At a Civil War battlefield in Virginia, scientists have unearthed a pit of human bones. These are the amputated limbs of wounded soldiers.
NPR's Christopher Joyce was one of just a few journalists given access to these bones. And, as he reports, they reveal the tragedy of battle, the agony of survivors and the trials of early combat surgeons. A map shows troop movements and battlefield tactics, the usual kind of Civil War exhibit. But one item alludes to what happened after battle. It's a surgeon's kit with numerous saws. We have saws for cutting into head wounds, for cutting off fingers.
Saws like these were used here in some of the first field hospitals for soldiers.
BIES: If you can imagine sitting with a horrific wound of your own and hearing the moans and seeing a growing pile of limbs from the surgeon and knowing that your term was coming. I can't possibly imagine what that would have been like. It was a pit of limbs uncovered accidentally by utility workers. At first, they found bone fragments.
They sent them to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History to some of the world's best anthropologists. At the museum's forensic lab in Washington, D. Kari Bruwelheide holds up a reconstructed section of a thigh bone. They found 11 amputated limbs. All but one were parts of legs. And there were also two almost-complete skeletons, apparently soldiers buried along with the discarded limbs. These were casualties from the Second Battle of Bull Run in They were likely wounded during a charge up to a ridge called the Deep Cut held by thousands of Confederates.
Bies takes me there. BIES: As they start to get closer, within yards, yards, they start to receive rifle fire and musket fire, and men are dropping left and right. BIES: Over a hundred-thousand soldiers had trampled, shot, exploded, eaten, burned everything. Every single house, barn, was occupied by wounded soldiers, and the surgeons had very little to work with. At the Smithsonian, chief physical anthropologist Doug Owsley shows me a bone with the kind of wound a Minie ball would cause.
Tiny striations on the cuts show that they sawed swiftly but expertly. Bruwelheide and Owsley say the limb pit is the first ever excavated from a Civil War battlefield. OWSLEY: It's so much a part of what actually happened during the Civil War as the only way they could really deal with these types of limb fractures, but you never see it. And here it is right in front of us. Owsley says the surgeons recorded patients' names along with the wounds and where they amputated.
That might allow the team to match names with bones and perhaps even find out what happened to those who survived. View the discussion thread. Share Tweet Email. View Slideshow 1 of Karin Bruwelheide handles an amputates limb that dates back to the Civil War. Scientists at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History have been analyzing the bones to learn more about them and who they may have belonged to.
View Slideshow 2 of A typical surgeon's kit from the Civil War included various saws for amputations. View Slideshow 3 of Top A bullet lodged in the femur of one of the skeletons. Lower left An Enfield bullet from that time period, shows the shape and size of the kind of bullet that killed the soldier. Lower right An X-ray shows the position of the embedded bullet in the femur.
View Slideshow 4 of The limbs had been evenly cut left , and researchers were able to identify bullet holes right. View Slideshow 5 of A pit of amputated limbs and two nearly complete skeletons that date back to the Civil War were discovered at Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia. Scientists at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History have been analyzing the bones to learn more about them and to whom they may have belonged.
View Slideshow 6 of A field technician excavates an amputated limb in Kate D. View Slideshow 7 of Karin Bruwelheide, a physical anthropologist with the National Museum of Natural History, handles one of the limbs uncovered from the pit. The team has identified the remains as belonging to Union soldiers from the second Battle of Bull Run. View Slideshow 8 of The soldiers whose limbs were found in the pit were likely wounded during a charge along the Deep Cut ridge. View Slideshow 9 of I beg leave to mention particularly Maj. Sturtevant, Capts. Pierce, Murray, Long, Cross, Perry and Crafts, for excellent and skillful conduct while commanding their skirmishers, as they were under fire from a concealed foe for more than ten hours, and they report the conduct of their men as excellent throughout.
Very respectfully, E. Fifth New Hampshire. We then advanced in line of battle several hundred yards and entered a corn-field. While marching by the right flank to gain our position in line of battle, we received a heavy fire of shell and canister-shot, which killed and wounded quite a number of officers and men, a single shell wounding 8 men and passing through the State colors of my regiment. I had scarcely reached my position on the left of the first line of battle and opened fire, when it was reported that the enemy were cautiously attempting to outflank the entire division with a strong force concealed behind a ridge, and in the same corn-field in which I was posted.
They had, in fact, advanced within yards of the left of our lines, and were preparing to charge. I instantly ordered a change of front to the rear, which was executed in time to confront the advancing line of the enemy in their center with a volley at very short range, which staggered and hurled them back.
Mike Pride Civil War Collection, 1775-1927
They rallied and attempted to gain my left, but were again confronted and held, until, assistance being received, they were driven back with dreadful loss. George Nettleton, of Company G, although wounded, bringing them off the field, displaying great bravery and endurance. My regiment remained on the battle-field all the remainder of the day, under fire of shot and shell, and picketed the field at night.
Throughout the whole time my officers and men exhibited all the qualities of good soldiers, steady, brave, and prompt in action, although the forces of the enemy were more than three to one. Sturtevant, Adjutant Dodd, Capts. Graves, George, and Bean, each commanding companies, and Lieuts. Livermore, Ricker, and Goodwin. The following officers were wounded: Col. Cross slightly ; Capts. Long and Randlett; First Lieuts. Graves and Parks; Second Lieuts. Bean, George, Twitchell, Little, and Hurd. George A.
Gay, a gallant young officer, was killed. Liscomb was also wounded. Of enlisted men, as far as can be ascertained, were killed and wounded. Our wounded were attended to by Drs. Knight, Davis, and Childs as rapidly and as well as possible, and were all made very comfortable.
Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers.
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Source: Official Records: Series I. Part I, Reports. Serial No. Richard E.webdisk.cmnv.org/28422.php
American Civil War Research Database
Cross, Fifth New Hampshire Infantry. Camp near Harper's Ferry, W. At the end of that time, having expended all of our ammunition, we were relieved by the Fifth Army Corps.
- by Timothy J. Orr?
- The Philosophy of the Western (The Philosophy of Popular Culture).
- 43. New Hampshire's "Fighting Fifth" Civil War Regiment.
The regiment fell back, firing, in good order. The loss of the regiment was 1 commissioned officer killed and 4 wounded; 25 enlisted men killed and 49 wounded. On the morning of the 3d instant, the regiment occupied the same ground which it held on the morning of the 2d. The forenoon was spent in throwing up intrenchments, which proved of great benefit to the regiment, as the enemy opened a tremendous cannonade on our line at about 2 p. During all this heavy fire we lost but 1 man, who was killed on the picket line.
On the 14th instant, the regiment was attached to Col. Brooke's brigade, and acted as skirmishers, following up the enemy to within a short distance of Falling Waters, capturing some 50 prisoners, all of whom were turned over to the provost guard. During all the fourteen days of fighting, marching, and skirmishing, the regiment has behaved in the most gallant and satisfactory manner, enduring all their hardships without a murmur.
Among the officers who particularly distinguished themselves on July 2, I would mention the names of Capt.