Monday, August 24, 2015

Walt Whitman's Soldiers: "Death of a Case From Second Bull Run"


At Armory Square Hospital, Whitman also cared for Private John Mahay, 101st New York. Mahay was shot in the groin during the second battle of Bull Run on August 29th, 1862. During the course of his treatment, it was reported that Mahay passed several pieces of bone through his urethra. The entrance and exit wounds made by the bullet never healed, and pus, blood and urine would discharge through them. In September 1863, Mahay began to weaken, and he died on October 24th. Several urinary stones were removed from his bladder at autopsy. They formed as a result of his injuries. Whitman recalled Mahay’s life and death in "Specimen Days":

“Well, poor John Mahay is dead. He died yesterday. His was a painful and lingering case. I have been with him at times for the past fifteen months. He belonged to Company A. One Hundred an First New York, and was shot through the lower region of the abdomen at second Bull Run, August, 1862. One scene at his bedside will suffice for the agonies of nearly two years. The bladder had been perforated by a bullet going entirely through him. Not long since I saw a good part of the morning by his bedside, Ward E, Armory-square.The water ran out of his eyes from the intense pain,and the muscles of his face were distorted, but he uttered nothing except a low groan now and then. Hot moist cloths were applied, and relieved him some what. Poor Mahay, a mere boy in age, but old in misfortune. He never knew the love of parents, was placed in his infancy in one of the New-York charitable institutions, and subsequently bound out to a tyrannical master of Sulivan County, (the scars of whose cowhide and club remained yet on his back.) His wound here was a most disagreeable one, for he was a gentle, cleanly, and affectionate boy. He found friends in his hospital life, and, indeed, was a universal favorite. He had quite a funeral ceremony.”

Image 1: Urinary stones removed from the bladder of Private John Mahay

Image 2:  Entry for John Mahay in the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, Surgical Vol 3 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1833), 294. Reprinted as Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War (Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991)


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