Give that man a medal


On June 29th 1865 Jacques Roellinger, a private in ‘B’ Company of the New York Volunteers, asked to be released from military service.  When he appeared before an army board to make his case for a pension, he told the officers that three years earlier, in the early stages of the Civil War, he had been present at the evacuation of Yorktown.  His platoon had been ambushed and he had been injured.  At the medical officer’s request, he showed the panel his scars.  He had been marked

(1) by a sabre cut, leaving a long scar, which crossed the quadriceps extensor of the left thigh in its middle third.  It appeared to have divided the tendinous and a portion of the muscular structures.

(2) by a sabre thrust, which passed between the bones in the middle third of the right forearm.

Roellinger explained that these wounds had healed fairly quickly, and he was able to rejoin active service at Williamsburgh a few months later.  Luck was not with him, however, because he was then

(3) shot in the right thigh, the ball passing through the middle third, just external to the femur.

(4) At the assault on Port Wagner, in Charleston Harbor, July 10th, 1863, he received a sword cut across the spinal muscles covering the lower dorsal vertebrae.

While convalescing from this unfortunate turn of events he travelled to visit his brother in south-western Missouri.  This ‘holiday’ did not go well: he was captured by guerrillas and tortured ‘in Indian fashion’.  Injuries inflicted on him included

(5) Two broad and contracted cicatrices [scars] he declared were the marks left by burning splinters of wood, which were held upon the surface of the right anterior portion of the thorax.

Undaunted, he managed to escape from his captors, and – clearly a glutton for punishment – rejoined his comrades-in-arms.  On February 20th 1864 he was present at the Battle of Olustee in Florida.  His luck had not improved:

(6) a fragment of an exploding shell passed from without inward beneath the hamstrings of the right thigh, and remained imbedded in the ligamentous tissues about the internal condyle of the femur.

He fell on the battlefield, but was left alone by the enemy.  Expecting another assault, he managed to pull himself up into a tree using some trailing vines.  A renewed attack duly came; he was spotted and shot.

(7) The ball entered between the sixth and seventh ribs on the left side, just beneath the apex of the heart, and issued on the right side, posteriorly, near the angle of the ninth rib, traversing a portion of both lungs.  Profuse hemorrhage from the mouth followed, and from the wound also, and, fearing that he must soon faint and fall, he slid down from his elevated position to the ground beneath.

Luckily he had been a professional acrobat before entering the army, which helped him to do so without (further) injury.  Seeing the enemy in retreat, he took a few potshots at them in revenge.  This was most unwise, for

(8) They bayoneted him through the body… [the] bayonet passed through the left lobe of the liver, and lacerated the posterior border of the diaphragm!

Hoping to finish him off, his assailants then shot him again.  The pistol ball

(9) entered on the level of the angle of the left lower jaw, through the border of the sterno-cieido-mastoid muscle, and issued at the corresponding point on the other side of the neck.  He added that during his convalescence he used to amuse the company by drinking and projecting the fluid in a stream from either side of his neck, by simple muscular effort.

The Medical Officer remarked in his notes that even after this terrible experience, the soldier lived ‘most inexcusably’, and

at some time, I cannot say whether before or after, acquired the further following embellishments, viz.:

(10) The scar of a sabre thrust passing between radius and ulna, just below left elbow.

(11) A pistol shot, passing diagonally outward and upward through the pectorales major and deltoid of left side; and

(12) a deep cut dividing the commissure of the left thumb and forefinger down to the carpal bones.

Astonishingly, there were no ill effects from this long list of injuries except a stiff knee.  The soldier was granted his request and given honourable discharge.  But what was he intending to do in retirement?  Go fishing?  Open a bar?  Nope:

When the catalogue was ended this surgical museum politely apologized for his haste, saying that he was on his way to the steamer, intending to join Garibaldi’s army, at that time campaigning in the Yaltelline.

[Source: The Medical Record, 1875]

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