Thursday, February 07, 2013

National Archives Day 1: A very painful existence

Only 19, Charles Wood lost his left arm at the Battle of Petersburg.
(Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library)

In 9 1/2 hours of research at the National Archives in Washington today, I mined pension records that will help me tell the stories of Connecticut soldiers who died or suffered battlefield wounds. This line from the pension file of a soldier who survived the amputation of part of his left arm after the Battle of Antietam really struck me: "Any little tap on the under part & end of my stump," he wrote, "pains me ten times as bad as when I was shot."  In many cases, wounded soldiers who survived were so terribly maimed that death was probably preferable.

Accounts by wounded Civil War soldiers of their suffering are often troubling to read. Photographs of wounded Civil War soldiers, such as these digitized images recently posted at the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library site, are especially haunting and difficult to view. (Warning: Some of the photos are very graphic.) Above is a photo of Charles H. Wood. a 19-year-old private in Company D of the 53rd Pennsylvania, whose left arm was amputated after the Battle of Petersburg on March 31, 1865. He survived the operation and the war, but his quality of life was adversely affected in an era well before today's era of high-quality prosthetic limbs and medical care. Civil War surgeons had little experience handling grievous wounds such as those suffered by Wood, who was treated at Harewood Hospital, one of the many Federal hospitals in Washington during the war.

I'll tell the story of the unnamed soldier mentioned above in detail in a forthcoming project. The good news: He went on to live a long and prosperous life. But it was a very painful existence.

LIKE THIS BLOG ON FACEBOOK! Because it beats going to Wal-Mart.
FACES OF THE CIVIL WAR: Stories and photos of common soldiers who served during the war.
16TH CONNECTICUT SOLDIERS: Tales of the men in the hard-luck regiment.
MORE ON ANTIETAM: Read my extensive thread on the battle and the men who fought in it


  1. He was just a kid-sad

  2. Do you have any other info on Charles H. Wood? I believe he is my long lost great great great grandfather and any information at all would be greatly appreciated! My given name is Midori Wood, and I've been looking for him my whole life, thank you for taking the time to post this.