Headstone heroes

Rob Koenigsberg heads up a team cleaning the stones at the Unknown Plot.

Johnstown resident and author James Gindlesperger tackles topics of historical significance with great care and meticulous research. He has written several books on the Civil War as well as extensive guides to Gettysburg and Antietam, which were co-authored with his wife, Suzanne.

Bullets & Bandages, his latest book released in 2020, is devoted to the locations where the wounded from the Battle of Gettysburg were treated.

It seems unbelievable that an entire book (336 pages in this hard-cover volume) was needed to feature all the makeshift “hospitals” called into service in July 1863 as the wounded poured into the town of 2,500. But it is estimated that 160,000 men fought in the three-day battle and, when smoke and armies cleared, 21,000 wounded were left behind.

Bullets & Bandages is a comprehensive look at where those men were cared for.

Gindlesperger diligently outlines each site – complete with color photos and GPS locations. The book even includes a glossary of Civil War-era medical terms and a table of money values from 1863 to 2020.

On the surface, a guide like this could be dull reading, but the author has a wonderful way of weaving personal stories into the text.

The descriptions of the wounded and how they were cared for are hard to comprehend.

Three of four surgeries were amputations and Gindlesperger gives the following statistics on mortality rates after the procedures:

Finger amputation, 3 percent died

Toe, 6 percent

Arm below the elbow, 14 percent

Upper arm, 24 percent

Lower leg, one in three

Mid thigh, 54 percent

Knee joint, 58 percent

Hip, 83 percent

Amputations were so prevalent that severed limbs were not removed from “operating rooms” until the piles became a hindrance.

At a warehouse-turned-hospital in the center of town, the second floor was designated for the procedure as it allowed limbs to be thrown from the windows to the ground below. There they lay in the sun until they were shoveled into a cart and buried in long trenches.

Neighbors complained that the smell was so bad they could not open their windows for weeks.

A German Lutheran church was used as a hospital for five weeks. Wounded from both sides occupied every area of the church and left messages scribbled in hymnals.

In some cases, doors were placed across pews for the wounded.

At another church that was called into service, surgeons bored holes in the floor for the blood to drain.

Gindlesperger relays how one pastor, determined to try to maintain some normalcy, conducted a service for the wounded as well as for any parishioner who wanted to attended. Five men died during the service.

Not all the stories are gruesome or sad.

One wounded man who had a leg amputated later returned to Gettysburg to marry his nurse.

Locals will appreciate the story of Catherine Foster and her experiences in Gettysburg and Johnstown.

It's stories like these and many, many more that elevate Bullets and Bandages far above a book of lists and dry statistics.

The book would be a great resource for anyone planning a trip to Gettysburg.

But, even if a visit to the famous battlefield is not in the works, readers will get a lot from Bullets and Bandages. It's an engaging book that will entertain as it enlightens.

The book is published by Blair and is available at many area gift shops and book stores as well as online at Bookshop.org, Blairpub.com, Amazon.comand everywhere books are sold.

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