A Stone in Peleg Bradfordâ€™s Shoe May Have Saved His Life: A Special Guest Blog by Jake Wynn
This blog post has been written by guest blogger Jake Wynn. Jake Wynn is the Program Coordinator at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
On June 17, 1864, while on the picket line outside Petersburg, Virginia, Private Bradford crouched down to remove the rock from his shoe. Just then, a Confederate sharpshooter took aim and fired. The bullet smashed through Bradfordâ€™s leg, which was raised as he attempted to put the shoe back onto his foot. â€śHe always said he was sure that the Rebel sharpshooter had aimed for his head,â€ť wrote Richard Bradford, Pelegâ€™s grandson, â€śHe always figured he swapped his knee for his head.â€ť
Private Bradfordâ€™s comrades in the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery moved him from the site of his wounding to a field hospital in the rear.
At the field hospital, surgeons recognized the danger in such a wound. The bullet had ripped through Bradfordâ€™s right knee. The 22-year-old private lost the lower half of his right leg to the surgeonâ€™s blade that day. The surgeons decided, as they did in many cases, that nothing else was to be done.
Private Bradford was evacuated from the front at Petersburg to a general hospital in Washington, DC. The young soldier began his life as an amputee in Columbian Hospital in the Union capital. From his hospital bed, he wrote to his mother to inform her of his injury a week later. â€śI am in bad shape now,â€ť he wrote. â€śMy leg is very painful now, and I canâ€™t rite [sic] but a very little this time.â€ť
Bradford had another loved one on his mind as he began his convalescence. During his nearly two-year stint in the Union Army, he wrote frequently to his â€śfriendâ€ť back in Maine: Cynthia McPherson. He wrote to her on July 13, 1864: Dear Friend, I now improve a few moments time in writing to you. I am sitting up now, but I donâ€™t know how long I can sit up. You wanted to know how my leg got along. It is getting along first-rateâ€¦ I am in hopes that I shall be at home by the last of next month. Oh Cynthia â€“ God knows how much I have suffered since I lost my leg, but it is getting along first-rate now. I would like to write you a good long letter, but I canâ€™t. I can only write short letters, so goodbye for this time."
To see this document in the collection click the image.
The amputeeâ€™s recovery started well and within a few weeks, Bradford recorded that â€śthe doctor said that he never saw anything get along so fast in his life as my leg did.â€ť Soon, he was out of bed and learning to grapple with his disability.
In a letter to Cynthia on August 1, Bradford recalled his first attempts at using the crutches supplied to him in the hospital:
"I have got so that I can get out of bed and stand up on one leg. It was fun to see me the other day when I was trying to walk on crutches andâ€¦ fell flat on the floor, and I have not tried it since.
It is very warm here now. It is enough to kill a man to have to lie a bed as long as I have in this hot weather. I will hardly dare to be seen when I get home with only one leg, but never mind, I lost it in a good cause."
Although Bradfordâ€™s recovery picked up pace, he remained in the hospital for nearly a year, until the warâ€™s conclusion in 1865. He returned to Maine and adjusted to life as a disabled veteran.
As for his comrades in the 1st Maine, many were not as lucky. On the day following Pelegâ€™s wounding at Petersburg, the regiment made an infamous charge on the heavily defended Confederate works. In less than 20 minutes, more than 600 Mainers were killed, wounded, or missing. Pelegâ€™s younger brother Owen survived the attack, but died from injuries received later in the Petersburg Campaign, in October 1864. He was 16 years old.
Peleg Bradford made a full recovery and returned to live out a full life in Maine with Cynthia and their eight children. He passed away in his hometown in 1918.
The Bradford correspondence and ephemera collection from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is just one part of the rich collection of documents charting the medical response to the American Civil War and other conflicts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the resource Medical Services and Warfare. Discover more personal papers of soldiers, nurses and policy makers, as well as official hospital registers, medical manuals, recruitment and training documents and more.
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