Sunday, March 13, 2016

Honorable Scars

From: nlm.nih.gov

"It is not two years since the sight of a person who had lost one of his lower limbs was an infrequent occurrence. Now, alas! there are few of us who have not a cripple among our friends, if not in our own families." Physician Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1863

The vast numbers of men disabled by the conflict were a major cause of concern for Rebel and Union leaders. Some worried about preventing idleness and immoral behavior, while others focused on the economic hardship veterans would later face if they could not find employment after the war. Proposed solutions included wartime work as cooks, clerks, and hospital attendants, pensions and convalescent homes for those discharged from the army because of their disability, and funds for the purchase of artificial limbs.

Rebuilding the Body
Illustration of a workroom where several men use machines and tools to craft prosthetics.
“From Stump to Limb,” on the making of prosthetics, by the manufacturer A. A. Marks, late 1800s
Courtesy Warshaw Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Almost 150 patents were issued for artificial limb designs between 1861 and 1873, as the industry expanded to accommodate the veteran population. In 1862 the Federal government allocated Union veterans $75 to buy an artificial leg and $50 for an arm, and by 1864 the Confederacy was also providing financial assistance for such purchases. The payments usually covered the cost of the device and travel to a showroom for it to be fitted.

Image 1: Sepia photograph of four smartly dressed men, each missing a leg and using crutches, standing in a group. Veterans John J. Long, Walter H. French, E. P. Robinson, and an unidentified companion, 1860s

Image 2: Color photograph of an artificial leg. Type of artificial leg invented by Samuel B. Jewett, 1869


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