Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hessian Prison Camp / Part # 2

 Hessian Prison Camp
Brickerville, Pennsylvania
PART # 2

 Washington at Battle of Princeton
(Painting Credit / Don Troiani)
General George Washington marched his Continentals toward Princeton in hopes of duplicating his recent victory at Trenton.  As dawn approached on January 3, 1777, the Continental Army approached the perimeter of Princeton, New Jersey where British and Hessian troops were stationed.  This time the attack would not be a surprise and most of the fighting would take place at several positions outside of town.  The troops advanced and retreated back and forth trying to out maneuver one another but in the end most of the British would abandon the town.  Washington captured another 300 prisoners of war, additional supplies, and artillery.  In the mean time, British General Lord Cornwallis with the bulk of the British Army had arrived in Trenton and was now on the move toward Princeton.  Washington continued to stay one step ahead of him and quickly moved on into Morristown, New Jersey to a defensible position.  He was accompanied by close to 1,000 prisoners of war captured in the past week from the previous two victories. 

 Hessian Prisoners of War
(Image Credit / National Archives)
Taking prisoners of war was problematic for the Continental army since they had no place to keep them and little food to spare.  America had no large established prison institutions or old ships to transform into prison barges, like the British were using in New York Harbor.  Instead, Washington who was constantly in search of provisions and supplies, bartered the captured Hessian soldiers as forced labor in exchange for needed goods.  One such contact was The Elizabeth Iron Foundry located in the rural village of Brickerville, Pennsylvania who had been manufacturing munitions for the Continental Army.  With few funds at his disposal, Washington offered the Coleman family who owned the foundry 70 Hessian prisoners of war in exchange for cannon balls and other ammunition forged at the iron furnace.  The Coleman family accepted the offer and prepared to receive the men who were forced into unpaid manual labor for the duration of the war.

 Shrouded Remains of a Colonial Home
It was a clear Saturday afternoon in the middle of March and the weather was free of cold rain for a change.  I headed over to meet my friend Donnie Miller and his son Payton for a historical adventure seeking answers to a local mystery.  We entered the woods off of Seglock Road in the Brunnerville area, which is a protected section of the local Pennsylvania State Game Lands.  Donnie told me that this was the best time of year to see the remains of the house since briers, vines, and weeds consumed it during spring, summer, and fall.  We hiked quite a distance; the woods was open and carpeted by the brown discarded leaves of fall; the previous week it was covered with snow.  The woods have the natural capacity to appear beautiful on any random day of the year.  We passed over several bubbling clear streams and penetrated deeper into the quiet woods with young Payton leading the way.  

Front Door / Opposite Side View
After traveling almost a mile, we suddenly came upon a distant chimney rising out of the tangle of wild brush.  Even in the death of late winter, the home was barely visible and you might just walk right past it if you didn't know it was there.  The home was made of red sandstone, a common natural building material of the area.  The walls had partially collapsed in on the interior foundation as wooden support beams failed over time.  The house was abandoned at some point and probably stayed intact as long as the roof continued to keep moisture and mother nature outside.  When the roof began to leak a slow death ensued and painfully continues to this day.  Small trees were beginning to rise up through the floor putting the foundation and remaining walls in jeopardy.  It is amazing to see the determination of nature to reclaim what man has abandoned.     

View of Corner Chimney
I will admit that I am not an expert on colonial homes, especially small one-room stone structures that have collapsed in the middle of the woods but...  I thought it was unique that this old house had a corner hearth and accompanying chimney.   Most colonial home's single fireplaces I have seen in my travels and studies have been centered on one of the end walls where the heat could radiate throughout the space more evenly.  In this example, the fireplace was directly across from the front door, which was also in the opposite far corner of the wall, another unique design feature.  In my experience, the doorway is usually centered or off to one side but not in the extreme corner of the structure, as seemed to be the case with this house.  The house was shrouded by mystery and we all wanted to know more.

A Window In Time
Along the interior space you could detect where wooden support beams once fit snugly into the stone walls but had long since rotted away.  However, surprisingly, there was still one intact wooden beam that framed the top of the single remaining window.   Somehow it continued to support the tremendous weight of the stone wall above in a long losing battle with time that would eventually end in defeat.  It was only a matter of time before nature would take its course and the weathered beam of wood yielded, causing the wall to finally collapse in the silent forest.  Now it was time to press on to find the trench that ringed the mountain side above the mysterious house.  Within a short distance the house had once again disappeared into nature's grasp and could no longer be seen.

