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Thread: Arms and Legs

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    Williamsburg, VA

    Default Arms and Legs

    Portraying Medical Staff, we have all heard, read, and interpreted "piles of amputated arms and legs" in and around field hospitals after a battle. Specifically, I am researching the hospitals in Williamsburg, Virginia, after the battle of May 5, 1862. We have over 30 locations that we know were used for emergency medical care during and after the fighting here, and we have several primary source accounts of such piles of amputated limbs in places like a church basement and the stairwell of a college building.

    A question that has come up in my research is "what happened to the actual amputated parts?" Were they buried? That would mean that we should have a lot of forgotten graves of body parts around the town. But we've had a LOT of archaeology around the town in the last 80 years or so, and no one has ever found such a thing.

    Maybe I just haven't read the right stuff, but...

    Does anyone know of any US/CS regulation, directive, instructions, whatever, on an official procedure for the disposal of amputated limbs from a field hospital?

    Failing this, does anyone know of any primary source that refers to disposing of amputated limbs?

    Any info or thoughts would be appreciated...

    Carson Hudson
    Williamsburg, VA

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2012

    Default Good Question

    Thats a very good question. I have joined a Confederate unit here in Maryland as a surgeon. I have done alot of reading on Civil War medicine and have not read about what happened to the body parts. I have often wonder that myself.

    Brian "Doc" Butcher

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2006


    sometimes they were burried but most often they were burned some went to med students for research
    D. Meister

    Federal and Confederate Surgeons of the American Civil War Era

    Society of Civil War Surgeons

    Owner and Proprietor
    D. M. Meister Medical Purveyor
    Purveyors of replica 18th and 19th century medicines.

  4. #4


    Yes, some were buried. There is at least one "parts" grave at Arlington. Most were burned in the same way as the animal carcasses were burned after Gettysburg.

    Decaying remains were known to be a source of disease and a health problem during the war, they were taken care of rather quickly.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Central Va


    Couple years ago in Richmond close to where one of the hospitals existed then... They were doing some excavation work on and beside the roadway and uncovered a pit full of amputated limb bones, thought to have been from the war era Appeared they just went out back dug a deep round hole and tossed them in and covered it over... It was an unexpected find in the middle of the city like that.... several cemeteries not far away seems they would have deposited them there instead...
    Frederick Sineth
    14th Virginia Infantry Regt Co. A & I
    - 106th Penna Vol Co.F
    - Pegrams Va Artillery

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2008


    Let us not forget some of these limbs thankfully ended up heading back to DC for the Army to evaluate and use in research. Many of which still reside today in the US Army Medical Museum. Sickles used to visit his leg.
    1st LT Brian Schwatka
    Staff Asst Surgeon
    Medical Staff Regiment USA(Reenacted)
    Attached 3RD US Regular Infantry Co K(Reenacted)
    Attached 17th Corp Field Hospital(Reenacted)

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Near Hanover, PA


    So, what would common sense tell you was done with the amputated limbs? On a hot day, near a hospital?
    "Grumpy" Dave T.

    "Biggest problem is, at most "reenactments," nobody knows what their "historical" job was. And, in most cases the privates are worse off than the NCO's and Officers." - Deceased

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2006


    I'd bury them. So, apparently, would they:

    See p. 109:

    "Part of my leg is buried in Virginia, part of it in New York; I don't know where the rest of my body will be buried."

    See also Circular No. 4, SGO March 25, 1863. One of the assistant surgeons in the divisional field hospital is responsible for records and proper burial of the dead. Another is responsible for the tents, straw, cooking, &c. It makes sense that limbs would be buried since you're already digging graves for the corpses, not to mention sinks and shambles. Besides that, burning the limbs would mean taking firewood from the guy overseeing the cooking and filling the air with something other than the smell of food.

    Of course, I guess like everything else it depends. In the Wilderness, premature cremation was not an unknown phenomenon.
    M. A. Schaffner
    Midstream Regressive Complainer


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