Saturday, March 19, 2016

Decades after Battle of Bentonville, a Connecticut vet suffers

In a photo probably taken shortly after the Civil War, Jesse Rice, a private in the
 20th Connecticut, poses in the studio of a photographer in New Haven, Conn.
 (Photo: Blogger's collection)
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On March 19, 1865, less than a month before Lee surrendered to Grant, Jesse Hull Rice suffered a gunshot wound to his right arm at the Battle of Bentonville (N.C.). The 20th Connecticut private's limb was amputated nearly two months later, but the surgeon apparently botched the operation, leaving Rice with a painful, lasting reminder of his 38 months in the Union Army.

After the war, Rice twice tried to be outfitted for an artificial arm, but a physician wrote it was not possible “for reason that end of bone is so sharp & and whole stump is so painful." The veteran had trouble sleeping because of the amputation.

A New Haven, Conn., physician noted a litany of maladies for Rice, all largely due to the “nervous shock from loss of [the] arm and the disadvantage to which this loss put him.”  Rice, only 53 at the time, suffered from “severe constipation,” dizziness, a double hernia, frequent attacks of diabetes, “great pain in defecation,” and an “inability to properly digest food,” among other ailments. Once weighing about 185 pounds, Rice only had 140 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame.

“His condition in a general way is as bad as it could be and but for a strong will and superior intellect he would be absolutely helpless,” wrote a doctor, adding, “If  [Rice] long survives it must be through constant and daily medical attention and judicious nursing.”

In 1895, another doctor wrote in a pension affidavit for Rice that his patient suffered from attacks of severe retching and vomiting that would continue for two or three days and then recur a day or two later. “It appears to have become a chronic condition for him,” noted the physician, who  attributed Rice’s awful health to his war wound.

In a post-war diary in which he recorded the weather, deaths in the neighborhood, the assassination of President Garfield and the butchering of his 428-pound hog, Rice barely made mention of the Civil War. Perhaps it was just easier to forget.

“18 years since Bentonville,” the married farmer simply wrote in 1883 on the anniversary of his wounding.

When he died in 1915 at 71, Rice, who lived in Cheshire, Conn., was on government rolls for a $55-a-month war pension.

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-- Jesse Rice pension file, National Archives and Records Service, Washington D.C.
-- Jesse Rice diary, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Conn.


  1. Amazing story of a man's life AFTER his service. Sadly, long after society "moves on" after wars, veterans continue to suffer and even die from wounds, exposure to chemicals, depression, etc. My 72-year-old husband is being "revisited" by physical effects of his service in Vietnam. Long after society "moves on" . . . Sigh.

  2. Heroism doesnt stop with a soldiers discharge.

  3. Reminds us that the ravages of war extend far beyond the battlefield. It is encouraging that society (urged by the G.A.R.) did not forget the maimed and disabled.

  4. Harvey Nixon9:54 AM

    The photograph must have been printed from a reverse negative... it illustrates a left arm being amputated? or either I don't know my left from my right.