Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/217

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THE PHENOMENA OF DEATH IN BATTLE.

muscle jelly? Or has the capacity for spasmodic reaction been exhausted by the previous overexertion of the soldier—volition being cut short by the wound?

Some men of science not only admit the validity of the evidence offered as to the appearancce of phenomenal rigor under war wounds as well as electric shocks, but assume it as an established physiological fact, without, however, accounting for it. Dr. Mitchell, in his indirect suggestions before mentioned, leaves no reason to doubt that he believes in it. Dr. Brinton and other army surgeons familiar with the phenomenon have speculated as to its causes, and almost all medical men who are not familiar with it in actual experience are curious as to what proof or explanations may be produced.

There is one other form of manifestations of the battlefield almost as unique, though not so startling, as instantaneous rigor, and being more frequently encountered has doubtless impressed itself more widely upon the minds of soldiers and visitants to the field. At first thought it seems but reasonable that the intensity of battle passion and energy should leave its mark upon the forms and features of combatants who die in the midst of the fray. Per contra, it seems odd that corpses made so by violence in the midst of violence should sometimes wear on their faces the peaceful look of calmness usually associated with quiet deathbeds. I mentioned in the paper of last year, on wounds, that many of the dead appear to have passed away in a state of mental composure and freedom from pain. Often in contemplating these scenes one is surprised at the contrasts between the happy smile on the dead warrior's face and the blood, the spent missiles, the weapons, and other ghastly symbols of the strife that has passed, lying beside him. Here, again. Nature has wrought a good work. Wrath is soon spent, the inciting din of battle quickly hushed; pain and melancholy thoughts, even surprise that life remains, swiftly loosen the chords that once bound the now suffering man to the warrior's terrible trade. Thought, fanciful it may be but yet enchanting, takes him miles and leagues away, the while his torn body lies not ten feet from the cannon that mangled it, and the smoke of the fatal discharge still hovers about the scene. Again he is only a man. He tries bravely to live, forgetting to hate; makes light of his condition, and may be helps another victim supposed to be worse off than himself. Finally, death steals on while some noble or pleasant thoughts play upon the features. We sometimes found our dead comrades a long distance away from the landmarks on the spots where they fell. This brings up a practical suggestion. Those who fall asleep peacefully die as we would have them if die they must. They usually, however, show unmistakably that they survived their