J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

“Not Cutting the Flesh”

While searching for examples of Continental soldiers losing feet to rolling cannon balls (none found so far), I came across some interesting examples of other curious cannon-ball injuries from volume 17 of the Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association.

According to this volume, Ephraim Abbott (1752-1778) was a volunteer at the Battle of Bennington on 16 Aug 1777. “A cannon ball wrenched his body, not cutting the flesh, and made him lame for life.” Or what few months were left of it.

Gen. John Nixon (1725-1815) was likewise bloodlessly wounded at the first battle of Saratoga on 19 Sept 1777. “A cannon ball passed so near his head as to permanently impair the eye and ear on one side.”

After the second battle of Saratoga, surgeon James Thacher described treating this even more curious injury:

A brave soldier received a musket ball in his forehead, between his eyebrows; observing that it did not penetrate the bone, it was imagined that the force of the ball being partly spent, it rebounded and fell out, but on close examination by the probe, the ball was detected, spread entirely flat on the bone under the skin, which I extracted with the forceps.

No one can doubt but he received his wound while facing the enemy, and it is fortunate for the brave fellow, that his skull proved too thick for the ball to penetrate.
Thacher’s journal entry for 24 Oct 1777 discusses other unusual wounds.

(Photo of the Saratoga Monument by Samantha Decker, via Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)


John L. Smith said...

Maybe the first recorded case of a Purple Heart for a Hard Head.?

MultiModalMama said...

Old Ironhead?

Lucky guy, certainly ... the skull is pretty seriously reinforced and thick at that point because of the brow ridge. I bet he had one hell of a contracoup concussion headache, though!