“Wounded July 1st by a ball:” An Iron Brigade Soldier’s Medical Treatment Record

An image of Theodore Pease taken in the 1870s after his final surgery, showing the shortening of his leg due to his Gettysburg wound. Note the lift on the bottom of his boot. Pvt. Theodore W. Pease (SP 371), National Museum of Health and Medicine.

During the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of soldiers became casualties. Those who survived their wounds long enough to make it to a field hospital received detailed treatment records. These records helped to professionalize American medicine, and taught valuable lessons about what worked and what didn’t. Below is the Camp Letterman treatment record for Theodore Pease, 19th Indiana, in the aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg, heavily annotated. Pease was wounded on July 1 and suffered for decades through several operations and the shortening of his leg, but medical science allowed him to heal and live a fruitful life. For more on Theodore Pease’s life and lengthy medical struggles, be sure to pick up January 2022’s edition of Gettysburg Magazine (link here) and read my article, “A Man of Iron: Theodore Pease’s Medical Treatment and Resiliency.”

Pease, Theodore, Co. H, 19th Indiana Infantry.[1]

Age, 26.

Date of admission, September 5.[2]

Date of injury, July 1.[3]

Operation, Smith’s Anterior splint[4]  10 ½” shaft, Sept 24th 1864 5” shaft, November 8, 1871.

Date of discharge, not cured, November 15.

Remarks: “Reported by A.A.S. Koerper U.S.A.[5] Wounded July 1st by a ball entering the anterior aspect of the right Thigh, three inches below the middle of Pouparts ligament[6] and passing backward and outward, made its exit just behind the Trochanter major,[7] fracturing the ‘Upper Third’ of the Femur and passing through the Trochanter in its course. Took charge of case Oct 8th when he stated that his Limb had been in Smith’s Anterior Splint for the last two months.[8] Oct 8th to Oct 20th Smith’s anterior splint continued in its use. The wounds are discharging freely and bone is practically united. General Health tolerable. Nov 3rd Opened abscess on inner side of Thigh. The bone has united and health improved. Nov 4th removed splint. Nov 15th Transferred to York, Pa.[9] April 25th 1864 Wound still discharging. Three inches shortening.[10] Sept 1877 can walk with cane & 6″ lift ____”[11]

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[1] Theodore Pease was a 24-year-old resident of Johnson County, Indiana when he enlisted in the 19th Indiana on July 29, 1861. He continued to serve with the regiment throughout the early portions of the war as it earned distinction at battles such as Second Manassas, South Mountain, and Antietam.

[2] Pease was admitted to Camp Letterman on September 5, 1863. Camp Letterman opened on July 22, 1863 to serve as a single major hospital installation to consolidate the dozens of smaller hospitals and numerous soldiers treated at private homes. Located on 80 acres of the George Wolf farm on the York Road, the camp treated hundreds of grievously wounded soldiers for months until they could be safely moved to permanent hospitals elsewhere. For more on Camp Letterman, see Gregory A. Coco, A Strange and Blighted Land: Gettysburg: The Aftermath of Battle (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2017).

[3] Fighting with the 19th Indiana Infantry on McPherson’s Ridge, Pease was wounded on July 1 while in combat along the Willoughby Run defense line. For more on the regiment’s combat action, see William Thomas Venner, The 19th Indiana at Gettysburg: Hoosiers’ Courage (Shippensburg, PA: Burd Street Press, 1998).

[4] Smith’s Anterior Splint was a relatively new style of splint. A shaft would be placed on the anterior aspect, or top, of the leg, tied around, and then hung from a string so that the leg was suspended and not resting on the bed. Some doubted its effectiveness, thinking it would cause abscesses and lead to improper healing, but admitted that in cases when the soft parts of the rear of the leg were injured, “it might be found very useful.” Commonly used by both sides in the Civil War, a Confederate Surgeon admitted that it was often misused and led to further damage, but when applied correctly was quite useful. The shrinking size of splint was due to two factors: Pease’s leg was shortened slightly due to excision of bone, but it was also partially healed so less of the leg needed to be immobilized. See John Eric Erichsen, The Science and Art of Surgery: A Treatise on Surgical Injuries, Diseases, and Operations (Philadelphia, PA: Henry C. Lea’s Son & Co, 1884), 593-594, and Russell Murdock, “On the Application of Smith’s Anterior Splint,” Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal May 1864, 71-72.

[5] Acting Assistant Surgeon Egon Anthony Koerper was born in Prussia and moved to Pennsylvania as a child. In September 1861, he was appointed as the Assistant Surgeon of the 75th Pennsylvania Infantry. In late 1862 he left the regiment to serve at various hospitals, such as Camp Letterman, but returned to the 75th in 1864. Later, he served with the Regular Army as a Surgeon through the rest of the century, retiring as a Lt. Col. in the department of the Surgeon General in 1900. See Reports of the Heads of Departments, Transmitted to the Governor of Pennsylvania, in Pursuance of Law, for the Financial Year Ending November 30, 1865 (Harrisburg: Singerly & Myers, 1866), 131, Report of the Surgeon-General of the Army to the Secretary of War for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1899. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899), 34, and Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army from its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903 Volume I (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903), 608.

[6] The Poupart’s ligament is an older term for the inguinal ligament, the band of tissue that runs at the connection of upper leg and groin.

[7] The trochanter major, now referred to as the greater trochanter, is the part of bone jutting out from where the femur attaches to the hip bone.

[8] Prior to admittance to Camp Letterman in September, Pease was treated at the hospital located within the Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary. This served as the official hospital for the First Division of the Union First Corps during the fighting on July 1st. For more on this hospital see Michael A. Dreese, The Hospital on Seminary Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2002).

[9] The General Hospital in York, Pennsylvania was created in 1862. Over the course of the war it grew to a major hospital installation with numerous buildings, and treated thousands of wounded during the war, including many injured at Gettysburg. For more on this hospital see Ira Spar, “The Cartridge Box,” in Civil War Hospital Newspapers: Histories and Excerpts of Nine Union Publications (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2017).

[10] This 1864 update to the record likely came from the pension and treatment records compiled in the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion 1861-1865.

[11] Although the last word is illegible, the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion 1861-1865 states that after his 1877 operation, Pease could walk with a cane and use of a six-inch lift on his boot. As such, that is what this line refers to.

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3 Responses to “Wounded July 1st by a ball:” An Iron Brigade Soldier’s Medical Treatment Record

  1. Lyle Smith says:

    How long did he live after the successful surgery?

    • Jon Tracey says:

      Theodore Pease died on July 31, 1912 at the age of 74! He lived a long life. Though at least one paper did attribute his death partially to the Gettysburg wound, it’s impossible to know. Others simply listed the cause as “paralysis.”

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