Sometimes a good column subject just walks in the door.
That happened yesterday, when a visitor to The Greeneville Sun brought me a copy of an old column from a Mississippi newspaper. Written years back by the late Gordon A. Cotton, a Mississippi author, historian and museum curator, it concerned a Civil War incident that I’d never heard of, and which has to qualify as one of the most bizarre occurrences of that war. For that matter, one of the most bizarre occurrences in all of American history, period.
Be forewarned: some of this might make you wince a few times.
It all happened in connection with a battle near Raymond, Mississippi, in May of 1863. Standing outside their home and awaiting news from the battle were a mother and her two daughters, the latter both teens.
A medical doctor from Vicksburg, Mississippi, was among the Confederates fighting in the battle, part of which was occurring about 1,540 yards from the house where the mother and daughters were. Dr. L.G. Capers heard a feminine scream from the direction of the house at almost the same time he saw a young soldier he happened to know fall as if shot.
In his diary, Capers wrote that he went to the side of the young man and found he had been shot in the leg, causing a compound fracture. Further, the rifle ball had been diverted by the bone and also had “passed through the scrotum, carrying away the left testicle.”
Capers did what he could for the wounded young man, then looked up to see the mother of the two girls at the house rushing to him, telling him one of her daughters was badly wounded. The doctor, who knew the woman and her family, followed the woman back to the house, and there found one of the girls had been shot in the abdomen, leaving a “ragged wound.” The ball apparently remained somewhere inside the girl’s body.
Not optimistic the girl would live, Dr. Capers gave what treatment was possible. The Confederate force of which he was a part retreated after the battle, and Capers decided to stay in the Raymond community to tend to Confederate wounded who had to be left there to recover.
His stay extended for weeks, and during that time he also visited the wounded young woman, who had been stricken with peritonitis from her wound, yet stubbornly held on to life. Eventually the doctor left the area with the Confederate fighting force, but about six months later he was able to return to the area, and checked in to see how the wounded girl had fared.
She had not died, but something was decidedly different. His diary notes that she was “in excellent health and spirits, but her abdomen had become enormously enlarged, so much as to resemble pregnancy at the seventh or eighth month.”
If you’re starting to suspect where this is leading, you’re probably right.
Capers’ later diary entries tell the story. “Just two hundred and seventy-eight days from the date of the receipt of the wound by the Minie ball, I delivered this same young lady of a fine boy, weighing eight pounds. I was not surprised but imagine the surprise and mortification of the young lady herself, her entire family.”
The girl’s hymen was intact before delivery, but even so the doctor had to believe she had become pregnant in the usual way, even though she strongly asserted her virginity.
Less than a month later, Dr. Capers was called back to check out something odd about the baby boy. He discovered something hard and rough under the skin of the infant’s scrotum, and operated to remove it.
It was a badly misshapen Minie ball that appeared to have struck some hard surface before somehow winding up inside the body of the infant.
The doctor concluded the following: “The ball I took from the scrotum of the babe was the identical one which, on the 12th of May, shattered the tibia of my friend, and in its mutilated condition, plunged through his testicle, carrying with it particles of the semen and spermatozoa into the abdomen of the young lady, then through her left ovary, and into the uterus, in this manner impregnating her! There can be no other solution of the phenomenon! These convictions I expressed to the family, and at their solicitations visited my young soldier friend, laying the case fully before him in its proper light. At first, most naturally, he was skeptical, but concluded to visit the young mother.”
The pair apparently liked one another after that visit. Before the baby was 4 months old, they got married and later had two more children.
The first-born one, Capers noted, was the child most strongly resembling the young soldier.
The doctor later wrote up the case in “American Medical Weekly” in 1874.
My thanks to my Tuesday visitor who brought me the information on which this column is based. I would gladly identify him here, but he told me he preferred to remain anonymous.