The Hessian Trench
We walked up the low grade hillside for quite some time and then suddenly it was there before us, the remains of a trench that had been partially filled in by mother nature.  Donnie had come across it many times walking through the woods and knew it was not something natural, always wondering what exactly it might be every time he stepped over it.  Following some research we were standing in the remains of the actual trench dug by seventy Hessian prisoners of war, captured by Washington's troops at the Battle of Trenton.  The men were traded as forced labor and dug the trench under the supervision of the Elizabeth Iron Foundry in Brickerville.  The trench was dug to run water to a new waterwheel at the foundry which would power a large bellows to blow air into the charcoal fired furnace to increase the heat and efficiency of the iron making process.  

The Slight Curve of the Trench
It was amazing to be standing within history connected with one of the most famous battles in American history, long since forgotten in the woods of Brickerville, Pennsylvania.  The trench was dug over a six month span of time starting in early 1777 in the depths of winter.  The trench was dug with basic hand tools and when finished was about a mile long, linking the furnace to the waters of Seglock Run around the base of Cannon Hill.  Upon completion, the mile long trench was seven feet wide and equally deep.  Now it was slowly being refilled by the seasons of time and appeared only a few feet deep with younger trees now growing tall up through the bottoms and sides of the former trench.  We walked along the path of the trench and noticed the slow but level curve around the mountainside.  Well, it was time to start heading back... Payton had a play-date planned and the clock was ticking.  We headed back down the slope toward the creek below and then back through the woods to Donnie's house. 

Hessian Trench from Above
(Photo Credit / Google Earth)
Later after getting home I was able to find the trench from satellite photos using Google Earth software and had the images confirmed by several others who know the area well.  The Hessian Trench is the sloping dark line in the picture above and the northern edge of Elizabeth Christmas Tree Farm can be seen below the treeline.  As usual, I had more questions than answers.  Where did the Hessian prisoners sleep and was the decaying stone house in the woods connected in some way?  My next step was to see if my childhood memories of this of the dungeon (See Previous Blog / Part # 1) was accurate by driving down the lane off Route 501 and knocking on the door.  Hopefully, I wouldn't get shot!  The pieces could best be assembled at the site of the foundry itself and by getting answers to questions only the owners of the property might know.  Join us next time for a trip down Memory Lane...

Hessian Prison Camp / Part # 3

Payton, Donnie, and Mary Miller
(Photo Credit / Lynn Miller)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hessian Prison Camp / Part # 1

Hessian Prison Camp
 Brickerville, Pennsylvania
PART # 1

 Retreat to Victory
(Painting Credit / Henry Hintermeister)
 It was the winter of 1776 and General George Washington had been on the run from the British since the Continental Army had been overwhelmed by the forces of King George III at the Battle of Long Island in New York.  British General William Howe had been chasing Washington ever since and was currently stuck on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.  Washington, with the help of another John Glover miracle, had rowed to safety on every available boat found along the eastern shore and escaped to the western side.  Washington's exhausted and provision deprived men had nowhere else to run and Howe was now patiently waiting for the river to freeze solid so he could walk his army across into Pennsylvania and end the war.  However, the greatest threat to American Independence was already looming within the Continental Camp.

Continental Army on the Run
(Painting Credit / Title - Artist Unknown)
To date, the war had been difficult for the Patriots with few victories and many hardships causing low morale and a loss of faith.  Many had sacrificed much to join the army and now faced the remaining winter far from home and away from their families, with the likelihood that both would face scarcity in the coming months.  The majority of the men would have their enlistment commitments expire after the first of the new year and Washington feared his army would evaporate before the British would attempt an attack.  In an act of desperation, Washington hatched a bold plan to go on the offensive.  He needed a quick victory to ward off the growing despair of his men and give them a reason to believe in the cause again.  Scouting along the western shore, he discovered the target.  A garrison of Hessian soldiers was nestled in for a long winter's nap on the other side of the river in the town of Trenton, New Jersey.

