An amputee’s search for the nurses that cared for him during the Civil War
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In exploring newspapers from the post-war years in Frederick, I stumbled across this entry from August 1884. Written by Civil War veteran Lewis H. Roth to the editors of the Frederick News, the letter enquires about two Frederick women who assisted in nursing him following his wounding at the Battle of South Mountain.
Washington, D.C., Aug. 26, 1884
Editors News –
I was wounded in the right arm at the Battle of South Mountain, Md., September 14, 1862 and in a day or two afterwards I was placed in a hospital in Frederick, Md., where my arm was amputated.
The hospital was in a large building owned, I believe, by the Catholics.
Opposite the hospital building was a Catholic Church which I visited on several occasions after being strong enough to go out. While in said hospital I was carefully nursed and watched, both by day and by night by a lady, I think a widow, and her daughter.
They used to feed me with a spoon like a child is fed. One or both of them remained with me the entire night after the amputation and gave me brandy every fifteen minutes.
When I left the hospital for my home in Pennsylvania in December, the lady presented me with a book, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” with her name on the fly leaf, but in my moving from place to place I lost the book and forgot the lady’s name. I have a slight recollection that her maiden name was Polly. If the ladies are still living or either of them I would very much like to ascertain their present post office address.
Pension Office, East Div.
Private Lewis H. Roth served in Company E, 12th Pennsylvania Reserves. He suffered a compound fracture of his right arm courtesy of a Confederate bullet during the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862. He was evacuated from the field and taken to Frederick where he was admitted to the Novitiate hospital on 2nd Street on September 18.
His recovery slowed and the arm was amputated at the shoulder by Dr. Henry S. Hewitt on October 2, 1862. The mystery nurses assisted him following this major operation, and successfully nursed him back to health. He was discharged from the hospital on December 15, 1862.
Private Roth was far from the only surgical patient at the Catholic Novitiate. Dr. Cyrus Bacon, a surgeon at the Noviate who had just arrived at the Noviate, described the scene in his diary:
Operations nearly every day.
Oct. 2nd 1862
[Cadet] Morgan goes home tomorrow. [I] relieve him from assisting me in dressing injuries. I excise nearly all the Carpal & part of [the] Metacarpal bones of [the] right hand of one of my patients.
Amputate a leg, Dr. Hewitt says it is the best stump that yet has been made. It is very nice… Operations at [the] Hospital again this afternoon at our own building. When we do not operate ourselves, we assist the Doctor [Hewitt]in all his operations. Our patients are almost without exception, surgical patients
Lewis Roth returned to Pennsylvania and began his life as an amputee. In 1866, Roth entered William Oland Bourne’s penmanship contest for soldiers who had lost their right arms during the course of the American Civil War. The contest encouraged young soldiers to write in with their left hands to show their progress in recovering from their war experiences. It also raised the profile of the plight of disabled soldiers from the conflict. Roth didn’t win the contest, but his participation showed his entrance into a distinct community of veterans immediately following the Civil War.
Roth settled down, married, and in the early 1880s, moved to Washington, DC to work in the Pension Office where decisions were made about veterans’ government allowances. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, the Federal government divvied up small pensions for soldiers disabled by wounds or disease during the conflict. Soldiers received different amounts based upon the injury they suffered.
Roth returned to the Keystone State and died in 1916.He is buried in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.
From the newspaper records, it does not appear that he ever recovered his missed connection with the two women in Frederick that helped save his life.
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This story utilized the Frederick Patient Database here at civilwarmed.org.
You can learn more about what happened at Frederick’s many Civil War hospitals in these videos.
About the Author
Jake Wynn is the Program Coordinator at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. He also writes independently at the Wynning History blog.Tags: After the War, Frederick, Jake Wynn, Nurses, Nursing Posted in: Uncategorized