War-wound am­pu­ta­tion leads to cru­cial in­ven­tion by Hanger

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Martha M. Boltz

James Ed­ward Hanger was a healthy man of 18 and a sopho­more at Wash­ing­ton Col­lege in Lex­ing­ton, Va., when he de­cided to fight in the War Be­tween the States. Lo­cal of­fi­cials con­sid­ered him too young to join the Con­fed­er­ate army, but when he found an am­bu­lance corps ve­hi­cle car­ry­ing food and other sup­plies for the Con­fed­er­acy, he sim­ply made him­self part of the group leav­ing his home­town of Churchville, Va.

When the group reached Philippi, Va. (now in West Vir­ginia), he en­listed with the Churchville Cavalry on June 2, 1861. That unit was one of four that would be­come the 14th Vir­ginia Cavalry, a group that fought in many ma­jor cam­paigns of the war, in­clud­ing Get­tys­burg, all the way to Ap­po­mat­tox, and was the unit where two of his brothers and four cousins were al­ready en­listed.

While his fa­ther and mother were not happy with his de­ci­sion to en­list, at least he would be with his brothers, and he car­ried with him some ad­di­tional cloth­ing for them.

While James Hanger’s war ca­reer would be ex­tremely brief, his ded­i­ca­tion to a dif­fer­ent cause would make his name familiar even to­day. It hap­pened when he was in­jured on the first day of ser­vice. The long-term ef­fects of that in­jury have spanned more than 146 years, nu­mer­ous wars and sev­eral coun­tries. Fight at Philippi

Union Gen. Ge­orge McClel­lan had sent Col. B.F. Kelly to west­ern Vir­ginia with 1,500 men to at­tack the troops un­der Con­fed­er­ate Col. Ge­orge Porter­field. Porter­field had en­coun­tered dif­fi­cul­ties in re­cruit­ing and had only 700 men when the Union troops ar­rived at what many con­sider the first land bat­tle of the war, at the small town of Philippi.

In his book “The 14th Vir­ginia Cavalry,” part of the Vir­ginia Reg­i­men­tal His­tory Se­ries, au­thor Robert J. Driver Jr. cites Pvt. Hanger’s own words about what hap­pened to him at Philippi:

“We were or­dered to pack up and be ready to move on a mo­ments no­tice. About dark we were no­ti­fied that we would not move un­til mid­night. Early in the night it com­menced to rain and rained hard un­til nearly day­light. At mid­night we did not move, per­haps on ac­count of the rain and the be­lief that the en­emy would not march in such rain and dark­ness. [. . . ]

“The Fed­er­als were mov­ing in on us and would be there soon, and were en­tirely too strong for our forces equipped as we were, not a sin­gle car­tridge in the com­mand, only loose pow­der, ball and shot. Arms — old flint­lock mus­kets, horse pis­tols, a few shot­guns and colt re­volvers. [. . . ]

“As­the[col­umn]on­theClarks­burg road passed old Mrs. Humphrey’s home about 2 miles from Philippi about day­break, she started one of her boys to no­tify our com­mand. Her boy was cap­tured by some strag­glers and she fired a gun at them. The com­man­der of the bat­tery took this for the [pre­ar­ranged] sig­nal and com­menced fir­ing about 4:20 a.m. He told me that this fir­ing was the first no­tice we had that the en­emy were near us. The [col­umn] that was to cut off our re­treat was de­layed some 30 or 40 min­utes on ac­count of heavy roads, which gave our forces time to get away.

“The first two shots were can­is­ter and di­rected at the Cavalry Camps, the third shot was a 6 pound solid shot aimed at a stable in which the Churchville Cavalry Com­pany had slept. This shot struck the ground, ri­cho­chet­ted [sic], en­ter­ing the stable and struck me. I re­mained in the stable til they came look­ing for plun­der, about four hours af­ter I was wounded. Mylimb­wasam­pu­tat­ed­byDr.Robin­son, 16th Ohio Vol.”

Hanger’s in­jury had come on June 3, a day af­ter his en­list­ment. When he leaped from the hayloft of the barn to get his horse moved to safety, the ric­o­chet­ing ball struck and shat­tered his leg, re­quir­ing am­pu­ta­tion above the knee. Two am­pu­ta­tions

In­ter­est­ingly, Hanger’s was not the only am­pu­ta­tion of the skir­mish. His came sev­eral hours af­ter his cap­ture, when he was found wounded in the Gar­rett John­son barn. Be­cause of the ex­treme blood loss and the sever­ity of his in­jury, it was de­cided that only im­me­di­ate am­pu­ta­tion would save his life, and the Union sur­geon, Dr. James Robin­son, called for the barn door to be taken off and used as a makeshift op­er­at­ing ta­ble.

