Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/173

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

to respond. He thought that his head only was lifted from the ground, and tried to speak, but could not. He recognized a fellow-officer who passed at the moment, and remarked upon the accident. Then he concluded that the battery had been fired, and that his head had been shot off. This puzzled him, and he began to speculate upon the phenomenon of a head carrying on reasoning processes while separated from the body. Was it not a mistake, after all, to believe that the soul is located in the body? Was not the experience he was passing through proof that the seat of all consciousness, will, and reason, and every spiritual attribute was in the head? (Helms was orthodox, and a remark from a skeptical physician, some time before, to the effect that dissection revealed no such an organ as the soul, had left a strong impression upon his young mind. He was yet in his teens.) Metaphysical thoughts were at length interrupted by a pricking and stinging sensation in the neck, and gradually full consciousness and motor power returned. He had been lifted and carried out of the reach of balls, head and all intact. A bullet had hit the leather straps of his haversack and canteen where they crossed his shoulders, cutting two and stopping at the third, as they lay close to the neck. (The flying ends of the severed straps caught his eye the moment it was done.) The collar-bone was broken, and the large muscles and tendons of the neck were badly bruised. Evidently there was temporary paralysis caused by injury of certain nerves at the neck, with but slight derangement of the functions of the organs in the head, while the sensory functions of the body were cut off from participation in sensations registered at the brain.[1]

In contrast with Captain Helms's counterfeit is a case of actual decapitation, noted vividly and vividly recalled by comrades of my regiment, particularly by one who was a careful and sensitive observer, Captain A. H. De Graff, now an engineering expert. On the 17th of June, in the charge of the Ninth Corps on the Confederate works east of Petersburg, a sergeant of the Fifty-seventh Massachusetts leaped upon the parapet, and, with his cap in his left hand and his musket in his right, stood cheering and gesturing with his arms to incite his comrades to come on. Suddenly a shell took his head off as completely as a knife could have done, but the tall form continued erect for some seconds, the arms still waving frantically, but with ever-lessening sweep and power, until the forces of the body collapsed, when the headless trunk toppled over to the ground.[2]

  1. Physiology assumes that complete separation may take place at the Deck and the functions of the divided parts go on for a space. A head freshly guillotined gave back mocking gestures of the mouth and eyes when a bystander made faces at it.
  2. A swift bullet will pass through a pane of glass and not jar it enough to crack it. The shell did its work without upsetting the body by the force of the blow. Dr. S. G.