Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/209

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197
THE PHENOMENA OF DEATH IN BATTLE.

the brain while kneeling at a spring to drink, who retained his extraordinary attitude naturally in death. General Grant, when appealed to, said that it could not be true, as he had never seen a single instance where a soldier, shot dead, retained the posture held in life, and his attention had never been called to it in the war. General Sheridan stated that he had often seen it. I wrote what I recalled of the Antietam scene thirty years after, and, never having had a doubt raised but such things could be and were not rare in war, I assumed the phenomenon to be fairly well established, and that citation without proof would not tax the credulity of readers. Yet the denial by General Grant caused me to question my own senses or my memory. As against both Sherman and Sheridan, the one sanguine and imaginative, the other impulsive and good-natured, it would seem that, all things being equal, a question of fact would have the more competent judge in Grant. General Grant went no further in his denial than to say that he had never seen the phenomenon. There are veterans who, having had the best of opportunities for seeing all phases of the battlefield, not only say that they never saw a case of the kind, but, resting upon professional knowledge, assert its impossibility. For my own part, I can report only what I saw in my capacity as a combatant—that is, extraordinary attitudes of dead men on certain fields. Reports of comrades of analogous cases, and the quite prevalent belief that the manifestation was possible, led to the acceptance of it as a natural yet withal a rare occurrence. The fact that military men, and more especially surgeons who have been on the field, are skeptical on the point, that such phenomena are comparatively rare, and that scientific observations have been recorded in but few instances, makes the subject one for extreme caution and conservatism in treatment. In my paper on wounded soldiers I cited the cases of oflBcers killed while leading the charge, who in death held their sword-arms out as when last seen in life. The inference drawn was that death must have been instantaneous. The Antietam scene described was of similar character, yet extraordinary in the number of examples of the same order. I confess that I did not see on any other of the score of fields where I was present a scene at all comparable to that at Antietam, but competent witnesses have reported similar things on other fields, as well as on different parts of that field.

The field of Antietam was peculiarly favorable for the development of the phenomenon, which for brevity, borrowing a term from Surgeon Brinton's record of research, I will call battlefield rigor. It was the hardest fought battle in the East—perhaps in the whole country. The Confederates were at bay, with the Potomac River behind them, and the Union soldiers were exultant over the enemy's dilemma, and the fact that for once battle was