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They met at Gettysburg: part IV: a vast sea of misery.

THIS IS THE fourth and final part in a series observing the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the greatest and bloodiest engagement ever fought on the North American continent, causing over 50,000 casualties in a three-day period. The battle took place from July 1-3, 1863, and was a pageant of enormous proportions, with many tales of destiny and chance meetings between historic figures in blue and grey Among them is a story of two Canadian doctors, Solomon Secord of Kincardine, Ontario, and Francis Wafer of Kingston, Ontario; one wore grey, the other blue. These men found themselves across the lines from one another on the same day, in the same battle, barely a mile away from each other. Both arrived on scene in the early morning hours of July 2--Secord on the Confederate right, west of town near Devil's Den; and Wafer to the east, at Union Center in front of the town cemetery: A brisk, 15-minute walk on a dogleg would have brought the two Canadian doctors together.


"The most illiterate men in the Federal Army seemed to be impressed with the belief that this battle lost--all was lost. The turning point of the war had arrived," wrote Francis Wafer of the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg in his memoir.

Come morning July 3, Wafer and Secord remained near their original positions of July 2. Secord was still at Hood's Division hospital, Plank Farm, southwest of town. Wafer was near the Union Center on Cemetery Ridge. That morning he was detailed to Frey Farm, an aid station directly behind the Federal line. Little did Wafer know that in a few hours he was to have a front row seat at one of the great moments of the Civil War--"Pickett's Charge."

By estimate, Wafer mistakenly fixed the preassault bombardment at 1400 hrs, but it was actually 1300 hrs: "Trees in the edge of the woods that covered the rebel position were suddenly cut down when numerous batteries which they had concealed opened at our center."

General Robert Lee, on the confederate side, planned to pulverize the Union center with artillery. Then, using Pickett's Division as the head of the spear, intended to cut the Union center in half. Due to smoke and miscalculation, most artillery overshot, landing in the rear around reserve forces and aid stations, such as Frey Farm, where Wafer (Union) was. The good news was the Union line remained mostly intact. The bad news was that Wafer and everyone around him caught hell:

"The concentrated fire of the enemy's guns converged to this place giving me ample opportunity to judge its effect. The [artillery] horses rolled in heaps everywhere tangled in their dying struggles--wheels knocked off gun carriages and artillerists going to the rear or laying on the ground bleeding ... To one who was under it--it seemed miraculous that life could exist within its range."

Around 1500 hrs, Confederate batteries ceased fire; "A line of battle appeared emerging from the woods immediately in front of the 2nd Corp ... On they came in grandeur formed in several lines deep, their line gay with battle flags, across the open plain more than half a mile of which was fully exposed to the fire of our artillery ... they advanced like men who expected but trifling opposition," Wafer recalled.

Wafer was understandably spellbound, and others held their breath as a battle line at least a mile wide and 12.500 strong, crossed the field. Brave and disciplined as the Confederates were, the assault was doomed. Taking artillery fire on three sides, the back of the charge was broken when they came within musket range from the Union line. It was too much. A small group lead by Virginian General Lewis Armistead managed to reach the Federal line at a place called "the angle," only to be killed or captured soon after.

"The elite of the Confederacy ... their hope and pride, led by their best lieutenant ... drifted broken and hopeless across the fields ... artillery thundering in their rear mingled with the cheers of the victors," wrote Wafer.

Pickett's Charge was smashed; Wafer had no time to appreciate the significance of the moment. He wrote, "I found more than enough to do for the remainder of the day. This temporary hospital was merely a place where some Surgeons who were on duty on the field, assembled to apply light dressings to the wounded and superintend the removal of the wounded in ambulances to the operating hospital further in the rear."


Meanwhile, Secord was the man at the end of the line at Hood's Division hospital, and played his own part in the great drama. He had already operating almost 24 hours non-stop, and around him lay 1,500 wounded, most of them out in the open without cover, stretching out over an area larger than a football field.

During the Civil War, 75 per cent of operations were amputation. Math to statistics, of the estimated 31,000 wounded at Gettysburg, approximately 23,250 would have been amputations. In short, three of every four men Secord operated on.

On sight, a civil war amputation kit is a cringe-worthy experience. It is a surgeon's most personal possession. It consisted of a wood box, containing a saw, tourniquet, an assortment of scalpels, knives and instruments for cutting and incising. It's hard to fathom, but amputation was the best way to save lives under battlefield conditions. If a damaged limb was not removed, chances were good that infection would set in within 24 hours, causing death.

A good surgeon could remove a limb in under 10 minutes. It was a simple and traumatic process requiring three to four men. For a lower leg procedure, one man held the upper body, while a second pinned the upper leg on the edge of the table. The third man held the part coming off below the incision point, and the surgeon did the cutting and sawing.

The Confederate Manual of Military Surgery (published 1864) outlines the anatomy of an amputation: "an amputation is the complete removal of all the structures of a part, or of the whole of a limb." It involves at least four steps:

* The incision of the soft parts

* The bone section

* The ligation of the vessels

* Dressing of the wound.

