April 13, 2012

Mummified Forearm from Antietam

An arm was purportedly dug up on a farm by a farmer shortly after the Battle of Antietam. This arm was pickled by the farmer in a brine then embalmed by a doctor and has been on display for years. Its current home is the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, where scientists are trying to verify the story as well as figure out what caused the arm wound, the possible soldier's age and nationality.

Antietam was a particularly violent, battle with 23,000 casualties in one day. As with many battlefields, remains at Antietam still become exposed from time to time, like when a visitor found the remains of a New York soldier in 2008.

It is very likely that the arm really did belong to a soldier. Scientists have already confirmed that the arm came from a young soldier, possibly younger than 20.  

Read the full story at Md. Civil War Museum Gives Severed Arm a Good Look. 

The dead at Antietam are of personal interest to me as my ancestor with the 124th PA was among the burial detail after the battle only one month after he joined the army.

Library of Congress

 These photos are surreal to look at as the landscape looks so similar today. The rolling hills and farms look so peaceful today.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress
Library of Congress

There is a discussion now as to whether the arm should be respectfully buried instead of being a macabre museum display. I think it should still remain on display as you only need to see something like that once to instantly understand the horrors of war. I can only imagine what that soldier would want to tell future generations about war. 


  1. It makes you wonder who the arm belonged to and whether he survived the separation. I wonder what he would have said about the situation if he had known his arm was dug up. Perhaps he would have wanted it buried. Or he could have been like Dan Sickles. ;)

  2. I think it's different because this arm is "preserved." I have preserved a lot of things, but never an arm. How often do you get to "see" a Civil War soldier? :)

  3. Aww, no picture of the severed arm? :)

    My uncle Bill (Billy's father) used to collect all kinds of guns. He had several real rifles and revolvers from the Civil War, along with several battlefield relics; bullets, shell fragments and such. One of his black Colt revolvers he had mounted on the wall was supposedly dug out of the ground at some lesser known battlefield. I remember seeing it, it was so corroded you could barely tell what it was. Now when I was a little kid my Aunt Gerri used to tell me a story about how when he found that pistol, there was supposedly a bony skeletal hand still attached to it.

    My great uncle Bill was legendary for his tall tales. His creepy tale was probably a load of horsecrap, but the thing about him was, his stories were so detailed and convincing he'd get you to believe anything was true.

    He also had a real human skull on top of his bookshelf that wore an M1 flak helmet and aviator sunglasses, and had a cigar in its mouth. There are various wild and incredible stories about how he acquired that skull and why it was made to look like a soldier. From "he picked up a dead German's skull over in Europe" to "his friend stole it from a university of Delaware biology lab" We may never know who to believe.

    My great uncle Bill was that kind of guy.

    1. There's a slideshow of the arm: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/md-civil-war-museum-gives_n_1418518.html?icid=maing-grid7|main5|dl4|sec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D151488#s862922&title=Mummified_Forearm

      I would have loved to post a photo of the arm but I haven't ever seen it myself.

      Your family was talking about the skull. :D

  4. That's sick even by my standards. People were very morbid then. Surely you've heard of the 1800's custom of digging up the recently deceased and paying a photographer to dress it up and pose it in a lifelike manner to hang on your wall? It was common practice for young children who had died. Not all the photos are creepy looking. some are just peaceful and look like the child's asleep. The creepier ones have the eyes painted on the eyelids. 0.0


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