Hessians Portrayed as Mercenaries
(Image Credit / Old Barracks Museum, Trenton, NJ)
The Hessian Army were outsiders in the war, who didn't have any stake in the outcome of the conflict.  As Britain went on the offensive in the world war, their army ran thin on troops and needed additional manpower.  England was not interested in acquiring an ally, which would require a share of the spoils when victory was achieved.  Instead, King George III diplomatically reached out to King Frederich the Great of Prussia, offering a financial contract of partnership.  Prussia was at peace and England offered to rent a portion of their idle army to assist the British in North America.  Prussia agreed to send 30,000 troops to America to fight the Continental Army for a contracted fee.  Americans despised these unwelcome visitors and Washington knew they would be easily motivated to fight them.

(Image Credit / U.S. Postal Service)
The Hessians, like many European soldiers were conscripted into service and were usually the poorest of the poor.  Under better circumstances, they may have made their way to the New World as indentured servants in search of a better life.  Instead, they were sent into a conflict that had nothing to do with their homeland and approximately 7,500 would lose their lives during the campaign.  They were portrayed as hired mercenaries but only their king benefited financially from their participation.  The soldiers continued to receive their regular low pay.  It was said that the average Hessian soldier had no idea what the war was about, which fueled the hatred of their unwanted presence.  Negative propaganda spread in their wake, including charges of ransacking towns and committing atrocities against defenseless civilians.  It is not surprising that Washington Irving chose a Hessian soldier to portray pure evil as the Headless Horseman in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Washington Crossing the Delaware
(Painting Credit / Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze)
On the evening of December 26th, Washington crossed back to the eastern shore of the Delaware River with his army, concealed by snow squalls.  The timing of the surprise attack was not accidental as Washington knew that the Hessians of Germanic origin, would be celebrating Christmas, a tradition that had yet to take hold as an American holiday.  Washington's hunch was that soldiers far from home and family would celebrate the holiday with a soldier's best friend... alcohol and lots of it!  (Just Say No, Kids!) Washington was able to successfully ferry his men across the river without detection from the enemy and had advanced to the perimeter of Trenton before sunrise.  The surprise attack was complete and the slumbering Hessians were completely caught off guard and were never able to put up much of an organized resistance.  Within an hour, it was all over and the Continental victory was complete.  Washington's army was exhausted but did not lose a single man.

Hessian Surrender at Trenton
(Painting Credit / John Trumbull)
The Hessians were humiliated by the defeat with 30 men killed, including their commandant and over 900 souls taken prisoner.  Another added benefit was the stocked supplies that were secured to provide much needed provisions for the destitute Continentals.  The plan worked so well, Washington pushed on to try and repeat the action before the news of the surprise attack could beat him to nearby Princeton, where more Hessians and British Regulars were wintering in comfort.  The sequel victory at Princeton on January 2, 1777 was not as complete as Trenton but the combined effect of two quick decisive victories spread the strength of hope through the Continental Army.  As a result, most reenlisted and the cause of Independence had an army behind it to fight on for another day.

Site of a Childhood Memory
Flashback 35 years ago when I was about ten years of age.  I was with my friend Ron Shutter and his father who were off to visit family members living north of Lititz in nearby Lebanon, Pennsylvania.  On our way out of Lititz, we pulled off of Route 501 near Brickerville and turned down a dirt road into the woods.  We got out of the car and were surrounded by old farm buildings made of the red sandstone found in the area.  We were only there for a few minutes but I remembered this pit-stop because the man who lived on the property was showing my friend's father a dungeon or some type of prison cell.  Ron and I peered down into the dark cold space and it scared me to think people were kept in such a place.  I knew it must be haunted and filled with ghosts when darkness fell.  It is one of those vague memories that stick with you for some reason.  I am reminded of it every time I drive past that dirt road, marked by a small brick house that sits all alone, alongside the busy roadway.

