Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

This fascinating photograph shows a one-armed man. If you look closely, you will see his right coat sleeve (on the left side of the image) is flat and empty. It makes me wonder if he lost it during the war, and if so, what unit did he serve in and where did he get injured? To survive an amputation during the American Civil War was in some cases a miracle. The state of medical science in 1860 was practically barbaric compared with what we know today. That surgeons were able to successfully amputate numerous limbs and have patients survive is a testament to their abilities and to the abilities of the nursing staff during after care. In those days, after care wasn’t a few days, either. The patient stayed in the military hospital for weeks or months until they could return to service if that was possible. Most nurses were male service members and other volunteers. Unfortunately, doctors thought pus was a good thing, and many many patients were lost to infection. Doctors also didn’t know they should wash their hands or tools. In fact, surgeons sometimes spoke of their tools becoming “seasoned” through use. Gah! The subject of this photo survived an amputation and lived to sit for his photograph some time later. His resilience must have been great.

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