There was no anes­the­sia avail­able, and it took about 45 min­utes to com­plete the surgery and con­struct a proper flap of the re­main­ing skin over the stump, re­mov­ing the leg about seven inches be­low the hip and above the knee.

At about the same time that Hanger was in­jured, an­other Rebel sol­dier, Capt. Fauntleroy Dainger­field, also sus­tained a leg in­jury when a Minie ball shat­tered his knee. A Con­fed­er­ate sur­geon, Dr. John T. Huff, was forced to am­pu­tate Dainger­field’s leg with a butcher knife and car­pen­ter’s saw the next day, on June 4. Thus they be­came the first two am­pu­ta­tions of the war.

Hanger, a pris­oner, was then moved to the Philippi Methodist Epis­co­pal Church, which had been con­verted to a hospi­tal, and from there to the home of a cou­ple who lived nearby, Mr. and Mrs. William McClaskey. As South­ern sym­pa­thiz­ers, they were happy to care for the young man.

Soon the Union Army took over their home, and Hanger was again moved, this time to a farm known as Cherry Hill, al­ready con­verted to a hospi­tal. Here, the young Hanger prob­a­bly was given his first ar­ti­fi­cial leg. It amounted to a straight, heavy wooden de­vice strapped to the stump, the orig­i­nal “peg leg,” char­ac­ter­ized by its to­tal lack of mo­bil­ity and the thump­ing noise it made, which could be heard quite a dis­tance away. Ar­du­ous re­cov­ery

Am­pu­ta­tion in that era fre­quently car­ried a death sen­tence. Re­cov­ery was long and ar­du­ous, care was dif­fi­cult to man­age in or around a bat­tle­field, and post-sur­gi­cal in­fec­tion ran ram­pant, up­ping the mor­tal­ity rate to about 52 per­cent if the am­pu­ta­tion was de­layed more than 48 hours. While there were about 16,000 am­pu­ta­tions in World War II, in the Civil War the num­ber was over 50,000.

The ul­ti­mate suc­cess rate in an in­jury such as Hanger’s de­pended on whether the leg was re­moved above or be­low the knee. The lower ones seemed to heal bet­ter and a pros­the­sis was eas­ier to be­come ac­cus­tomed to; above the knee the prob­lems of mo­bil­ity and sta­bil­ity had to be ad­dressed.

Ap­par­ently Hanger dealt with the ar­ti­fi­cial de­vice the best he could, even though it was ill-fit­ting and each step brought un­remit­ting dis­com­fort. Still a pris­oner, he was sent to Camp Chase in Ohio, and from there to Nor­folk, Va., where he fi­nally was ex­changed two months later and could go home to Mount Hope Farm, Va., near Churchville. Alone in his room

It is said that af­ter ar­riv­ing home, he locked him­self in his room for three months, see­ing no one, and the fam­ily feared he was slip­ping into a deep de­pres­sion. He asked only that his meals be left out­side his door. An hour or so later, his mother would find the empty plates left out­side.

Kevin Car­roll, vice pres­i­dent of pros­thet­ics for the na­tional firm that bears Hanger’s name, says the fam­ily his­tory in­di­cates that “from time to time he’d call to his mother to bring him some wood, or some pieces of metal, leather, fab­ric, etc.”

The fam­ily pro­vided as much as­sis­tance as he would al­low — they would leave buck­ets of fresh wood out­side his door, and the next day re­move the same buck­ets, full of wood shav­ings.

“The fam­ily would hear him stump­ing around up there,” Mr. Car­roll said, “but af­ter about three months,the­do­oropenedand­he­came walk­ing down the stairs, amaz­ing his fam­ily.” And thus was born the “Hanger Limb,” the first ar­tic­u­lated, dou­ble-joint pros­thetic leg, bend­ing at both the an­kle and the knee.

Hanger had stud­ied en­gi­neer­ing at Wash­ing­ton Col­lege, and us­ing oak whiskey bar­rel staves roughly 1 1/2 inches thick, by trial and er­ror, with only a pen knife as a cut­ting in­stru­ment, he fi­nally achieved the de­sign of a leg that would give the wearer sta­bil­ity, yet al­low the joints to bend as they should. And it would look like a real leg as well. In­stant fame

Re­al­iz­ing that his in­ven­tion would be a god­send to many wounded vet­er­ans, he be­gan mak­ing ar­ti­fi­cial limbs for other sol­diers, and their suc­cess­ful use brought him in­stant fame. He served out the rest of his time with the Staunton Home Guard, work­ing on his new in­ven­tion at the same time.

The early records of the Con­fed­er­ate Pa­tent Of­fice in­di­cate that on March 23, 1863, with the war still wag­ing through­out the South, he ob­tained his first pa­tent, No. 155, “for an ar­ti­fi­cial limb.” Im­prove­ments to the first model came quickly, and in Au­gust of that year he filed pa­tent pa­pers for an im­proved ver­sion. His first store was opened in Rich­mond a few years later, and in 1871 he re­turned to Churchville to con­tinue the busi­ness. One of the wounded am­putees for whom he made a leg was Capt. Dainger­field.

