Simon Baruch on bayonet wounds

It’s questionable how much influence he had, but the 13th’s surgeon of post-war fame did his best in 1864 to dispel the notion common among soldiers that bayonet wounds were somehow worse than bullets.

In his study of two soldiers bayoneted in the chest, Dr. Simon Baruch found just the opposite. It was hard to find the two examples—from the 3rd South Carolina Battalion who were assaulted in bayonet charges at Spotsylvania—bayonet use in battle being far less common than artists’ magazine illustrations of the time would have you believe.

In her 1991 biography Simon Baruch, Rebel In The Ranks of Medicine, 1840-1921, author Patricia Spain Ward wrote that bayonet and saber wounds were so few they “together accounted for only 0.4 percent of the total wounds inflicted on both sides.”

“Our knowledge of bayonet wounds has been so limited, “ Baruch wrote in the July 1864 edition of the Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal, “that their effects have been, until a recent period, involved in considerable doubt and even mystery.

“Experience, however, teaches that we have exaggerated the nature of these injuries and attributed to them formidable qualities which they happily do not possess.

“Why is it that soldiers have such a wholesome fear of the bayonet…This dread of ‘cold steel’ is, in my humble opinion, mainly attributable to ignorance of the nature of the injuries inflicted by it…bayonet wounds are almost harmless when compared to the ploughed tracks which the terrible minie [bullet] bores through the tissues….A bayonet wound almost invariably heals…and leaves no deformity behind, while the simplest ball wound requires weeks for a complete recovery and, then, perhaps, leaves the sufferer with a contracted and useless limb.”

Ward concluded:

“Baruch wanted to give physiological support to a plea for moral courage in the face of cold steel. Whether or not it ever made its way to the men in the lines for whom he apparently meant it, he must have had a sizable audience, for it was published in the only medical journal in the Confederacy.”

About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
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5 Responses to Simon Baruch on bayonet wounds

  1. Andy Hall says:

    This is really neat, thanks.

  2. Dick Stanley says:

    Thank you for pointing me to the Confederate medical journal on the Web. Actually, though, I think Baruch is understating. Nowadays, people die all the time from stab wounds from knives. Hard to believe a thick bayonet couldn’t kill you just as dead.

  3. Pingback: “Under Divine blessing we must rely upon the bayonet” « Dead Confederates

  4. Pingback: Civil War bayonets: More flash than slash « The Cotton Boll Conspiracy

  5. Pingback: Bayonets | KNOXVILLE 1863, the novel

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