Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hasegawa: "MENDING BROKEN SOLDIERS: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs"

[Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs by Guy R. Hasegawa (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012). Hardcover, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:95/142. ISBN:9780809331307. $24.95]

Nineteenth century factories and farms could be very dangerous workplaces, a consequence of which was a relatively mature northern artificial limb industry by the outbreak of the Civil War. It will come as no surprise that the number of patents for limb replacement devices exploded during the conflict, and it is the programs, U.S. and Confederate, that assisted the return of maimed soldiers to productive lives that are the subject of Guy Hasegawa's excellent little monograph Mending Broken Soldiers.

In 1862, the U.S. government established a board of prominent physicians to select replacement limb designs for military amputees and administer the distribution of funds for their manufacture. In this section of his book, Hasegawa introduces the reader to the various northern firms that produced artificial arms and legs, as well as the individuals who ran them. The Palmer leg was the most common in use, but there were many others. In addition to briefly discussing the design elements of a number of the most prominent devices, the author also delves into the logistical challenges of the programs. Where soldiers would go for fitting, who would pay for their boarding and transportation costs, and who would pay the cost difference for devices that exceeded the board approved amount were all issues that needed to be addressed. Competition among manufacturers was fierce, with patent infringement and questionable marketing claims commonplace. Many readers will be surprised at the level of technological advancement in the limb replacement industry (e.g. ingenious artificial arms were crafted with fully articulated fingers manipulated by spring and lever systems).

The southern program, by contrast, had insurmountable difficulties that led to its supplying of fewer limbs than hoped for at the time. To begin with, the program was established late in the war, in 1864, when the blockade and currency inflation were in full force. There was also no pre-war native limb replacement industry, so many makers had to start from scratch*. Additionally, as opposed to the U.S.'s government sponsored and funded program, ARMS (the Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers) was private, necessitating the expenditure of time and resources in soliciting donations. Two firms supported by ARMS, Hanger and Brother and Wells and Brother, did manage to produce some high quality devices, but, given acute shortages of skilled labor and quality materials, they could never approach promised production levels. Although Reverend Charles Marshall was the founding force behind ARMS, Hasegawa credits the tireless efforts and personal financial sacrifices of Confederate surgeon William A. Carrington with the program achieving as much as it did.

A counterintuitive point raised at the very end was the startling fact that an overwhelming majority of amputees elected instead to receive a cash payment in lieu of a new limb or even replacement of a previously satisfactory but worn out device.  Why this was so (and one can come up with several possible reasons) might comprise a fruitful line of research for another scholar.

In less than 100 pages of narrative, Guy Hasegawa has done a fine job of presenting both descriptive and analytical histories of the Union and Confederate wartime limb replacement programs. Mending Broken Soldiers is an excellent addition to the related historiographies of Civil War medicine, commerce, and technology.

* - Hasegawa relates an interesting tale of the ARMS program's attempt to obtain and reverse engineer Union Col. Ulric Dahlgren's Jewett model leg, originally confiscated with the young officer's body after he was killed leading an infamous 1864 raid on Richmond. According to the author, two different Confederate soldiers wore Dahlgren's device before it was finally repatriated to Dahlgren's father after the war.


  1. Drew - great review of Guy's book! I had the great privilege of reading the manuscript in advance and greater privilege of being invited to write the Foreword.

    I just wanted to let readers of your blog know that Guy has also prepared some excellent and FREE(!) supplementary material available at the SIU Press website.

    United States Soldiers Furnished with Artificial Limbs and Confederate Soldiers for Whom Orders for Artificial Limbs Were Given Through the Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers

    Do you think supplementary material on the web is a trend we'll see for more Civil War books?

    Keep up the great work!

    1. I thought it would be a bigger trend then it is by this time, and I can't think of too many CW publishers that do it. I would hate to see essential things like maps and notes relegated to downloadable pdf. A problem I see with online content from publishers is every time they redesign their websites (for some it is quite frequent), the old links go dead! It is the reason why I generally avoid linking directly to publisher book pages. My posts are permanent while their links only last until the current catalog expires (around 6 months).

      Thanks for the note, Jim.


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