Mysterious House in the Woods
Fast forward to March of 2011...  I was approached by my friend and fellow history teaching colleague, Don Miller, who wanted to know if I might be interested in seeing the remains of a small stone colonial era home in the middle of the woods near his home in Brickerville.  Heck yeah, that sounds like fun!  He also informed me about an irrigation trench that was apparently dug by Hessian prisoners during the American Revolution.  Now, he really had my attention!  I had never heard about a prison camp in the area before!  Might the house and the trench be connected in some way?   He also said there was a local man named David Stoddard who had conducted hiking tours of the Hessian Trench.  He listened in on a portion of one of the tours and learned some information about it but we both wanted to know more!  Check in next week when Don Miller and I go in search of more clues to connect the Battle of Trenton, New Jersey with Brickerville, Pennsylvania.


Hessian Prison Camp / Part # 2

Hessian Prison Camp / Part # 3

 Hessians / Call to Duty
(Painting Credit / Bryant White)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Atlantic Deep Sea Fishing

Deep Sea Fishing
Point Pleasant, New Jersey

Rising Sun over the Atlantic
Years ago, while attending Warwick High School, my best friend Steve Mateyak and I did a lot of fishing.  Most of our angling was for catfish in local streams during the evening and into the dark of night.  We were always out trying to catch fish at one promising spot or another just for the fun of it. We even went deep sea fishing together a few times in New Jersey.  Graduation passed and we went our separate ways with me heading off to college and Steve heading off to work as a welder.  We drifted apart and lost contact but ran into each other on occasion at the high school football field where we had once both played for the Warriors as lineman. 

Leaving the Dock
Friday Night Lights were an opportunity to check the stands for Steve and his father who often watched from their regular spot on the corner of the northern end zone.  Steve Sr. had been running an annual deep sea fishing trip out of Point Pleasant, New Jersey for the past couple of years for family and friends.  I was invited to join the crew as a greenhorn mate aboard the Mimi VI.  In late August we met along the entrance to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and waited for the convoy of vehicles to arrive and assemble in the wee hours of the morning.  The drive was long and dark but it was a great time to catch up with how everyone was doing since we last talked.  We arrived in Point Pleasant and stopped at the only diner in town that was open at five o'clock in the morning.  

 The Amazing Sun Rise
Breakfast was a challenge because we had to honor a strict time deadline when the boat was due to cast off.   Our group numbered in the mid twenties and the wait staff was short handed and excessively slow.  Also, you have to be careful what you order.  We were all really hungry but the sausage, bacon, and anything in the greasy food family was a huge risk with getting on a boat within an hour.  It might taste really good going down but if it comes back up... well, I think you get the idea.  We navigated through the menu with care and with luck, managed to make it to the dock on time.  The Mimi VI was a really nice mid-size boat, which would serve as our charter for the day.  We loaded our gear and secured our spots along the rail as the boat's engines came to life.  Soon we departed from the dock and proceeded through the bay toward the ocean inlet.  We entered the vast Atlantic Ocean just as the sun broke the eastern horizon.  

 The Wake of the Mimi VI
The ride was about forty-five minutes to the fishing grounds where the flounder and sea bass were hopefully awaiting our arrival with a hearty appetite.  The boat ride was the highlight of the trip for me as the sun rising over the open water was an amazing sight.  We all sat back along the sides of the boat and enjoyed nature's show.  The ride was relaxing and fun with the cool morning air rushing with the speed of the boat.  Several dolphins served as guides as they swam along side our bow, jumping out of the water and keeping pace with our boat.  It was a real treat to see dolphins in the wild, free to play without boundaries.   We sailed north past the shore points of Sea Grit, Belmar, Asbury Park, and Long Branch along the New Jersey coastline.  The ocean's surface was calm and resembled a sheet of glass as it reflected the light of the rising sun.  The boat began to slow and the deck came to attention as the anglers prepared their lines with minnow and squid bait.  The boat settled and rocked to a stop.  The captain blew the horn and the lines dropped into the abyss.  

Hey, I Caught a Fluke!
The trick was to let your line drop, hit the bottom of the sea floor and then bounce the sinker weight off the bottom to attract the bottom feeding fish.  The fish hit the line hard and are quite fun to fight and reel up to the surface, where one of the ship's mates would suddenly appear with a net.  Two types of fish were biting and you never knew what the result would be until they came into view in the water on their way to the surface.  The keepers were flounders, known locally as flukes, and the worthless fish were an ugly bony creature of the sea called Skates.  Both fish looked like they were leftover freaks of nature from the Jurassic Period but only one tasted good.  The other fun catch was sea bass, which were a normal looking fish, similar in appearance to their fresh water cousins, looking best filleted and framed by a frying pan.

