General Hancock wounded at Gettysburg and carried off the field (Illustration from “Life of Hancock” published in the 1880’s)
General Stannard stood over him as we laid him upon the ground, and opened his clothing where he indicated by a movement of his hand that he was hurt, a ragged hole, an inch or more in diameter, from which the blood was pouring profusely, was disclosed in the upper part and on the right side of his thigh. He was naturally in some alarm for his life.
“Don’t let me bleed to death,” he said. “Get something around it quick.” Stannard had whipped out his handkerchief, and as I helped to pass it around General Hancock’s leg I saw that the blood, being of dark color and coming in jets, could not be from an artery, and I said, to him, “This is not arterial blood, General; you will not bleed to death.” From my use of the surgical term he took me for a surgeon and replied, with a sigh of relief: “That’s good; thank you for that Doctor.” We tightened the ligature by twisting it with the barrel of a pistol, and soon stopped the flow of blood.[i]
Halt right there in this account of Union General Winfield S. Hancock’s wounding on July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg. Handkerchief and pistol barrel to make a tourniquet? Not only is it unique and apparently effective, but how was it possible? I’ve “bandaged” in scenarios at reenactment field hospitals with the 1860’s techniques, and it takes a lot more cloth to go around arms, legs, and torsos than one might think, even if the man is “typical soldier” height and weight. That had to be a pretty large handkerchief to wrap around the upper thigh and have enough to tie to tourniquet.
While I didn’t doubt the core facts of Lieutenant George Benedict’s account, I had questions about the details and decided to do a little research and hands-on testing. Continue reading