June 28th, 2012: Union Wounded at Savage’s Station

Posted on: 06/28/2012

150 years ago today wounded soldiers were growing rapidly in number.  Three days of battle had taken its toll on both armies and each had to address the unfortunate duty of caring for those who had been shot or maimed.  One of the most famous photos taken during the Civil War was made during this time around June 28th, 1862.  It shows a fenced in yard packed full of Union wounded, and when examined under high resolution can tell us a great deal about the suffering endured by the wounded.

Above is the famous image.  For this view it’s difficult to distinguish the individual men in the yard.  When we zoom in closer, however:

We can see the men in great detail.  This soldier looks like he was hit in the arm, possibly by a shell fragment.  His sleeve was cut off the treat the wound and blood stains remain around his shoulder. 

In the fore ground is a soldier being attended to by a surgeon:

This soldier looks like he was hit in the leg.  Soldiers wounded by minie balls could expect their bones to be shattered if struck.  Even with modern technology a bone splintered into 5 or 6 pieces is a tough fix, so you can imagine what it was like 150 years ago.  Amputation was the primary treatment in minie ball wounds to limbs because of the bullet’s bone crushing effect.

The majority of the men in the picture just look like they’re trying to find some comfort despite their painful wounds and the sweltering June heat.  Here are some examples:

 

 

Similar scenes would be common in Confederate hospitals around Richmond.  Almost all of the men pictured here would have fallen into Confederate hands by June 30, as McClellan withdrew his army to the James River and left all who could not walk or be moved.  The Civil War has a surprising amount of vivid images like this documenting the suffering and sacrifice of its participants, and this is a prime example.

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