  Two Old Linemen Still in their Prime
The fishing proceeded for about a half hour until the the fish lost interest and fewer keepers were brought on board. The horn sounded periodically, the signal to pull up the gear as the boat prepared to move to a new location.  Sometimes we moved less than fifty yards, while other times, we cut our losses and traveled a good distance to a whole new location altogether.  The sun was now high in the sky and hot.  We all sat out some sessions to take a break inside the boat's spacious cabin to get something to eat and drink.  If you didn't get sick by this point, you were in the clear.  One of the guys had disappeared from the deck early to retreat inside the cabin with sea sickness.  He was down and out for the entire trip, which must have been a long and agonizing ordeal. We all took pity on him and gave him space.  

 On the Move to a New Spot
Sea sickness is the worst.  I've never had it but was on the edge one time on a previous trip.  It took all my strength to keep from going down for the count because I knew from watching others, once you go over the edge, there is little hope of recovery until you get back on stable, dry land.  I'll never forget when my brother and I were kids on our first deep sea fishing trip with my father and some of his friends.  The boat was small and my brother was so afraid of getting sick that he took an adult dose of Dramamine to help prevent motion sickness.  Well, it made him really drowsy and he laid down right on the deck and fell sound asleep while everyone continued to fish.  A storm began to come up and the rain began to fall with increasing rough seas.  We all huddled under the small boat's deck roof area to escape the rain and we all watched my brother, still horizontal on the deck, snoring while waves from the storm crashed down on top of him. It was surreal to say the least and we were more than a little worried about him, for a while.  However, he soon came around and was fine.   It was (and is still) a great story! 

Bait Poachers from the Air
The trip lasted about six hours and at one o'clock the horn sounded twice, signaling everyone to reel up the lines for the final time of the trip and stow all gear for the return trip south back to Point Pleasant.  We had gone north far enough to vaguely see the skyline of New York City on the distant northern horizon.  The Mimi VI headed for home with her twin diesel engines at full throttle.  It was a nice relaxing way to end our adventure as hard core fisherman on the Atlantic Ocean.  The mates of the ship were a great help during the entire trip and were gifted in troubleshooting solutions for tangled gear and all other challenges throughout the day.  They now went to work gutting, filleting, and bagging the catch for our coolers.  A small flock of seagulls followed in our wake hoping to pillage the sea for scraps.  I threw the leftover bait from my bucket into the air one piece at a time as they caught it in flight.  It was a lot of fun and sure beat feeding bread to the ducks at the park! 

The Bounty of our Catch
We arrived at the inlet to the bay and exited the Atlantic Ocean for the dock where our adventure began.  The Mimi VI tied up and we said goodbye to the crew and a few new friends.  We loaded up our catch and headed back toward the turnpike for home.   Our early rise and long day at sea were finally catching up with us and we longed for sleep.  We took turns with the drive home so we could all get a little rest during the three hour trek west.  It was difficult to get our land legs back as our inner equilibrium levels continued to rise and fall with the rhythm of the boat.  The bounce stayed with me the rest of the day and later that night, the motion rocked me gently into a deep sleep. 

One More Shot of the Sunrise
It was a great trip and the weather (always a wild card) cooperated to create a beautiful day.  It was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen and I was glad I had my camera to record some images of the scene.  However, nothing compares to the real thing.  The sunrise over the water is really something to experience.  It was great to catch up with my old friend Steve and catch some fish just like the old days.   We plan to make it an annual get-together every August with a few visits in between at Grosh Field in Lititz each fall during football season.

 The Mimi VI Charter Boat
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sideling Hill Turnpike Tunnel

 Sideling Hill Mountain
Abandoned Turnpike Tunnel

Sideling Hill Tunnel Entrance
During the 2008 Social Studies Governor's Institute we took a detour off the trail of the Forbes Road to visit a unique relic from the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  One of the original seven tunnels of the Turnpike, the Sideling Hill Tunnel was the longest at 1.25 miles in length.  When the Turnpike Commission wanted to expand the roadway from two lanes to four, the cost to widen the tunnel was so great, it was cheaper to reroute the roadway along the top of Sideling Hill Mountain.  As a result, the grand tunnel was shut down, abandoned, and sat empty with the newly paved turnpike running above it. 

