Discussion Getting Shot In The Civil War

Cycom

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Feb 19, 2021
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Los Angeles, California
After looking at the picture of the soldiers on the front page of CWT (the one with the man on crutches), it got me thinking how horrible some of these injuries must have been…though that guy seemed ok.

I know the Minie ball caused catastrophic damage, often requiring amputation, but I imagine that soldiers who were shot but retained their limbs still dealt with some serious issues.

Is there data for soldiers who became disabled due to battlefield injuries?
 

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
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South of the North 40
After looking at the picture of the soldiers on the front page of CWT (the one with the man on crutches), it got me thinking how horrible some of these injuries must have been…though that guy seemed ok.

I know the Minie ball caused catastrophic damage, often requiring amputation, but I imagine that soldiers who were shot but retained their limbs still dealt with some serious issues.

Is there data for soldiers who became disabled due to battlefield injuries?
Between the GAR and the State & Federal pension files someone could do the research, though I'm not certain how exhaustive such would be.

My own experience is just a minor taste. Just before Christmas 2008 I was in a catastrophic car accident. Shattered my right leg, broke both arms, concussion and internal injuries. I don't even rememebr how many surgeries before I was done but I spent a month in the ICU and 2-3 months in a recovery center. More than 12 years later I still deal with chronic pain from the injuries.

Being a history nut I understand fully I would not have survived my injuries in the ACW. The last surgeon to work on me was a direct descendant of General Kautz and we had an interesting discussion about the advancement of medicine since the ACW. He looked at the Xray from my shattered leg and told me that such an injury only a few years earlier than my accident would have necessitated amputation. That even today someone struck by a minnie ball would be treated shockingly similar. A minnie ball to the limb would still shatter bone and likely create the need for amputation and a strike to the chest as likely as not would create catastrophic wounds of the kind that would be fatal if not surgically treated in very short order. Traumatic injuries caused by artillery or musket fire were only marginally more lethal than accidental injuries such as a wagon rolling over a man, a horse falling on a man, disease etc. The medicine of the day were a couple of incredibly addictive opioids, marijuana, alcohol and essentially aspirin.

A typical paramedic or even a CNA today likely has a superior medical education than the average ACW surgeon.

Life in the 19th Century was brutally hard.
 

Cycom

Sergeant
Joined
Feb 19, 2021
Location
Los Angeles, California
Between the GAR and the State & Federal pension files someone could do the research, though I'm not certain how exhaustive such would be.

My own experience is just a minor taste. Just before Christmas 2008 I was in a catastrophic car accident. Shattered my right leg, broke both arms, concussion and internal injuries. I don't even rememebr how many surgeries before I was done but I spent a month in the ICU and 2-3 months in a recovery center. More than 12 years later I still deal with chronic pain from the injuries.

Being a history nut I understand fully I would not have survived my injuries in the ACW. The last surgeon to work on me was a direct descendant of General Kautz and we had an interesting discussion about the advancement of medicine since the ACW. He looked at the Xray from my shattered leg and told me that such an injury only a few years earlier than my accident would have necessitated amputation. That even today someone struck by a minnie ball would be treated shockingly similar. A minnie ball to the limb would still shatter bone and likely create the need for amputation and a strike to the chest as likely as not would create catastrophic wounds of the kind that would be fatal if not surgically treated in very short order. Traumatic injuries caused by artillery or musket fire were only marginally more lethal than accidental injuries such as a wagon rolling over a man, a horse falling on a man, disease etc. The medicine of the day were a couple of incredibly addictive opioids, marijuana, alcohol and essentially aspirin.

A typical paramedic or even a CNA today likely has a superior medical education than the average ACW surgeon.

Life in the 19th Century was brutally hard.
Appreciate the response.

I have a similar (but different) experience. Mine happened to be a brain hemorrhage during surgery. I almost croaked and live with daily reminders of the trauma but am thankful that this happened in this day and age. I would certainly have perished 100 years ago.

That these men charged concentrated lines of rifle and artillery fire never ceases to amaze me.

Regarding the Minie round, I can see why that still could require amputation. What a nasty piece of military technology.

Regarding my request for disability data, we’re these things cataloged back then?
 

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
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South of the North 40
Appreciate the response.

I have a similar (but different) experience. Mine happened to be a brain hemorrhage during surgery. I almost croaked and live with daily reminders of the trauma but am thankful that this happened in this day and age. I would certainly have perished 100 years ago.

That these men charged concentrated lines of rifle and artillery fire never ceases to amaze me.

