James Edward Hanger designed and created a device that was destined to transform the lives of thousands of people world wide.
James was born in 1843 and grew up on his family’s plantation in Churchville VA. At the outbreak of Civil War, he was studying engineering at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, which today is known as Washington and Lee. Hearing about his brothers and cousins enlisting to join the Confederate troops and with the encouragement of his mother, James decided to leave college and enlist, with the Churchville Cavalry under the command of Captain Franklin Sterrett.
The Churchville Cavalry, was stationed at Philippi Virginia, (West Virginia). On a stormy June 2nd night in 1861, James Confederate commanders had received word of a possible Union Army attack, but they believed the attack would not happen at night during such awful weather conditions. His commanders ordered the troops to bed down for the night in tents and local barns without posting lookouts.
Before dawn on June 3rd the Union columns arrived near Philippi. James Hanger and his Confederate comrades were quickly roused from their slumber hearing the Union troops gun and cannon fire which signaled the beginning of one of the first land battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Philippi.
According to James, the Churchville Cavalry was spending the night in one of the local barns when the first two rounds were directed at their Cavalry Camps. The third round was a 6 pound solid shot aimed at a stable in which the Churchville Cavalry Company had slept. Unfortunately the six pound solid shot ricochet and stuck James just below the knee, severely tearing the flesh from his leg. His injury was so serious that he had no choice but to hide in the barn during the battle until he could get proper medical care.
Four hours later, looking for plunder, the Union troops entered the barn where James was hiding . It did not take the Union Troops long to discovered an injured James. He was captured and taken to Dr. James D. Robinson of the 16th Ohio Volunteers. In order to save his life, Dr. Robinson had to amputate James leg seven inches below the hip. Less than two days after joining the Churchville Cavalry, James E. Hanger would be one of the first amputees to join the estimated 200,000 men to have their limbs amputated during the Civil War.
Once James had recuperated from his excruciating amputation he was sent to Camp Chase in Ohio as a prisoner of war. In August of 1861 James E. Hanger was part of a prisoner exchange and was returned to his family home in Churchville, Virginia. He was sent home walking in an painful ill fitting above-knee wooden peg leg prosthesis. Once home, he asked his family to leave him alone. His family thought he was locked up in his room suffering from depression from the loss of his leg, but instead, James was busy constructing the world’s first double-jointed, self-articulating prosthetic knee.
James created his a new prosthetic limb carved from barrel staves with added metal parts for strength and articulation. His design used rubber bumpers and hinges at both the knee and foot which gave the wearer a better, less painful fit. This design made for a more natural way of walking for the wearer. Once he had finished his new prosthetic, he shocked his family members by walking down the stairs from the room in which he had been holed up in for months sporting his newly created prosthetic limb. He was quoted as saying:
“Today I am thankful for what seemed then to me nothing but a blunder of fate, but which was to prove instead a great opportunity,”
And what an opportunity it was for him to help amputees throughout the world. By December of 1861 he had established the J. E. Hanger Company in Richmond, Virginia, to manufacture his “Hanger Limb”. He was then granted by the Confederate government on March 23rd 1863 a patent and commission producing his prosthesis to assist the disabled veterans. And by the time of his death in June 1919, the J.E. Hanger Company had branches in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, London, and Paris.
The Hanger Orthopedic Group, remains a market leader today in the manufacturing of prosthetic and orthotic products and patient care services.
©LAMB May132013 updated 01/05/2014
To find out more about J.E. Hanger go to the following website:
To Find out more about the Battle of Philippi go to the following website: