Union General Daniel Sickles had his right leg amputated when he got hit by a wayward cannon ball. His amputation was above the knee following his injury at Gettysburg, in July of 1863. His leg was amputated at the corps hospital in that town before he was transported back to Washington, D.C.
Now here’s where General Sickles’ story became a bit more interesting. General Sickles found out that the army was collecting “specimens of morbid anatomy together with projectiles and foreign bodies” and donated his newly detached limb in a small coffin-shaped box to the Army Medical Museum in Washington, D. C. The museum had been set up to show the horrors of war and included military medicine and surgical objects.
John Brinton, the museum’s original curator actually visited local battle sites and got contributions of artifacts from Union doctors. And throughout the war the museum collected photographs of severe wounds that required amputation and other surgical procedures. The collection as actually published in a six volume set, The Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion between 1870 and 1883.
But the story of General Sickles did not stop with the end of the war. The General actually visited his missing leg each year on the anniversary of his amputation.
Sickles was fitted with a Palmer prosthetic, but like many of the war’s officers on both the North and the South, was shown often in photographs including at DAR reunions with an empty pant leg on his right side. That phenomenon occurred often as officers may have thought it below them to wear an artificial leg, a device more commonly worn by the soldiers in the lower ranks. Many thought it was much more a badge of honor to appear with the empty pant leg or uniform sleeve.
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