By Melissa Brachfeld Public Affairs Specialist, National Museum of Health and Medicine
By 1863, the Civil War had been raging on for two long years, with significant casualties on both sides of the conflict. The year would see the battles of Chancellorsville and Chattanooga, among many others. It also brought the Battle of Gettysburg – one of the most pivotal battles of the Civil War.
Beginning Feb. 11, 2013, the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring, Md., an element of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, will put several artifacts, specimens and images from 1863 on display, as part of its ongoing commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.
Those items will include medical illustrations depicting the wounds of soldiers from Ohio, North Carolina, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. According to Eric Boyle, Ph.D., of the NMHM Otis Historical Archives, illustrations in the exhibit will document the amputation of an arm, gangrene of the foot, a gunshot wound to the chest, and more.
Boyle said one of the tintypes shows Pvt. Charles Lapham of the 1st Vermont, who was wounded near Boonesborough, Md., on July 8, 1863. Lapham was struck by a solid shot, which shattered both of his legs. Forty-eight hours after he was wounded, he “rallied” and was able to successfully undergo amputations on each leg. Boyle said Lapham recovered rapidly, and after 11 months was supplied with artificial limbs. By October 1864, Lapham reported he could walk up and down staircases. He contributed photos to the Museum to document his mobility.
Craig Schneider, a specialist in the Museum’s Historical Collections, said visitors will also be able to see the bones of soldiers who were wounded or killed in 1863. One specimen that will be included is a portion of the left arm of Pvt. John Gilbert, Company C, 42nd New York, which was amputated after being struck by a bullet at the Battle of Gettysburg. Schneider said Gilbert remained in service, eventually transferring to the Veteran Reserve Corps.
These bones, illustrations and other artifacts will replace objects on display from battles and events in 1862, which first went on display on May 21, 2012, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th anniversary. The 1863 images and specimens will be found in the Museum’s Civil War exhibit, which is located in “The Collection That Teaches” gallery. The exhibit calls back to the Museum’s earliest days as the Army Medical Museum, and features the right arm of Capt. Henry Wirz, known for his time as commander of the Confederate prisoner-of-war camp at Andersonville; a pocket surgical kit that belonged to Mary Walker, the first woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor; and the lower right leg of Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, which was amputated following the Battle of Gettysburg.
NMHM offers a free docent-led Civil War-themed tour of its exhibits on the second Saturday of each month, beginning at 11 a.m. No reservations are required and participants are asked to meet in the Museum’s lobby. The Museum is located at 2500 Linden Lane in Silver Spring, Md., and is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Dec. 25. Admission is free. For more information, call 301-319-3300 or visit http://www.medicalmuseum.mil.