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In Their Own Words

May 10, 1864

Letter Told of Impending Death

What today would be easily handled in hospital emergency rooms was quite a different story during the Civil War, where wounds to a limb frequently resulted in amputation as the best treatment. In some cases, however, amputation was not even a life-saving option, as evidence by the following letter from Harmon Robinson. Robinson, who served in the 8th Georgia Regiment, was apparently mortally wounded in battle against Grant in Virginia on the previous Friday. At a Union hospital, Robinson dictated a letter to his sisters back in Georgia, which included the following excerpt:

“While lying here under the shad of these pines, I am having this man [Union soldier James E. Smith] write a few lines to you to let you know that on last Friday I had the great misfortune to get a very severe wound in the battle of that day by a minie ball. It passed through my left hip very high up and smashed it very badly, and it is so high up that doctor says he can’t do anything for me… .The surgeon told me today that there was no hopes of my living. But while there is still life, there is still hopes… .

[Smith then closed the letter by stating] “Now he don’t tell me anything more to write, so I must close by saying farewell for him to you.”

Source: Mills Lane (ed.), “Dear Mother: Don’t grieve about me. If I get killed, I’ll only be dead.”: Letters from Georgia Soldiers in the Civil War (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), p. 290.