14 December 2015

Have you gone out on a Limb? Have you researched your Civil War ancestor and his artificial limb(s)?

General Assembly Session Record (NC) (1891) -- A bill to be entitled an act for the relief of J.J. Bennett of Ashe County – “having right arm off below the elbow, and left hand off with the exception of two fingers”

The outcomes of any war are often great losses of life and “limb.”

For losses of life we check probate records, cemetery records, etc.

What about for a lost limb?  If the soldier (or wife or children) lived long enough (and/or were poor enough) we might find a pension record that mentions a lost limb.  Sometimes compiled service records will mention that a soldier is in hospital and the nature of that stay (possibly) a lost limb. Or a newspaper article might suggest a grievous injury to a limb.

Like today, after the Civil War (and other conflicts and my focus is the Civil War), soldiers who lost limbs had an opportunity to receive artificial limbs.  A difference is that many credit the Civil War as the real genesis of artificial limbs, The Civil War and the Birth of the U.S Prosthetics Industry.

As with other Civil War records you will need to know whether your ancestor was a Union or Confederate soldier.

Records of artificial limbs for Union Civil War Veterans are found in NARA.  I was reminded about these great records from the NARA program series, Know Your Records.  There was a program Genealogy: Using Records of Artificial Limbs for Union Civil War Veterans, 1861-1927 whose video you can watch.  Do check out the related Research Guide to Records of Artificial Limbs Provided to Civil War and Later Veterans, 1861-1927.

I have researched Artificial Limbs for Confederate Civil War Veterans where qualifying soldiers were offered limbs or money.  For many reasons, many soldiers accepted money in lieu of artificial limbs (even if physically able to make use of such).

NC State Auditor, Register of Artificial Limbs (1866-1870)
left side 
As an example, in NC, I tracked one soldier J.J. Bennett through the support services available in the post Civil War and found mention of him in the listed papers and his mutilated arm (qualifying for an Artificial Limb) as noted by [Q]. This is a reminder to do try and exhaustively search for the extant paperwork for your soldier.  The papers for J.J. were found at both state and county level as his civil war records reference four different counties where he lived in the immediate post Civil War time period.

+ [Q] Newspaper article about Chancellorsville May & June 1863 – “J.J. Bennett, in hand, severe”
+ [Q] Army of the Confederate States, Certificate of Disability for Retiring Invalid Soldiers (1865) [part of compiled service record] – “Gun Shot wound Requiring Amp. of right arm”
+ [Q] State Auditor, Register of Artificial Limbs (1866-1870) & Register of Pensioners (1879-1884) – “arm below elbow” received payment 1 April 1867
+ [Q] General Assembly Session Records (1891) – A bill to be entitled an act for the relief of J.J. Bennett of Ashe County – “having right arm off below the elbow, and left hand off with the exception of two fingers”
+ [Q] Soldiers Pension Application (Joseph J. Bennett) (1892 & 1901) – “his right arm off below the elbow”
+ [Q] Soldiers Home Application (1901) – “wounds right arm below elbow”
+ Ashe County NC Pension Records Annual Lists (1901-1904)
NC State Auditor, Register of Artificial Limbs (1866-1870)
right sid
+ Widows Pension Application (Susan M Bennett) (1914) – note that we can only prove that she lived with J.J. before the Civil War (and that’s another story) & her application makes no mention of his disabilities

Though not found for J.J., I would also suggest checking hospital records (held at NARA even for Confederate Hospitals. For example, a compilation for Confederate Hospital No. 4 (Wilmington, NC 1861-1865) is found online though the original records are held by NARA. This list does contain a few entries for amputated limbs though most had specific diseases.

As for NC, other states where the Confederate Army raised troops, also looked after their Confederate soldiers as the war concluded.
+ [Mississippi] Lesson plan – Confederate Pensions and Prosthetics (a great read for anyone interested in the subject matter)

And, as you can see, there are many places where one might learn that an ancestor could have had an artificial limb which information you can then use to do further research into the applicable records (Federal for Union soldiers and State-level for Confederate soldiers).

Does your state have a great resource that documents Civil War soldiers and their need for artificial limbs?

Did your ancestor have a limb amputated?

Have you acquired his paperwork?

What was the most interesting tidbit you learned?

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