"If there is but one bone, the saw may be applied horizontally and should be drawn from heel to point with a firm, steady pressure, the blade being meanwhile guided and supported by the thumb-nail. This begins a cut, in which the instrument may be worked backwards and forwards rapidly, with a light, sweeping movement," it explains. Finally, a flap of skin was sewn over the stump.

At Gettysburg, amputations were done in the open for lack of cover. In The Women of Gettysburg 1863, volunteer nurse Cornelia Hancock described a scene at a 2nd Corp hospital on July 7: "There was hardly a tent to be seen ... A long table stood in this woods and around it gathered a number of surgeons and attendants. This was the operating table, and for seven days it literally ran blood. A wagon stood near rapidly filling with amputated legs and arms; when wholly filled, this gruesome spectacle withdrew from sight and returned as soon as possible for another load."


From July 1 on, every home, church and farm in the vicinity took wounded. In his 1988 book, A Vast Sea of Misery (ergo title of this part), Gettysburg author and battlefield guide, Gregory Coco, identified over 160 hospital sites in, and around Gettysburg, housing approximately 20,000 wounded. Of these, an estimated 6,000 were Confederates left behind during their retreat. Francis Wafer remained, tending wounded until July 7. He marched with his regiment and Union forces in pursuit of Lee's army, thereby ending his participation in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Electing to remain behind and care for wounded, Secord became a prisoner of war on July 5. For Secord, the waking nightmare of Gettysburg went on for another three weeks until his transfer on July 29, to Fortress Monroe, Virginia. Resident Elizabeth Plank wrote of the hospital on her farm: "These wounded soldiers were left at this hospital five or six weeks after the fight. Every morning they buried their dead in shallow graves in the orchard." According to Coco, 64 graves were listed at Plank farm in 1866 and almost all dead were from Hood's Division.

A general hospital, Camp Letterman, was established July 20 to consolidate care of wounded. By July 25, close to 16,125 had left various field hospitals on their own accord, returning home or to other facilities to receive further care, and those that could not, roughly 4,217, were transported to Camp Letterman. The hospital remained open until November 23, a few days after Lincoln's Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the National Cemetery.


Secord arrived with other medical prisoners at Fortress Monroe on August 10. As an officer, he was given freedom of the prison yard which afforded him opportunity to escape, and he decided to do just that. On September 19, Secord went over the wall of the fortress and returned to Confederate lines. The stress of Gettysburg and captivity took its toll, and citing health reasons, Secord tendered his resignation from military service on November 14, 1864.

However, instead of going home to Canada, something made him stay on as a civilian doctor. Secord served on staff at #4 Hospital in Wilmington, North Carolina, during the siege and bombardment of the city by Union forces, and remained there until Wilmington fell on February of 1865, two months before Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House in April.

Francis Wafer became a full surgeon and served until end of the war. He marched with his beloved 108th New York in the "Grand review of the Armies" in Washington D.C., May, 1865.

Profoundly changed, Wafer and Secord returned home. Wafer made the journey back to Kingston, where he practiced and taught medicine at Queen's University and recorded A Surgeon in the Army of the Potomac for the benefit of family and friends. It remained a manuscript at Queen's University archives until 2008, when it was edited and published by Prof. Cheryl Wells. Wafer died during his 46th year in 1876 from health issues contracted during his time in the Union Army. He is buried in Kingston, Ontario.

Solomon Secord set up practice in Kincardine, Ontario. He resided as town doctor and served the community for over 50 years. Loved and revered upon his death in 1910, a monument to his service and memory was erected in the town square, where it stands today. It is the only monument to a Confederate officer outside of the United States. Secord's amputation kit can be seen in a museum display at the Paddy Walker House in Kincardine. He seldom spoke of his field service in the Civil War.

Caption: An illustration showing the 14th Virginia at Pickett's Charge, the culmination of the Battle of Gettysburg. Taking place on July 3, 1863, the third and final day of battle, it involved an infantry assault of approximately 15,000 Confederate soldiers against Union Major General George Meade's troops' position along Cemetery Ridge, manned by some 6,500 Federals. The assault would take the nine brigades of Confederate soldiers over three-quarter mile of open ground, where they were susceptible to cannon fire the entire time. The ill-fated assault resulted in over 6,000 Confederate casualties and marked the end of the Battle of Gettysburg as well as Lee's last invasion of the north.

Caption: Above, the tools found in a typical instrument case for performing amputations during the Civil War included a tourniquet, saw, and knives of various sizes. The case, made of rosewood with brass inlay a red velvet lining, measured 16.5" in height, 5.45" in width, and had a depth of just three inches. The surgeon would always lock it with a key when not in use.

Caption: An amputation is performed in a tent behind the lines. During the Civil War, 75 per cent of operations were amputation. Math to statistics, of the estimated 31,000 wounded at Gettysburg, approximately 23,250 would have been amputations. A good surgeon could remove a limb in under 10 minutes. It was a simple and traumatic process requiring three to four men. For a lower leg procedure, one man held the upper body while a second pinned the upper leg on the edge of the table. The third man held the part coming off below the incision point. The surgeon did the cutting and sawing.
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Title Annotation:THE FORMATIVE YEARS; 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg
Author:Culliton, Paul
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:100NA
Date:Oct 1, 2013
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