History can be funny, fascinating, inspiring and sometimes just plain yucky. The National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, MD, received a forearm as an anonymous donation this year. It is a human foremarm that still has the right hand and skin attached. It is said to have been found by a farmer in Sharpsburg, MD, about two weeks after the 1862 Battle of Antietam.
It had been displayed for decades at a private museum. It was shown in a glass-topped, pine case with a card that read, “Human arm found on the Antietam Battlefield,” according to the Associated Press report. When the museum’s owner died in 2001, the museum’s contents were sold at auction.
Museum officials are hoping to verify that it is a relic of the battle, though they have little hope of figuring out which soldier’s arm it was.
Museum Executive Director George Wunderlich. It had been displayed for several decades at a private museum in Sharpsburg AP dave dishneauThe museum officials are trying to find out if this is true.
Having written about battlefield hospitals in my latest book, it wouldn’t surprise me at all that it could be a soldier’s arm. One of the stories in my book was about the Daughters of Charity trying to sleep after a long day of work in a Southern Civil War hospital. Here’s the passage:
“I cannot sleep; there is such an odor of death about this apartment,” Sister Blanche Rooney remarked.
They managed as best they could and in the morning, they found the cause of the odor. A pair of amputated limbs had been carelessly thrown into another room. Sister Blanche covered her mouth with a handkerchief and rushed into the room long enough to open a window. Soon thereafter, she gave directions to have the limbs interred.
“Yesterday a man was buried with three legs,” she wrote in her diary.
Amputation was a frequent treatment for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Some doctors felt that given the high chances of infections from lying on the battlefield with open wounds that amputations saved lives. Other doctors reluctantly felt that, although a limb might have been saved if the doctor had had plenty of time to work on it, it just wasn’t possible under battlefield conditions when thousands of soldiers needed treatment.
If the forearm does prove to be a relic from the battle, plans are to display it as part of an exhibit about the battle which celebrates its 150th anniversary this September.
“Being able to put the story of this unknown person before this country is very important to us,” Wunderlich told the Associated Press. “His remains will tell a story that will relate us back to his sacrifice. This was what they gave for what they believed. If done properly, it’s a very poignant story.”