Sunday, August 9, 2015

Walt Whitman's Soldiers: "...The Noblest Specimen of a Young Western Man..."


On May 2nd, 1863, during the battle of Chancellorsville, Private Cunningham, 82nd Ohio, received a gunshot wound to the right thigh that resulted in a compound fracture of the thigh. The bullet was extracted at Armory Square Hospital on June 15th. Extensive abscesses formed following the procedure, and on May 2nd, 1864, Cunningham’s leg was amputated. Although Bliss had hope for a successful outcome when he submitted the specimen to the Army Medical Museum on May 5th, Cunningham died on June 5th, 1864. Cunningham’s lower-thigh bone appears here. Whitman, who cared for Cunningham, described the young man in a letter to his mother.

"I have just left Oscar Cunningham, the Ohio boy—he is in a dying condition—there is no hope for him—it would draw tears from the hardest heart to look at him--his is all wasted away to a skeleton, & looks like some one fifty years old—you remember I told you a year ago, when he was first brought in, I thought him the noblest specimen of a young western man I had seen, a real giant in size, & always with a smile on his face—O what a change, he has long been very irritable, to every one but me, & his frame is all wasted away."

Cunningham died on June 4, 1864, one month after Bliss had hoped that Cunningham might survive his amputation. Cunningham was one of the first soldiers to be buried in the new Arlington National Cemetery.

Amputation of Right Thigh Oscar “H” Cunningham” Private Co “I” 82 Ohio Vols. was wounded at the battle of Chancellorsville May 2, 1863. Entered Armony Square hospital June 15 1863 with gunshot wound of right-thigh. The ball entered on terior aspect of middle third passed backward – producing a compound fracture of femur. The ball was extracted by Surgeon in charge. The missle was a round or conical ball subsequently erysipelas of the cellulocutauceous variety occurred involving the entire extremity. Extensive absesses followed. The constitution became involved and suffered greatly from supperative and irritative fever. On the 2nd of May 1864 the thigh was amputated at the uper third which operations was performed by Surgeon In Charge. In the operation the double laternal flaps were made by transfixion. Hemorrhage was controlled by compression of the artery underneath pouparts ligament and but little blood lost. About the usual number of vessels were tied in the flaps which however were found to unhealthy – affected by neighboring absesses. Meeting at a profective centre the flaps formed a very good but somewhat conical stump.

There was found some necrosis indicated before operation by the appearance of the sinus affecting the calus only – not extending to the medullary canal. The union was complete. The fragments overlappis about 2 inches.

Since the operation the patient has been doing well although threatened with erysipelas in the stump. Hope is entertained of a succesful result – without it he was exposed to a fatal issue.
Specimen forwarded on the 5 day of May 1864
DW Bliss
Surgeon U.S. Vols.
In Charge

“He seem’d quite willing to die…”
Corporal Frank H. Irwin, 93rd Pennsylvania, received a gunshot wound to his left knee during the battle of Fort Fisher, Virginia on March 25th, 1865. Bliss amputated his leg at Armory Square on April 14th. Irwin died on May 2nd. He was Whitman’s “Pennsylvania Soldier” in Specimen Days.

Image:  Lower thigh bone of Private Oscar Cunningham. National Museum of Health and Medicine


For the record, that is the upper part of the Femur pictured.
Bill Walker
Reenactor Surgeon

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