The Tour Bus Unloads
The tunnel was originally built in the 1880's for the South Pennsylvania Railroad Company, who were in the process of cutting a new line through the region.  However, after several deaths from dynamite explosions and mounting costs, the railroad company decided to abandon the tunnel project and reroute the proposed railway over the mountain.  The Sideling Hill Tunnel remained unfinished until the Pennsylvania Turnpike decided to take advantage of the previous series of train tunnels that were no longer used by the railroad.  The Sideling Hill Tunnel was finally completed and opened for traffic with the newly completed Pennsylvania Turnpike on October 24, 1940.

 In Search of the Tunnel
By the 1950's traffic began to back up on the two lane tunnels of the turnpike and a study was done to explore the possibility of expanding the width of the tunnels or creating an additional twin tunnel to allow two lanes going each way to match the outside roadway.  After extensive research, the Turnpike Commission decided the creation of a single bypasses around the Ray's Hill and Sideling Hill tunnels would be most cost effective.  By November of 1968 two tunnels had been expanded and the Ray's Hill and Sideling Hill bypass project was complete.  The former tunnels were closed and abandoned.

 Entering the Tunnel
Over time, nature began to reclaim the abandoned roadway and the tunnels fell into disrepair and were forgotten.  In 2001, the Turnpike Commission granted the fourteen mile section of the abandoned stretch of the turnpike and accompanying tunnels to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy who made plans to turn the expanse into a bike and hiking trail.  The project has become known as the Pike2Bike Trail and will encompass an eighteen mile pathway for recreational use when totally completed. The conservancy, known as SAC, is a nonprofit corporation serving six counties in south central Pennsylvania.

 Mike and I Explore the Interior
Our bus found an entrance point that allowed access to park on the original highway but was blocked off in both directions by concrete barriers to prevent any automotive traffic on the trail.  Immediately you took notice to the decay of the former smooth ribbons of concrete.  It was like you were in the middle of the show Life After People that airs on the Discovery Channel, which shows how plant life will quickly reclaim what once belonged to Mother Nature when people have punched out!  We had to walk quite a distance to the tunnel entrance which was out of view.  It was a hot July day and we baked, walking on the roadway that slowly curved to the right.  We passed by a wide open macadam space that once was the home of the Cove Valley Travel Plaza, which was razed when the tunnel closed.  Too bad, I would have liked to stop in for a ice-cold Diet Coke!

 Time to Head Back
Eventually the tunnel entrance came into view and light was not visible from within.  As we got close to the opening, a chilly air was coming from the tunnel, which was a welcome treat in the heat.  We ventured inside and peered ahead into the pitch blackness.  The 6,782 foot long tunnel has a slight sloping crest to allow moisture to drain out the ends.  As a result, you have to walk in more than a third of the way before you can see the first hints of light from the other side, reflecting from the tunnel's ceiling.  The chill and dampness of the tunnel resembled that of a cave. The temperature inside remains constant year round and is less than sixty degrees.  The contrast of the warmer temperature outside causes the air to move and can cause a ghostly fog to appear at times near the tunnel openings.  It was really creepy!  We had a schedule to keep and were called back to the opening.  I hope to return someday to travel all the way through to the other side but not by myself.  Like I said, it was more than a little creepy!

The Return Walk Back
On the way back, we passed by a small film crew who were making a low budget movie about the end of the world.  The story line centered around a few survivors who were trying to make it in the post apocalyptic world.  This setting was perfect, the roadway was being slowly devoured by plant life that was forcing its way through every available crack in the road's surface. The trees were mounting an invasion from each side making slow but steady progress.  I wondered how the SAC would maintain the right of way when the Pike2Bike Trail project was completed and running at full speed.  The site was unique and fun to explore. So, if you ever get tired of the Sideling Bypass in the clouds, take a detour and explore the old school way down under!

