Sunday, February 10, 2013

National Archives Day 2: Hidden treasure

These letters found at the National Archives in a pension file of  a Connecticut soldier are
 heart-rending. Wounded at the Battle of Antietam, he died a month after the war ended.
A peek inside a research room at the National Archives in Washington.
About halfway through my nine-hour day digging into Civil War pension files at the National Archives in Washington on Friday, I found a terrific cache of letters from a Connecticut soldier who was wounded at the Battle of Antietam to his mother in Middletown, Conn. The young man spent nearly six months in a hospital in Sharpsburg, Md., before being sent back home. Unable to recover from a bullet wound to his knee and a lengthy stay in an overcrowded Federal hospital, he traveled to Ohio to recover under the care of a physician who prescribed treatment that included an "electric bath."

 "I think he is the nearest right of any physician that I have employed," the 16th Connecticut private wrote."He says also that from my throat to my stomach is one complete mass of ulcers and that it is like raw meat." A little more than a year later, the soldier was dead, another victim of the Battle of Antietam, according to a physician who treated him.  I'll have more details on the fascinating story of this soldier soon.

A hefty pension file takes up a good chunk of the table at the National Archives.

Discharge papers for Henry Adams, a private in the 16th Connecticut,
whose right femur was shattered by a bullet at Antietam.
Friday's search also turned up the disability for discharge paper of 16th Connecticut private Henry Adams, whose femur was shattered by a bullet in John Otto's cornfield at Antietam, as well as details of the Antietam wounding of 8th Connecticut 2nd lieutenant Nelson Bronson.

"Gun shot wound in the right forearm – said ball entering five inches below the ulna ...deep through, forward and out the palm or  thumb," a physician noted. "The sinews of his right arm were severed and his right arm is now entirely paralyzed. The right wrist is stiff and he has not strength in his arm --- has no power to use the right hand, cannot shut the fingers of the right hand -- is by profession a clerk and is totally disabled from labor."

It's tough to read these sad -- and oftentimes gruesome -- accounts of what soldiers suffered at Antietam during the bloodiest day in American history. But nuggets gleaned from pension files often add color and fill in gaps in the story of a soldier's life. I've also included behind-the-scenes photos from the inside the belly of the beastly National Archives, a building with old Westinghouse elevators and 1940s charm.
The National Archives entrance for researchers is on Constitution Avenue.

LIKE THIS BLOG ON FACEBOOK! Because your mother says it's better than broccoli.
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

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