Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Faces of the Civil War: Private George Warner

Private George Warner of the 20th Connecticut lost both his arms to friendly fire at Gettysburg.
(Photo courtesy Mary Falvey via Connecticut State Library George Washburn Collection)

Empty sleeves of his coat dangling by his side, a forlorn George Washington Warner posed for this photograph several years after he was discharged from the Union army because of disability on Oct. 17, 1863.

The carte de visite image, taken in Henry Peck's studio in New Haven, is compelling, disturbing, shocking -- and a sad reminder of  a civil war that not only killed at least 620,000 Americans but also maimed thousands of others. Warner's inspiring story has been told often over the years, including here, here, here and most recently here. But until Connecticut Civil War researcher Mary Falvey, a friend of the blog, e-mailed me the photograph of Warner, I knew nothing about the double-amputee from Bethany, Conn.

Colonel William Wooster
A 31-year-old private in the 20th Connecticut, Warner had his arm blown off by friendly artillery fire on Culp's Hill at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. His other arm, probably shattered by the same shell, was amputated an hour later. As the story goes, 20th Connecticut colonel William Wooster was so incensed by the incident that he threatened to turn his regiment on the Union artillery battery responsible for maiming Warner.

According to the 20th Connecticut regimental history, Warner was unaware that he had lost both arms until he came under the care of a Surgeon J. Wadsworth Terry. "Why, surgeon, I've lost my right arm too," he said. "I thought I had only lost my left!"

A report in Warner's pension file nearly a month after the battle provides interesting details:

July 29th: General condition good. Walks about the grounds. Patient was wounded July 3. Was sitting at the time by a tree when a shell burst directly over him. One fragment struck the right arm a few inches below the shoulder -- entirely severing it from the body and carrying it several feet from him.The shell was from a Federal Battery. Another fragment struck the left unit and forearm lacerating the soft parts badly and breaking the bones. Amputation made an hour after receipt of injury. The wounds at this date quite open and discharging freely.

20th Connecticut monument dedication at Gettysburg on July 3, 1885. Can you find
 George Warner? CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE. (Photo courtesy Bob O'Brien)

George Warner, sitting on rock, in close-up of photo of 20th Connecticut monument
dedication. (Photo courtesy Bob O'Brien.)
At the dedication of the 20th Connecticut monument in Gettysburg on July 3, 1885, Warner, well liked by his war comrades, was given the task of raising the veil from the monument. A special pulley was constructed that allowed him to do the honors by simply moving backward with a rope tied around his waist. Warner was called upon to do the unveiling honors again for the dedication of the Soldiers and Sailors monument in East Rock Park in New Haven on June 17, 1887. A crowd of perhaps 175,000 people, including Civil War heroes William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, looked on as Warner, again using a special pulley and a rope, removed the drapery covering the monument ... with his teeth!

Married with five children before the war, Warner fathered three more children after he was discharged from the army. After his death at age 92 on Oct. 12, 1923, the New Haven Sunday Register ran a front-page story under a large headline and photo of the old soldier.

"On account of the loss of his arms and the handicap that he suffered, the government allowed him a pension of sufficient amount to enable him to have such service and comforts and conveniences that his crippled condition demanded," the newspaper obituary noted. "He was a man of soldierly appearance and was a familiar figure for many years since the civil war days in Memorial Day parades ..."
This front-page headline in the New Haven Sunday Register noted Warner's death in 1923.

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