Hodges, the staff educator, is not kidding. “Dr. James Cox, Martin’s physician in the later years of his life, lived and practiced in our building,” she said.
Private Martin’s prosthetic limb is part of a special museum exhibit called “Bandages and Bullets: the Passion and Price of the Civil War.”
“The family donated the leg to the museum 2 years ago,” Hodges said. Martin strapped it on with leather thigh and waist bands. His residual limb rested, probably not very comfortably, on a patch of cloth padding.
The nation’s bloodiest conflict almost cost Martin more than his leg.
Images: Craig B,
“When the Confederates captured him, he weighed 135 lbs,” Hodges said. “When he was released, he weighed 44 lbs.”
Hodges is not sure which Confederate prison camp held Martin, who was shot in the right leg and left for dead at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Va., in May 1864. “He lay on the battlefield for 3 days,” she said.
Martin’s wound worsened in Confederate captivity. “It became infested with maggots,” Hodges said. “That may have saved his life.”
Maggots, she pointed out, eat only dead flesh.
“That might have prevented the wound from becoming gangrenous,” she said.
In any event, Confederate surgeons removed Martin’s shattered leg below the knee. “He underwent two amputations, both without anesthesia,” Hodges said.
It is unknown if the Confederates provided the Union prisoner of war his prosthesis or if he got it after his release.
Felled by battle
Hodges said, records reveal that Martin was 18 years old when he enlisted in the Seventh Maine Volunteer Infantry. He joined Company I of the veteran regiment that was organized in 1861 and had fought in several battles, including Antietam in 1862 and Gettysburg in 1863.
At Spotsylvania, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac attacked the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. Robert E. Lee. The battle lasted from May 8 to May 21.
Rifle bullets flew so fast and thickly on one part of the battlefield that they cut down an oak tree 22 inches in diameter. The slug-riddled stump is preserved in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
An Aroostook County farmer before the war, Martin fell on May 18. Toward the end of his life, he moved to Bangor to be with his family.
He died on June 2, 1930 at 84 years old. The old soldier is buried in Ashland Municipal Cemetery in Aroostook County, next to his wife, Laura Howe Martin.
A legacy of limb loss
The exhibit that features his prosthetic leg will be open at the museum until Oct. 12. It “tells the story of Maine soldiers fighting on battlefields far from home,” Hodges said. “From the Mainers’ patriotic sendoff to the gory consequences of war, the exhibit illustrates the trials and tribulations they endured on some of the bloodiest battlefields of the Civil War.”
Besides Martin’s crude prosthesis, the display includes a Civil War surgeon’s kit typical of those used by “sawbones” in blue and gray uniforms.
The instruments got plenty of use. “Research of the BMHC collections continues to support the claim by many Civil War historians that one in 13 veterans was an amputee,” Hodges said.
More information about the exhibit is available on the museum’s website at www.bangormuseum.org.