19 year olds and War: Then and now

As a result of the charge on June 18, 1864 over 600 men of the First Maine Heavy Artillery were either killed or wounded. Some of the wounds were minor and many of these men were able to return to duty after a short period of recuperation. Countless others would never return to the ranks and would bear their scars for the rest of their lives.

A contributor to the regimental history of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery wrote that some years after the war he saw “a big man from Maine,” who had been in the charge of the First Maine Heavy Artillery and “who had seven bullet holes in him, one of which was through the throat so that he was unable to speak, but he survived and a few years later was peddling confectionery on the muster field at Concord, MA, minus an arm, breathing through a tube.” (Roe, The First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, 181-182.)

With this to go on I combed the through the records of the First Maine Heavy Artillery to see if I could locate soldiers with neck wounds as a result of the charge on June 18th. Once I limited the list of potentials I moved on the Federal Pension Records. Although not 100% conclusive the Pension Records, indicated that this surviving veteran was Private Winthrop Shirland of Company I from Winslow, Maine. Shirland was a 19-year-old recruit who joined the regiment in November of 1863 most likely because there was relative safety in garrison duty in Washington. Reading through Shirland’s pension record and the description of his wounds causes’ one to question how any man could have survived especially given the state of Civil War medicine. Here is what the examining surgeon wrote of Shirland’s wounds in 1867:

“One ball entered palm right hand and came out near right elbow, one ball passed through right arm at middle third (of the) humorous, at or near which point the right arm is amputated. One ball passed through the right leg near middle third, rendering the leg quite lame and weak, one ball entered top left of shoulder and emerged near base of scapula (collar bone), badly fracturing that bone, causing loss of many fragments of bone impairing use of left arm to great extent. One ball struck left wrist, (a pistol ball) which now remains beneath the skin on back of wrist, now attended with much inconvenience. One ball entered right side of throat and forced its way into the mouth where it escaped. Says he took cold, when diphtheria set in causing the throat to fill up to such a degree that an incision was made in the trachea just above the top of the sternum, where a silver tube is inserted to breath through. Just enough breath can be forced through the larynx to enable him to articulate, though very indistinctly. Says cord which holds the tube in occasionally allows it to slip out, and that he is unable to replace it himself, as he has but one hand and that is very much disabled. Therefore [it is] necessary that someone should be near him constantly. This is very dangerous and uncomfortable. He is unable to perform any manual labor and requires constant aid of another person. I consider him entitled to a pension of $25 dollars per month if any man ever was." (Pension Record of Winthrop Shirland, ms. Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, DC.)

What strikes me about this story is that minus the reference to $25 per month pension this could be the story of hundreds of 19yr old Private Shirland’s who as I write this are trying to come to grips with their own physical and mental scars as the result of war.


Anonymous said…
Andy -

Great post. One of your best!


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