Author Question: Civil War Dead House

I’m so pleased to be hosting author Jocelyn Green this week. She e-mailed me a feasibility question and I managed to rope her into writing a few posts about the medical aspects of the Civil War!

I know…I’m a tricky girl.

Jocelyn has graciously agreed to give away a signed copy of her novel Wedded to War. Just leave a comment in the comments section that includes your e-mail address on any of her posts this week and you’ll be eligible to win– though you must live in the USA. Drawing will be Saturday, September 1, 2012 at midnight. Winner announced here on Sunday, Sept 2, 2012!

Now, let’s get on to some exciting stuff!

Jocelyn Asks:

Hi Jordyn: I’m a Civil War novelist and working on my second book in the Heroines Behind the Lines series right now. (My first, Wedded to War, is about pioneering nurses for the Union Army and just released July 1 from River North, an imprint of Moody.) I’ve got a couple questions for you!
1) I read an account by Capt. O.H. Miller of the 59th GA which said he was basically called a lost cause (after an injury at Gettysburg) and “They ordered me to the dead-house where I remained fifteen days.” My question to you is: HOW in the world would he have been able to survive that? Can we believe his first-person statement? I did read in another book an account of a soldier who was left in a field for three days surviving by eating the maggots out of his puddle of blood. (I’m so sorry, that’s gross.) So, I suppose if Capt. Miller was in a dead-house, there would have been plenty of maggots to eat. What do you think? Any insights on this? It seems unbelievable, but I WANT to believe it because I want to use it in my novel!

2) I need one of my main characters to suffer from temporary amnesia from an injury at Gettysburg. What kind of a wound would produce this? I want him to regain his memory in about a month’s time (two weeks minimum).

Jordyn Says:

Hmmm…. okay question #1. Being in the dead house for just over two weeks. According to my research, the dead house is the morgue so there wouldn’t be any provision of food and water. The problem will be this… does he have access to water? If he has something to drink it’s probably reasonable to say he could have survived but with NOTHING to drink– dehydration will kill you in a few days– around one to three depending on the elements your body is in. So, if you want to use this in your ms—you’ll need to at least have him drinking something. But, he can’t just be lying there without fluids for 15 days and not die. I do find that particularly unbelievable.
Here’s a previous post that discusses aspects of dehydration.

Regarding question #2– what type of injury will produce amnesia? Really any type of head injury can produce amnesia so you could have some writerly leeway here.

A fall from a height, blunt force trauma to the head, gunshot wound to the head (though this is hard to survive in today’s medical climate so would be probably lethal during civil war times.)
Here’s a previous post about amnesia.

I found a few resources that were particularly interesting for my inner medical nerd.

1. This one dealt with treatment of the dead. Very interesting insight here particularly concerning how dog tags for soldiers likely came about.

2. Photos of Lincoln General Hospital—A Civil War Hospital.

A former military wife, Jocelyn Green authored, along with contributing writers, the award-winning Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives and Faith Deployed . . . Again. Jocelyn also co-authored Stories of Faith and Couragefrom the Home Front, which inspired her first novel: Wedded to War. She loves Mexican food, Broadway musicals, Toblerone chocolate bars, the color red, and reading on her patio. Jocelyn lives with her husband Rob and two small children in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

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