 New Sideling Hill Tunnel Bypass
(Image Source / Wikimedia Commons)

  On the Beaten Path


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Civil War Medicine / Part # 2

National Museum of Civil War Medicine
Frederick, Maryland / Part #2
Confederate Medical Saddle Bag
(Photo Credit / Seth Kaller Collection)
We continued on our way through the museum's twists and turns and heavy, thought provoking content.  It is amazing how tragedy and suffering on an epic scale spawned the need for improved medical science.  Necessity is the mother of invention... Today we can see the amazing impact of the latest medical science on the wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.  We have evolved to the point where almost every horrific wound can have the potential to result in survival.  Interestingly enough, now debate is brewing in some extreme cases whether or not the ability to cheat nature is always the best course of action.  We have the ability to save the lives of men and women on the field of battle who are victims of unimaginable trauma but what will be the level of their quality of life?  How will they cope psychologically?  How will they manage the day to day challenges of the civilian world? 

New Hospital Design
(Illustration Credit / Library of Congress)
With the ongoing conflict, city hospitals in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania were quickly overwhelmed and new hospitals needed to be quickly designed and built.  The new single floor structures were now built in off-set rows to separate the wounded into specific wards, where men with similar ailments and needs could be housed together.  The hope of the new design was in limiting the spread of infection and disease through separation.  Doctors categorized cases in organized wards with a barrier of physical buffer space between them.  We still use the same concept today, only now wards are separated by floors. The southern center for military medical treatment was the Confederate capital city of Richmond, Virginia where four major hospitals were located.  The largest of these sanatoriums, known as Chimborazo Hospital, was one of the best run medical institutions of the period, treating over 76,000 patients throughout the war.

Pvt. Alfred Stratton / Double Amputee
 (Photo Credit / National Museum of Civil War Medicine)
The museum was full of photographs, many of which were disturbing to see.  The emerging technology of photography was a tremendous asset to the growth of medical knowledge and study.  Doctors now had the ability to accurately document conditions and procedures, helping to share what they learned along the way.  The portraits of soldiers pictured in the museum were accompanied by each person's personal postwar story of perseverance, despite physical handicaps and hardships.  Many wounded veterans of the Civil War would eventually receive a small monthly pension from the government to help cover their living expenses.  Private Stratton pictured above, received a monthly pension of $25 a month for the rest of his life.  The amount of pensions varied, depending on military rank and level of injury.  

Pvt. David Lichty
My great-grandfather, David Lichty enlisted at the age of 18 and served a nine month tour of duty with the 128nd Pa Co. C infantry and then reenlisted in the PA cavalry for the duration of the war.  During his service, he contracted an intestinal disease that plagued him for the rest of his life, which included intense migraine headaches that caused temporary blindness.  Upon his return to rural Terre Hill, Pennsylvania in Lancaster County, he had a hard time making ends meet due to the effects of his illness.  An investigation was conducted in Terre Hill by a traveling pension board from the War Department to determine if he would be eligible to receive a monthly disability pension.  He won his case.

United States Pension Building / Washington D.C.
(Photo Credit / National Building Museum)
Let's back up a bit... A few years ago, I requested a copy of any pension records that might exist for David Lichty in Washington's National Archives.  I was just starting to investigate his story and was fishing for information.  I was surprised one day to find a phone-book sized FedEx package in my mailbox.  I was amazed at the detailed court hearing records that were copied from the original documents and sent to my home.  There was a full trial transcript of the proceedings, including medical records, affidavits from superior officers, notes from examining physicians, and statements from witnesses concerning his character from his military service and civilian life.  It was fascinating to explore and a little hard to follow since everything was written in hand by the court scribe.  The cursive chicken-scratch script suggests that the scribe was having some trouble keeping up or was just completely bored from going through this process for the gazillionth time.  Regardless, it had to be slowly translated by yours truly and I am still navigating my way through it. 

 Portrait of Survival
(Photo Credit / Library of Congress)
Although records are inconsistent and impossible to verify, historians estimate the total number of amputation procedures performed during the American Civil War may have topped 60,000 cases.  As a result, the development of the artificial limb industry soon followed to provide surviving veterans with newly enhanced prosthetic arms and legs to improve their quality of life.  Previously, most people who lost limbs due to factory or farming accidents created their own artificial limbs from whatever materials they could obtain.  Most were crudely carved from wood and attached with leather straps, buckles, or wire clasps.  A better design was desperately needed and the answer would come from an amputee himself.

