldn’t have made a difference once the battle started, since the clueless patrol alerted the Union, who quickly moved soldiers to occupy the high ground, but a lot of folks argue that if he were alive, the Confederates would have known where the Union army was, and Lee would have arranged to fight them in a less vulnerable spot.

The South never had a chance to “win” the Civil War in battle, but if the Confederates had not been stopped at Gettysburg, they could have cut off Washington DC at a time when the “peacenik” Democrats were claiming the war wasn’t worth it.

Stonewall Jackson’s wound was in his upper arm right below his shoulder, leading to massive bleeding and shattering the bone of his upper arm.

Back then, the only treatment was immediate amputation, to save Jackson’s life; alas, as in too many soldiers, he died a few days later of shock and infection; in today’s military, the bleeding would have been stopped with pressure or a clotting pack, he would have been air evacuated out by helicopter, and a vascular surgeon would have repaired the artery while an orthopedic surgeon would have removed the shattered bone and debris and plated the remaining bone. In other words, nowadays this wound would not be fatal.

But in the good old days, “open fractures” were fatal, and the high incidence of leg and arm amputees after the Civil war attest to the success of immediate amputation as a treatment.

Let me give you a small history of “open fractures” (and if you have a queezy stomach, you can stop here).

Usually when you break a bone, the muscles and fleshy parts keep the limb from falling off, so if you simply “immobilize” it, it will eventually heal.

But if the bone is open to the air, or if it was broken by a bullet that brought in with it lots of germs and the person’s clothing, the wound will get infected. So you die later of the infection, not the fracture.

The most dreaded wound was that of the tibia (the shin bone) which sits right under the skin. Even a fall that breaks the bone can result in the bone getting infected, but if the wound is from a bullet or from a cannonball that shatters the wound into fifty pieces and fills the wound with dirt and debris, you are dead unless you remove the leg.

Removing the leg gives you a chance, but not everyone was willing to live as a cripple. For example, in 1676, Admiral DeRuyter died after having his leg shattered by a canon ball;  his open wound was treated with whiskey and rest instead of amputation, and died. Yet amputation was not always successful in in these cases:

Actually, however, amputation would probably have increased his chances of survival only to a limited extent.

So what happens to the limbs when they are removed? In the 19th century, they were usually piled outside until someone came along and buried them.

In Jackson’s case, his arm was given special treatment. From an NPR report on what happened next:

So the arm was buried in a private cemetery at Ellwood Manor, not far from the field hospital where it was amputated. Soon after, Jackson died of pneumonia, and his body was sent to his family in Lexington, Va.

Yes, but later, Union soldiers dug it up and reburied it elsewhere. There is still a question as to where it is today, but NPR says a Conferderate sympathizer put up a monument in the area it was believed to be reburied.

In contrast, we know where the leg of Union General Sickles is: The feisty general was wounded on the second day of the battle of Gettysburg, and later he donated the leg (actually the bone, and and a cannon ball similar to the one that shattered the bone) to the Army Medical Museum, now known as the National Museum of Health and Medicine, in Washington. Wikipedia photo of the leg LINK

Some stories have eccentric Sickles paying periodic visits to his leg,  Sickles was a bit of a lady’s man, and got into the Army despite being the murderer of Francis Scott Key’s son (shot for romancing Sickle’s wife).

Finally, Jackson’s arm isn’t the only limb that has it’s own memorial.

Benedict Arnold was one of the heroes of the Battle of Saratoga, but lost his leg during the battle, and from bitterness over the way he was treated ended up changing sides and betraying America, and to this day his name is synonymous for being a traitor.

The Boot Memorial jokingly is said to commemerate the only part of Benedict Arnold who was true to his country. Wikipedia photo HERE.

The memorial was donated by John Watts de Peyster, a former Major General for the New York State Militia during the American Civil War who wrote several military histories about the Battle of Saratoga.

A small fact about the memorial: Arnolds name is not on it.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines.

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