Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/210

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invited on their own soil. Circumstances have relegated it to the background, but at one time it was deemed worthy the best efforts of descriptive writers. Charles Carleton Coffin, the war correspondent and historian, wrote of one of the scenes there in language that will seem to many overcolored. Speaking of an action almost contemporaneous with that at the north cornfield of which I have written, he says: "The Confederates had gone down as grass before the scythe. . . . Resolution and energy still lingered on the pallid cheeks, in the set teeth, in the griping hand. I recall a soldier with the cartridge between his thumb and finger, the end of the cartridge bitten off, and the paper between his teeth, when the bullet pierced his heart and the machinery of life—all the muscles and nerves—came to a standstill. A young lieutenant had fallen in trying to rally his men; his hand was still firmly grasping his sword, and determination was visible in every line of his face."

Curiously enough. Surgeon Brinton's field records, which form the basis of a paper referred to in Dr. Mitchell's remarks on the subject, include three Antietam scenes. The doctor confesses in the opening paragraph of his article (American Journal of the Medical Sciences, vol. xix, p. 87) that this line of investigation was a comparatively new one at the close of the war, 1865. He says: "I have been greatly surprised at the extraordinary attitudes presented by the bodies of those who had fallen with wounds apparently instantaneously fatal—as in the head or heart. In many instances the body was rigid throughout, and the position unquestionably that of the last moment of life. The muscles had, as it were, been surprised by death, and the limbs remained set and fixed in the position held at the moment of the reception of the fatal wound."

In the cornfield, along the sunken road at Antietam (the scene of Mr. Coffin's description). Dr. Brinton saw a Confederate corpse semi-erect, one foot on the ground, one knee against a bank of earth, and one arm stretched forward on a low breastwork. His musket, with rammer in, lay on the ground, and the appearances indicated that he had been killed while rising to load and fire. He was shot through the center of the forehead. In the field adjoining the doctor counted nearly forty dead Confederates, some with their arms rigidly in the air, some with legs drawn and fixed, and many with trunks drawn and fixed. The positions were "not those of the relaxation of death," but were due to "final muscular action at the last moment of life, in the spasm of which the muscles set and remained rigid." The wounds were chiefly in the chest, though some were in the head and abdomen. His observations were made thirty-six hours after death.

Another Antietam case included in Dr. Brinton's list, but re-