Regarding the Minie round, I can see why that still could require amputation. What a nasty piece of military technology.

Regarding my request for disability data, we’re these things cataloged back then?
Yes & no. Many discharges and death due to illness were because of complications from battlefield injuries which can be very misleading to the uninitiated researcher. Pension files and GAR records are better than Regimental records unless you can cross reference them with after action reports from Regiment or Brigade level which are often more in depth than consolidated reports.
 

poorjack

Corporal
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Jul 17, 2015
Location
NC
From a number of first person accounts I’ve read, some disability from a wound was quite common. Even if the bones mend, irreversible nerve damage can cause loss of function. Some wounds never healed completely and were a chronic source of problems that could well lead to death years later.
 

Pete Longstreet

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Whenever I think of a soldier getting shot in the Civil War... this is what comes to mind:

“It was brutal stuff. The reason for the high casualties is really quite simple: the weapons were way ahead of the tactics. The rifle itself hit through a 53 caliber soft-lead bullet at a low muzzle velocity, and when it hit, the reason why there were so many amputations, if you got hit on the shoulder, it didn’t clip your bone the way a modern steel jacket bullet does, you didn’t have any bone remaining."

- Shelby Foote
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
Reading these posts makes me think your chances almost might have been better against someone armed with a rimfire repeater. They had a lot more shots to throw at you, but maybe had less chance of horrifically maiming you if hit ... I believe .44 Henry had roughly the same ballistic effects as getting hit with a .45 ACP slug? Not pleasant at all, but probably not as likely to merit amputation compared to a minie round?
 

Cycom

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Location
Los Angeles, California
Reading these posts makes me think your chances almost might have been better against someone armed with a rimfire repeater. They had a lot more shots to throw at you, but maybe had less chance of horrifically maiming you if hit ... I believe .44 Henry had roughly the same ballistic effects as getting hit with a .45 ACP slug? Not pleasant at all, but probably not as likely to merit amputation compared to a minie round?
I’d rather get hit by a .45 than a Minie any day of the week. Better chance of not losing a limb.
 

Lincoln56

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Location
Texas
Agree with @FedericoFCavada assessment of Michael C. C. Adams book noted in post 10. Definitely more than you may want to know.

Here is probably the most difficult yet illustrative book I've tried to read regarding American Civil War injuries.

Content illustrative of the subject of this thread. Published by Grand Rapids: Medical Staff Press, 1996.446 pages.

Definitely not a book recommendation for everyone.

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As difficult as these books are to read they present a verbal and visual reinforcement to this very troubling topic and bring us as close as we surely want to get to the grim reality of the suffering experienced by those living through this epoch.
 

Cycom

Sergeant
Joined
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Location
Los Angeles, California
Agree with @FedericoFCavada assessment of Michael C. C. Adams book noted in post 10. Definitely more than you may want to know.

Here is probably the most difficult yet illustrative book I've tried to read regarding American Civil War injuries.

Content illustrative of the subject of this thread. Published by Grand Rapids: Medical Staff Press, 1996.446 pages.

Definitely not a book recommendation for everyone.

View attachment 405001

As difficult as these books are to read they present a verbal and visual reinforcement to this very troubling topic and bring us as close as we surely want to get to the grim reality of the suffering experienced by those living through this epoch.
You bring up a good point. In all of our discussions of battles, strategy, personalities, etc. we forget about the butchery that was happening on the fields. Men returning home (if they were lucky) with missing limbs or other permanent physical and mental disfigurements. That’s what war ultimately boils down to, regardless of the causes. Slaughter and suffering.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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Here’s the other thing - Most people don’t realize that bones getting shattered by bullets also become weapons amongst the muscles. Once the bones shattered, more and more damage was done to ligaments, tendons, muscles, blood vessels and nerves by shards than just the bullet.
 

The Walking Dead

Corporal
Joined
May 19, 2021
While battlefield injuries were horrific, the damage from shock and infection can't be captured in photographs.

Sepsis caused more damage to my body then any of my battlefield injuries. I survived a severe case of sepsis in 2018 and the doctors have no idea how I contracted the infection. I was told I wasn't going to live.

"Most people recover from mild sepsis, but the mortality rate for septic shock is about 40%. Also, an episode of severe sepsis places you at higher risk of future infections.Jan 19, 2021."

Severe sepsis causes complications such as blood poisoning and kidney failure to name a couple.

I think about what Civil War soldiers suffered all the time.
 
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