J. E. Hanger Later in Life
(Photo Credit / Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics
In the early days of the Civil War, an 18 year old Virginian named James Edward Hanger enlisted as a member of the Confederate Churchville Cavalry in Virginia.  His unit quickly became engaged by Union forces at the Battle of Phillippi in Virginia at the onset of the war.  Hanger was in a stable with his horse when one of the first cannon balls fired by Union Artillery units in the Civil War bounced into his location, hitting his leg.  He soon became known as the first documented case of amputation during the Civil War.  His leg was removed by Union surgeons and he was later sent back home, along with a wooden peg leg, to recover from his devastating wound.

 J.E. Hanger Company  / Artificial Leg Production
(Photo Credit / National Photo Company Collection) 
James Edward Hanger was not satisfied by his crude simple wooden appendage and began to try and come up with something better.  He used a variety of materials to create an artificial leg that would bend at the knee and ankle.  The state of Virginia was so impressed by his prosthetic leg invention that they commissioned him to create more of what became known as the Hanger Limb for other patients from the war.   Protected by patents, the J.E. Hanger Company was born and prospered over the years.  Later, he even traveled to Europe during World War I to assist amputee patients.  The company he founded is still a pioneer in the industry and is now known as Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics with annual sales topping 2.5 billion dollars.  A win for the Confederacy!

Civil War Era Nurse / Field Hospital
(Photo Credit / Library of Congress)
The United States Sanitary Commission was also formed to combine the efforts of women who wanted to help the health and welfare of the Union soldiers.  President Lincoln authorized the creation of the group in 1861 to help organize efforts to help support the war effort.  The most important contribution to evolve from the work of the commission was the creation of America's first nursing positions at many military hospitals.  They were often referred to as the Angels of the Battlefield and helped save countless lives during the war.  Perhaps as many as 5,000 women served as nurses in both the Union and Confederacy with Clara Barton becoming the most famous personality identified with the new profession.  The recognition of the important role of nurses became a big step toward the issue of Women's Rights.   Following the war, Barton pushed for the government to establish an agency to deal with natural disasters.  Finally in 1881, the government finally conceded and the American Red Cross was founded.  Barton led the organization for the next thirty years until her death at age ninety.  The American Red Cross is another example of one of the positive outcomes that emerged from the Civil War tragedy.

 Clara Barton Portrait
(Photo Credit / American Red Cross)
The South's lack of a powerful navy had a detrimental impact on the level of health care for wounded Confederate soldiers.  The North was able to enforce a large blockade around key southern ports that became known as General Winfield Scott's Great Snake or the Anaconda Plan of 1861.  The Union stranglehold along the coast of the Confederacy, blocked most supplies from foreign ports reaching the Southern cause.  This included many medical supplies desperately needed in southern military hospitals.  President Lincoln refused to allow even humanitarian medical shipments to be slipped through the blockade.  He was hoping to bring a quicker end to the conflict, even if it meant increasing the toll of human suffering to achieve the end goal of southern surrender.  As a result, many southern wounded were treated with methods that included traditional herbal remedies and backwoods folk medicines.  The Confederacy also created medical laboratory facilities, attempting to find substitute medicines created from medicinal plants found within the southern region.   

Carroll Creek Linear Park
We left the museum to go off and briefly explore the town in search of lunch before rejoining our group on the bus.  We stumbled onto one of the most beautiful parks I had ever visited.  The Carroll Creek Linear Park was a red bricked canal walkway, lined with benches, fountains, murals, and bridges.  The space was complimented by matching architecture in the form of apartment buildings, and businesses.  We found a Five Guys restaurant and enjoyed a classic burger, fresh-cut fries, and the tranquil view.  We wished we had more time to further explore the park and surrounding historic streets but we had an unbending schedule to keep and it was time to head back to the tour bus.  The relaxed atmosphere of the park was a nice contrast to the heavy content contained within the museum.  We were re-energized and ready to hit the road to the next stop on our planned itinerary.

Civil War Hospital Flag


Civil War Medicine / Part #1

For More Information Please Contact...
National Museum of Civil War Medicine
48 East Patrick Street
Frederick, MD 21705
(301) 695-1864


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