Shortly there­after, rec­og­niz­ing the need for a more work­able pros­thetic de­vice for the re­turn­ing wounded, the Vir­ginia leg­is­la­ture con­tracted with Hanger to pro­duce ar­ti­fi­cial or pros­thetic limbs. He quickly ob­tained ad­di­tional patents rec­og­niz­ing the im­prove­ments on his process, and the busi­ness be­gan in earnest. In­di­vid­ual care

James Hanger mar­ried in 1873, and he and Nora McCarthy Hanger had six sons and two daugh­ters. All of the Hanger boys ul­ti­mately fol­lowed their fa­ther in the busi­ness. While he re­tired in 1905, he con­tin­ued as an ad­viser and even went to Europe af­ter World War I to study new tech­niques in am­pu­ta­tion surgery. His work with pros­thet­ics con­tin­ued, and the num­ber of stores grew, as well. The once crip­pled young man be­came well known for his work, and his busi­ness was very prof­itable.

He also in­vented sev­eral other pros­thetic de­vices, as well as de­vel­op­ing a Vene­tian blind, an at­tach­able sham­poo bowl for bar­ber chairs, a wa­ter tur­bine and a type of horse­less car­riage (used as a toy for his chil­dren). He also held a pa­tent for a plano­graph lathe, used in the pro­duc­tion of his fa­mous limbs.

When the main of­fice moved to Wash­ing­ton in 1883, Hanger and his fam­ily moved into a beau­ti­ful home near Logan Cir­cle, which still stands. A his­tory put to­gether by the com­pany, called “En­abling the Hu­man Spirit: The J.E. Hanger Story,” jux­ta­poses the in­ven­tion of his ar­ti­fi­cial leg in the Civil War era with to­day’s ver­sion used by ath­letes, among oth­ers.

One day Hanger no­ticed an el­derly beg­gar near the U.S. Capi­tol. Both of the man’s legs had been am­pu­tated above the knee; he held out a hat to col­lect change from sym­pa­thetic passersby.

Hanger was touched by the man’s plight, and as Chris In­gra­ham re­counts in the his­tory, “De­spite the stigma he knew might come from show­ing fond­ness to a mi­nor­ity at that time in the South’s his­tory, it made lit­tle dif­fer­ence to James that the beg­gar was a man of color. What James saw was a man in need of two legs. He took the man in to his shop and fit him, free of charge, with two of the com­pany’s new­est and most func­tional pros­thetic limbs.”

Ul­ti­mately the two be­came friends, and the man was hired by Hanger to work for the firm, a sym­bol of the in­di­vid­ual care he sought to pro­vide for am­putees all over the world. To­day’s com­pany

When Hanger died on June 15, 1919 and was buried in Wash­ing­ton’s Glen­wood Ceme­tery, Hanger Co. had branches in Lon­don and Paris, where pros­thet­ics were man­u­fac­tured af­ter World War I, as well as in Philadel­phia, At­lanta and St. Louis. But that was only the be­gin­ning.

Al­though there are none of the di­rect line of Hang­ers still in the busi­ness, to­day Hanger Or­tho­pe­dic Group Inc. is traded on the New York Stock Ex­change and has more than 1,000 em­ploy­ees in 44 states. There have been sev­eral ac­qui­si­tions by the com­pany, and it con­tin­ues to show a promis­ing fu­ture.

The Wash­ing­ton Post lists Bethesda, Md.-based Hanger Or­tho­pe­dic as among the 125 largest com­pa­nies in the area. For­tune Mag­a­zine ranked it as one of the fastest-grow­ing com­pa­nies in the coun­try. The small firm be­gun by a Con­fed­er­ate vet­eran is now one of the largest of its type in the world.

The beau­ti­ful grave marker of Quincy gran­ite lists only the names of Hanger and his wife and their dates of birth and death; there is no men­tion of the tremen­dous gift James Hanger gave to the world of the in­jured.

As Kevin Car­roll said, “Here we are, back in war, and a lot of our young sol­diers are com­ing back from Afghanistan and Iraq in­jured and miss­ing limbs, They’re bring­ing back their ideas on what needs to be done with pros­thet­ics. War, un­for­tu­nately, brings a lot of new med­i­cal tech­niques and de­vel­op­ments, and it has con­tin­ued from 1861 right up to the present day.”

Martha M. Boltz is a mem­ber of the Mont­gomery County [Md.] Civil War Round Ta­ble and a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to the Civil War page.

Cour­tesy of Hanger Co.

James Ed­ward Hanger (above) made the first ar­tic­u­lated, dou­ble-joint pros­thetic leg af­ter his war in­jury.

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