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Sickles' Leg and the Army Medical Museum

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Journal Article - Open Access

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National Museum of Health and Medicine, USAMRMC Silver Spring United States

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Mad Dan Sickles would likely still be thrilled with the attention he receives today, 151 years since he played an infamous role at the Battle of Gettysburg. At the National Museum of Health and Medicine NMHM in Silver Spring, Maryland, Sickles leg remains one of the most frequently requested objects. Before the Civil War, Daniel E. Sickles had been a diplomat in London and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1857 to 1861. While in Congress, Sickles was charged with murder after shooting Philip Barton Key II, the son of Star-Spangled Banner author Francis Scott Key. Key had been engaged in an affair with Sickles wife, and Sickles shot and killed Key in Lafayette Square across from the White House. Sickles was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, the first such verdict of its kind in the United States. At Gettysburg, however, Sickles reputation increased exponentially and not necessarily in his favor. On the battles second day, then-Major General Sickles defied orders and advanced his III Corps ahead of Union lines, exposing much of the Union center to Confederate attack. III Corps was effectively wiped out, and while astride his horse, Sickles was struck in the lower right leg with a 12-lb cannonball. The leg was amputated by Surgeon Thomas Sim that afternoon at the III Corps battlefield hospital. The story of the leg, however, did not end there on the Taneytown Road. Aware of the recent founding of the Army Medical Museum, known today as the NMHM, Sickles directed his surgeon to dispatch the amputated leg, according to the anecdote, in a small coffin-shaped box. The museum had begun collecting specimens of morbid anatomy for preservation and study. Sickles shattered tibia and fibula were received at the Army Medical Museum where it was prepared and mounted for display, much in the same manner as it is still seen today. Sickles quickly recovered and returned to duty.

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