Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/211

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THE PHENOMENA OF DEATH IN BATTLE.

ported by Surgeon Thomas B. Read, was the corpse of a Union soldier with his right arm raised above his head and rigidly fixed, his hand still holding the cap with which he had been cheering on his comrades.

Aside from the desperate nature of the fighting at Antietam, the situation was especially favorable to these phenomena, particularly on the Confederate side. They had fought nine battles and engagements within one month, besides marching over two hundred miles. The troops engaged on the portions of the field under consideration had fought at South Mountain two days before—September 14th—had been alert all night on the 14th, 15th, and 16th, marching, countermarching, and skirmishing constantly, and were run down physically from hunger and general exhaustion. They had subsisted for several days upon green corn and apples, and had been one month on half rations of meal and bacon. The day—September 17th—was about like sultry August weather in the North, close and lowery in the morning, followed by a burning sun. The night of the battle was sweltering hot on the field. These circumstances may have played a part in the development of instantaneous rigor.

The first cases that came to the eye of Dr. Brinton were at Belmont, Mo., November 7, 1861. One was a Union soldier kneeling by a tree, in the act of firing, and shot obliquely through the head, front to back. His warm body rested on right knee and leg, left leg bent, with foot on the ground; the left hand firmly clinched the barrel of his musket, which rested with the butt on the ground. The soldier's head drooped to the chest, and rested against the tree. Attitude generally forward, jaw fixed, rigidity perfect. The doctor supposed him to be alive, and could scarcely believe that death rested upon a statue so lifelike. Another Union soldier, shot near the heart, mounted a straying mule and rode beside the doctor some distance. Soon the glazed eyeballs gave unequivocal signs of death, but the body rode on upright. After a time the mule was needed for a live victim, and the body of the other was so firm and rigid that it required force to loosen the knee-grip on the animal's shoulders.

Belmont was fought in autumn, yet the physical activity was such as to generate great bodily heat. It was a running fight for seven hours through wood and marsh. The desperate nature of the struggle is shown by the list of casualties. On the average during the war the proportion of killed and mortally wounded to wounded was one to three. In four of the five regiments engaged at Belmont the proportion was over one to two. The Seventh Iowa lost 188 killed, wounded, and missing. The death-list reached 74, leaving 114 for surviving wounded—over one and a quarter to two.

At Williamsburg, Va., May 5, 1863, Surgeon Read reported a