Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/177

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165
FIRST ACTIONS OF WOUNDED SOLDIERS.

souls, and so breathe their last. It will be only in some such struggle as at Antietam, or before the stone wall at Fredericksburg, or in Pickett's charge at Gettysburg, and the front line at that, that men will die retaining full intensity of battle ardor so long as breath holds out. There we may expect to find men dead with their weapons poised and their colors held firm in the death-grip.[1] The manner in which men fall depends also upon the nature of the action in which they are engaged. Nearly every one is familiar with the traditional stage fall, where the victim of a supposed death-shot strikes an attitude, clasps his hand to his heart, stiffens every joint and muscle, breathes hysterically, and goes down like a log toppled over from the end. Another popular yet erroneous notion is that men shot through the vitals leap into the air and go down in a dramatic attitude. Sometimes men are found on the field in striking positions, but often an examination shows that the position was taken after the fall. As a rule, a man who is hit above the hips goes down.[2] The slighter the wound the more commotion, for the body instinctively resists, just as it does when one slips or is pushed or collides with some object. But a wound in a vital spot weakens the resistance, and men sink at once, or reel and tumble with very little self-control. One reason why men are found dead in a variety of positions is that so long as consciousness remains they strive to help themselves. The wound and the fall together create a temporary panic. Any one who knows the sensation of being temporarily arrested, when at a high rate of speed, by some accident, may imagine the general state of mind of a soldier when hit in action. Something has happened; he is the victim; how serious is it? A man's first thought is of the rear of the column, and this not from fear, but because he expects surgical aid from that direction. So long as he can move he goes toward the place of help. When no longer able to move he makes himself as comfortable as he can and waits. In this waiting many die, and it is a question whether many do not die from over-anxiety—that is, add to their hurt by fretting and struggling. There are soldiers of the civil war living to-day who received wounds as serious at the time as some who died on the field. Either their temperaments were more hopeful or their circumstances more favorable.


  1. Physiological science recognizes, and in a measure accounts for, rigor mortis in cases of the kind cited.
  2. There is an apparent, but, I think, not a real contradiction of this statement in the statistics collected by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, in the United States Army Hospital at Philadelphia, during the war. Out of fifty-six wounds involving the arm system of nerves, twenty-seven fell. But he had excluded all cases accompanied by "early and severe hæmorrhage," and was not considering the dead and mortally wounded, nor those cases too severe for long-distance transportation.