Saturday, May 9, 2015

The First Amputation of the US Civil War

The Civil War Monument, Beverly, Massachusetts
photographed on Veteran's Day, November 11, 2011

When we think of the US Civil War one of the first injuries we think of is amputation.  Movies like Gone With the Wind all have bloody scenes portraying the military surgeons as butchers, chopping off limbs with abandon.  However, the truth is that these doctors had no choice.  The minie bullets used in the 1860s caused catastrophic injuries, and cannon balls blew off parts of men’s bodies so horribly that the surgeons had no choice.  Amputation was the only way to treat these injuries.

Amputation was the most common surgery during the Civil War.  There were amputees among the officers, like Stonewall Jackson, down to the lowest enlisted men. It is estimated that the Union suffered 30,000 amputations.  The very first Civil War amputation was performed on a young man from Beverly, Massachusetts named Moses Stevens Herrick.  I recognized this name right away.
My great grand aunt Mabelle Cloutman Hitchings married a Moses Stevens Herrick in Salem, Massachusetts on 12 December 1900.  This Moses was born on 28 July 1880 in Beverly, and a quick look at the vital records showed me that his grandfather was the Moses Stevens Herrick who had served in the Civil War.  (See the genealogy chart below)

The American Civil War stated with Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861.  The 8th regiment in Massachusetts, often known as the “Minute Men of ‘61” was one of the first regiments to respond to this event.  They quickly gathered into companies on 15 April 1861 and traveled to Washington DC to defend the capitol.  Moses Steven Herrick of Beverly was a member of company E.  My 2nd great grandfather, Abijah Franklin Hitchings (1841 – 1910) of Salem, was part of company I.   The amputation happened on 26 April 1861, just after the Riot at Baltimore.


The 8th Regt. Mass. Vol. Mil., "Minute Men," was called to Boston by Special Order No. 14, issued on the afternoon of April 15, 1861, by the Adjutant General of Massachusetts.  Having only eight companies, one company was added from the 7th Regt., a Salem unit, and one from Pittsfield, taken from the 1st Battalion of Infantry. Leaving the State April 18, it proceeded to Annapolis, Md., on its way to the national capital. At Annapolis two companies were placed on the frigate CONSTITUTION, guarding her until she was safely removed to the harbor of New York. Another company was detached to do guard duty at Fort McHenry near Baltimore, Md.

The remainder of the regiment, after repairing the road-bed from Annapolis to Annapolis Junction and restoring the rolling stock of the railroad, proceeded to Washington, arriving April 26. Not until April 30 were the men mustered into the service of the United States. On July 2d the entire regiment was ordered to Baltimore, Md., the left wing arriving in the morning and the right wing in the evening of the following day.
On July 29 it was ordered to Boston, Mass., and here on August 1, 1861, it was mustered out of the service.

My 2nd great grandfather, Abijah F. Hitchings, was in the regiment that moved the USS Constitution to safety.  His granddaughter, Mabelle, married Moses Hitchings grandson, Moses.   You can read all about that story at this link: 

Here is more:

See page 732 History of Essex County, Massachusetts

“The first man of the regiment injured was Lieut. Moses S. Herrick, of the Beverly Company, who was shot in the foot by the accidental discharge of a musket, in the rotunda of the Capitol.  The muskets, loaded with ball cartridges, were stacked around near the wall, and as some men were bringing in mattresses, they knocked a stand down, one of the guns being discharged into Lieut. Herrick’s foot, mutilating it terribly.  The limb was amputated by the surgeon of the Sixth, and Lieut. Herrick bore his great misfortune bravely, only lamenting that he could not have received the wound while fighting in the field.  Attentions of every sort were showered upon him as he lay in hospital and also en route home and in Beverly.  He is residing in Beverly, in the Upper Parish, the house of the Chipmans and Herricks.”

See page 178 of the A History of Massachusetts in the Civil War, Volume 2, by William Schouler (available on Google Book Search) 

Resolved, " That our warmest sympathies be tendered to Lieutenant Herrick, in his misfortunes, and that we pledge ourselves to him, and to all his associates in our Beverly company, and our other Beverly soldiers, and to their respective families, to render unto their necessities all the material aid and comfort that we can legitimately bestow."
In the resolve, chapter seventy-two, in favor of Moses S. Herrick, for injuries received in military service, the sum of three hundred dollars.

I also found this in the The Statutes at Large, The United States of America from December 1895 to March 1897, Volume XXIX, Page 800

February 9, 1897
Harriet F. Herrick Pension
Chap 210 – An Act Granting a pension to Harriet F. Herrick.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the Secretary of the Interior be, and is hereby, athorized, and directed to place on the pension roll, at twelve dollars per month, the name of Harriet F. Herrick, of Beverly, State of Massachusetts, widow of Moses S. Herrick, deceased, late a member of Company E, Eighth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
Approved, February 9, 1897”

In Beverly you can find the Grand Army of the Republic Hall on Dane Street, next to the Congregational Church.  The GAR was a nationwide fraternal organization of Civil War veterans.  Inside the hall hung the portraits of members, including a portrait of Moses S. Steven,  my 2nd great grandfather Abijah Hitchings, and other ancestors, such as my 2nd great grandfather Samuel Mears.   These portraits are now stored at the Beverly Historical Society.  You can find the photograph of Moses  in the GAR Portraits: Box 3, No. 6, Moses S. Herrick (1831 – 1894)   Beverly Historic Society, GAR finding aid. 

Dr. Norman Smith, the military surgeon, was from the 6th Massachusetts Regiment.  If you want your hair to stand on end, then you can read all about this amputation and the surgeon that performed it at this website, including photos of the actual amputation surgical kit:

Click here to read more about Civil War Battlefield Surgery

Click here to read more about Moses Stevens Herrick and the first amputation of the Civil War

Herrick Genealogy Chart:

 Gen. 1: Henry Herrick (1604 – 1671) m. Editha Laskin

Gen. 2:  Zachary Herrick (1636 – 1695) m. Mary Dodge

Gen. 3:  Henry Herrick (1672 – 1747)  m. Susanna Beadle
                                                                      (my 7th great aunt)

Gen. 4:  William Herrick (1709 – 1783) m. Mary Tuck

Gen. 5:  William Herrick ( b. 1736) m. Mary Wallis

Gen. 6:  John Herrick (b. 1781) m. Lydia Butman

Gen. 7:  William Herrick (1802 – 1861) m. Harriet Ayers

Gen. 8:  Moses Stevens Herrick (1832 – 1894) m. Harriet F. Burnchstead

Gen. 9:  Frank B. Herrick (b. 1856)  m. Isabelle A. Sias

Gen. 10: Moses Stevens Herrick (1880 – 1922) m. Mabelle Cloutman Hitchings
                                                                                   (my great aunt)

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Copyright © 2015, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Wow! That's a distinction I bet our Herrick cousin would have much rather avoided. On the other hand, he might have suffered worse had he not been wounded before the real fighting started.

    1. And later in the war there were so many amputees that he would have been forgotten in the shuffle. It's a good thing it was just his foot and not his entire leg!

  2. Great article, Heather. Amazing history right at our back door. Hoorah for the Beverly boys and their bravery.