View Full Version : A "leg" up at Bentonville......

03-24-2004, 02:56 PM
Bentonville Exhibit to Feature Extremely Rare Artifact

March 25, 2004--It was one of the most common possessions of Civil War veterans. Providing them soaked up huge proportions of entire state budgets in some years. And yet they are very rarely seen in museums or displays, in part because the veterans usually took them along when they died.

An artificial leg which once belonged to a North Carolina soldier who left his original limb on the battlefield of Gettysburg is now on display at the museum of the Battle of Bentonville. Scholars who have examined the leg say that it is the only surviving example they have seen.

The leg was donated by Duncan Hanna of Red Springs, NC. He is the grandson of Robert Alexander Hanna. Hanna, a native of Anson County, was a member of the 26th North Carolina Regiment, a regiment that lost more soldiers than any other on either side in the Civil War.

At Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, he was shot above the left ankle and in the head. Surgeons removed the grapeshot from his head and amputated his leg just below the knee.

With arm and leg wounds, "They didn't take shot out back then. They just whacked it off," said Hanna's grandson, Duncan Hanna, who lives in Red Springs.

After his leg was amputated, Hanna returned to Anson County to run a turpentine mill and his farm near Wadesboro. He remained loyal to, or at least sentimental about, the Southern cause, naming all his sons for Confederate generals.

In 1866, North Carolina became the first state to start a program to give artificial limbs to thousands of amputees after the war, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

The program offered free transportation, by rail, and accommodations in Raleigh to veterans who came to the city to have limbs fitted. In all, 1,550 veterans wrote to the state about their wartime disabilities.

For those who didn't want the state model, the program paid $75 to those who didn't want an artificial leg or wanted to buy a different model, and $50 to those who didn't want an artificial arm. While a trivial sum by today's standards, in postwar North Carolina it was a substantial amount of money.

There was also broad public support for the artificial-limb program, said Ansley Herring Wegner, a researcher at the N.C. Division of Archives and History. The state spent more than $80,000 on the program between 1866 to 1870, she said.

By comparison, in 1872, the combined state and local budgets for public schools was $155,000, according to state records.

"When I first started researching it, I was just floored by people's response to the need for artificial limbs," Wegner said.

Duncan Hanna, now 57, inherited the leg when he was a boy. When he wrote the Division of Archives and History last year to request copies of his grandfather's pension records, Hanna casually mentioned that he still had Robert Hanna's artificial leg.

His letter found its way to Wegner.

"He's got a really, really rare artifact that he sort of took for granted all these years," Wegner said. It had been so taken for granted, in fact, that restorers found such items as candy wrappers, a dime and even a baby tooth inside it when they examined the limb before performing minor restoration on it.

She has written a book on the North Carolina state leg program titled "Phantom Pain" that will be published this summer.

Hanna agreed to lend his grandfather's leg to the state. It is now on display in a case at the Bentonville Battlefield. Appropriately enough the limb is displayed next to the blades in a Civil War surgeon's amputation kit.

Officials this past weekend marked the 139th anniversary of the battle fought at Bentonville. Amputations were crude during the war, often occurring in a field hospital in highly unsanitary conditions.

"They were left with these ugly stumps that they had to jam down in these artificial legs," Wegner said.

Robert Hanna went to Raleigh in 1867 to be fitted with an artificial leg, and he took care of the one he received.

"That was his Sunday leg. He wore that on special occasions," said Duncan Hanna, adding that his grandfather wore the leg to church and even to square dances to make use of its flexible toe.

"He liked to be sharp. He wouldn't wear it in the rain, either - not even with a boot on it," he said.

The thousands of soldiers who lost arms and legs in the war fueled a new industry producing artificial limbs, and there was a rush on patents as manufacturers worked to come up with the best design.

But a new leg didn't make soldiers completely whole. While terms like post-traumatic stress syndrome, and even "shell shock" were far in the future, the aftermath of war was all too well known to many.

Robert Hanna struggled at times, especially in the fall, when the corn stalks on his farm were dry.

"You could hear him screaming, and they'd say, 'Leave him alone,' " his grandson said. "The wind would blow and the corn stalks would rub together and it would sound like men marching. He'd have flashbacks."

Since he was diligent about caring for his "good" leg, Robert Hannah made himself other legs for different occasions.

"He had one that had a bull's hoof on it (for the foot)," his grandson said.

Robert Hanna continued using the state-issued leg sparingly until he died in 1918, still a proud Confederate veteran.

"He was buried with no leg. He was buried in a gray uniform - a gray suit they made for him. He wouldn't wear a blue suit," his grandson said.

03-24-2004, 06:36 PM
I run the Civil War Fife and Drum Page, and awhile back, a viewer had sent me a picture of his ancestor, along with a photo of his ancestor's artificial leg. Below is a picture of the ancestor, and another pic of the leg. Here is part of the email I got:

"My Greatx3 Grandfather, Jacob Bingman, was a drummer in Co. E 53rd PA Vol. Jacob's son was also a drummer in the same unit...My grandfather was a bugler in WWI. My uncle was a trumpet player in the Navy in the 1950's, and I was in the Marine Drum & Bugle Corps in Wash. DC for 8 yrs. It's also very ironic that the 4 of us enlisted on the same day. Aug.15, 1861, Aug. 15, 1917, Aug. 15, 1957, and me on Aug. 15, 1984 - and I was married on Aug. 15, 1987...

"I just read in your interesting facts section about the old drummer Laird, 48. Well, Jacob Bingman of the 53rd PA was 54 when he enlisted in 1861, and 56 when he was discharged for disability in 1863. Jacob lost his leg during the war and had it amputated. The last 16 yrs. of his life he used a wooden leg, which my family has kept since his death in 1881. I've had it in my possession since 1988."

-Rich Z.

Rich Pisarski
03-24-2004, 07:03 PM
Folks, A couple friends and i were on our way from NY to Averasboro Battlefield. We decided to visit Bentonville being i hadn't visited there in 25 years and this was their first time. When we walked in the visitor center they in process of putting this exhibit together. It's definitley worth a visit.

Rich Pisarski
119th NY Vols.