Newly Unearthed Civil War Bones Speak Silently to the Grim Aftermath of Battle.

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Yankee Brooke

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Newly Unearthed Civil War Bones Speak Silently to the Grim Aftermath of Battle
What the amputated limbs and full skeletons of a Manassas burial pit tell us about wartime surgical practices


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The bones were discovered at a very shallow depth, indicating that they had been disposed of in a hurry, and with little ceremony. (Kate D. Sherwood)

By Ryan P. Smith
SMITHSONIAN.COM
JUNE 20, 2018
2.7K350133.3K
Perhaps no feeling was more horrifying to a soldier in the Civil War than the realization deep into a charge against the enemy that the assault was doomed. Such was the case for the scores of Union men who surged toward Stonewall Jackson’s forces at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August of 1862. With Jackson’s men dug in along a railroad grade, the Union foot soldiers were literally fighting an uphill battle. The distance they had to traverse proved too great, and the enemy’s rifle muskets too accurate, for success to be feasible. Chaotically and desperately, they turned tail as unrelenting gunfire continued to cut them down.

When the shooting was over, dead and wounded Yankee troops littered the approach. Confederate losses were heavy as well, but Jackson’s men had held their ground.
The next day, Union Maj. Gen. John Pope followed up with another ill-fated assault on Jackson’s position, and his misreading of a tactical retreat of several Rebel units at Groveton caused troops under the command of Union Gen. Fitz John Porter to fall prey to an artillery trap. As Confederates under James Longstreet launched a massive 25,000-man counterattack, Union forces had no choice but to evacuate as quickly as possible.
This result was in many ways a replay of the First Battle of Bull Run, another high-casualty Confederate victory that had forced a hasty Union retreat from the same location just 13 months earlier. Second Bull Run was a far bloodier loss for the Union, though, notwithstanding some astute rearguard tactics during the bluecoats’ escape.

Today, the battlefield near Manassas, Virginia is a protected site under the purview of the National Park Service. Site policy is to let lie the countless bones swallowed by the land—the goal of park personnel is to preserve the region, not disrupt it. But in late 2015, in the process of clearing a narrow trench for a utility project, personnel inadvertently unearthed what would prove to be an archaeological treasure trove.

Edited.
Not sure if this is the right place, so feel free to move if it's not.

This is interesting, for many reasons. I wouldn't have thought they'd have simply thrown triaged soldiers into a pit with the amputated limbs, but it appears they did. Also that hip/glut wound sounds particularly nasty, poor guy. For some reason I pictured them just taking the bone saw and cutting straight through flesh and bone, but as described here, it appears amputations were performed with little difference to how they are today... minus the power saw and anesthesia. :eek:
 
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dhh712

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Gosh it is amazing what can be discovered of the past by just the bones. It is fascinating to read such accounts. I was happy to see they have a clue to who the surgeon was. It would be profound if the identity of those poor soldiers can be discovered. Harrowing indeed--a longitudinal fracture; the thought of it just makes you cringe to put it mildly.
 

Yankee Brooke

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What a tough read. I'm glad I did but it's just tough kind of witnessing someone's last moments, you know?

Wonder if they'll ever have the resources to track down who these men were. DNA plus the kind of abilities we see here on CWT daily, names, regiments, rosters, reports- bet it's doable.
Considering they could identify where they were from using forensics... I'd imagine it would be more than doable. Not suggesting going back and excavating all the mass battlefield graves, but perhaps exhuming the unidentified soldiers from military cemeteries and making an attempt would be something worthwhile..
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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Considering they could identify where they were from using forensics... I'd imagine it would be more than doable. Not suggesting going back and excavating all the mass battlefield graves, but perhaps exhuming the unidentified soldiers from military cemeteries and making an attempt would be something worthwhile..
It'd be a massive undertaking and of course require an awful lot of $$$ but IMO we owe our fallen the dignity of remembering who it was who literally gave everything. Naming the Unknown. That would be an amazing place to start.
 

KHyatt

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The story of the skilled surgeon is intriguing. The younger brother of my gggrandfather died two weeks after being wounded at the Weldon Railroad, due to a botched amputation. It was said that the doctor didn’t leave enough skin to sufficiently close the wound, and this subsequently became infected.

From the article: ‘“Some of these amputations were probably done in less than ten minutes,” Owsley says.”’ I remember reading long ago (1960s) that a good surgeon could perform an amputation in about 90 seconds. Yes, that’s one and one-half minutes! As a kid I thought that was horrible for doctors to be in such a hurry, until I realized that in many cases there may not have been any kind of anesthesia, and given that there might have been dozens more wounded waiting in line, the skilled surgeon was mercifully quick.

I’d like to know if anyone can corroborate the 90-second amputation story?
 
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