The War Wound

The first couple of posts I did were about Allen Erp’s Civil War story. Allen was my 3rd Great Grandfather. He was born in Pulaski County Kentucky in 1826. He married Sarah Alexander in 1844 and a few years later moved to Clinton County Indiana. 

He served in Company G of the 86th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteers during the Civil War– enlisting in August 1862 and serving through the end of the war, being discharged June of 1865 in Nashville, Tennessee. His military records are under the name “Allen Urp.”

Last July, I was at a genealogy conference in Indiana. I met a man who’s business is going to the National Archives and retrieving Civil War Records. I paid the fee and waited for what he might find about Allen Urp. I was particularly interested in seeing if there would be any record of Allen’s injury to his right hand that was mentioned in his letter home and on his Invalid Pension Certificate. A few months later I received digital copies of Allen’s Service Record and Pension files. There was no specific Medical record.

The Pension files consisted of several pages of sworn testimony confirming Allen’s dates of service in the Union Army. There were also statements regarding his injury. 

Theodore Hesser, who served as 1st Lieutenant in Company G of the 86th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteers gave a statement that indicated that Private Allen Urp, “on or about the 18th day of December 1862 was wounded in his right hand by the accidental discharge of his gun while on picket duty causing the loss of the 1st & 2nd fingers of his Right hand.” The event occurred near Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. Hesser also stated that “Said Urp was a good & faithful soldier and continued to serve on detached service in the Ambulance train till the Regiment was discharged.” 

So Allen was on “picket duty.” This was a line of soldiers who patrolled in advance of the main encampment, watching for any enemy movement. At this time in 1862, the Regiment was encamped near Nashville, making it’s way toward Murfreesboro, Tenn. His wounds were not caused in battle, but by an “Accidental discharge” of his gun. 

Allen’s own testimony of his injury was given as well. It adds a little more detail to the story. On January 22, 1870 he gave this statement in support of his Pension request: 

“On or about the 18th day of December 1862 while on duty on the skirmish line I was taken with the cramp & while endeavoring to relieve my self my gun was accidentally discharged wounding me in the right hand causing the amputation of my first and second fingers. My wound was dressed & attended to in the camp of the Regiment near Nashville, Tenn & I remained with the Regiment until I was discharged at the close of the war.”

So if I read that correctly, Allen was on picket duty, patrolling the area near the encampment, on the look-out for the enemy, when “nature called.” Who knows, he may have propped his rifle against a tree and it fell, causing it to accidentally discharge, or it may have fired as he was preparing to set it down. In one sense it may be lucky that he only lost some fingers!

This injury was not great enough to keep him from serving his tour of duty however. As mentioned in the statements, he served through the next two and a half years to the end of the war. He worked with the Ambulance service & as he said in his letter home, drove an Ambulance wagon. He may have also worked on the Ambulance train that took wounded soldiers away from the battle lines to field hospitals. These trains could have consisted of flat cars, freight cars or passenger cars used to transport the soldiers. Can’t imagine they were the best of accommodations. The Library of Congress website <loc.gov> has pictures of Civil War Ambulance wagons and trains. I expect working with the Ambulance service was quite challenging at times. 

There was an Examining Surgeon’s Certificate dated November 2, 1869 attached to his file. The surgeon, W.P. Dunn, declared Allen “1/2 incapacitated for obtaining his subsistence by manual labor” due to his injury. Since Allen was a farmer, his lively-hood was affected by the limited use of his right hand. My assumption is that he was right-handed. According to other paperwork in is file, Allen was approved of his Invalid (Disability) Pension April 13, 1871 for $2 per month from June 5, 1865. 

In 1875, when Allen was 48 years old, he applied for an increase to a full pension. He gave the following statement to the Clerk of the Clinton County, Indiana Court:

He reported his disability from “Gunshot wound of right hand causing loss of first & second fingers of the said hand causing stiffness and lameness of said hand, greatly incapacitating him for manual labor.” Allen requested an examination and an increase in pension. He also seems to indicate that he had not received the appropriate compensation as he also requested back pension. He did have a Medical Examination and was still declared 1/2 disabled and entitled to $4 per month.

In 1878, Allen again pursued an increase in his pension & appeared before the Clerk of the Court of Tippecanoe County, Indiana. He stated that he is disabled due to the “gun shot wound of right hand causing loss of middle and index fingers and a contracture of tendons in the other fingers almost totally disabling him on such level equivalent to the loss of a limb.” He again received a Medical Examination, this time by 2 physicians, who stated:

“G.S.W. right hand=Ball destroyed 1st and 2nd Phalanx of Index and middle fingers—amputated at articulation of 2nd and 3rd Phalanx—stumps tender—becoming inflamed & ulcerated in labor—Hand of little use to Pensioner.” They declared his disability to be “total” such that he was entitled to $12 per month.

According to the file jacket for his pension, Allen received $2 per month commencing June 7, 1865. Then he received an increase to $5 per month commencing July 21, 1875. The final increase was to $8 per month commencing April 3, 1878. Allen died in 1885. He lived with what might seem a minor wound by today’s standards, but one that apparently caused him trouble most of his life. 

© MJM 2020

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