Nothing on Glowing Wounds at Shiloh

Past posts on this subject: The Strange Tale of Glowing Soldiers, A Tiny Update on Glowing Soldiers

My inquiries on period sources for the story that some soldiers at Shiloh had glowing wounds, attributed to a possible infection by bio-luminescent bacteria, have hit a dead end. I found nothing in the Official Records. The author of the Mental Floss piece on the story had the science, but had not checked contemporary accounts. (I don’t mean that as a criticism, by the way. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on one aspect of the story instead of another and the science is interesting in itself.) I used the web contact form and emailed the Shiloh National Military Park.

They got back to me today and have not been able to find any contemporary source. If anybody ought to know, they ought to know. A phenomenon so conspicuous and unusual would generate at least some paper trail which should to have survived, but one proves elusive. A key part of the story, at least to me, is that the soldiers with the glowing wounds had a better survival rate than those without. That fits the science, but also implies at least an informal study of outcomes.

Since I started looking into this, I’ve finished Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death in the Civil War. She spends a lot of time on how disorganized and overwhelmed field hospitals were by the sheer numbers of wounded and dead. A formal ambulance corps did not exist until late in the war. The armies issued no forms of personal identification like dog tags. Even something as simple as formally notifying the families of the deceased fell on officers and doctors with more pressing duties. That often meant men reported wounded when dead, dead when wounded, or even either when they emerged unscathed. (At least one soldier reported dead visited his own grave yearly after the war.) Shiloh came early on, when the disorganization and chaos would be greatest. It hardly seems like the place for even a casual study of who lived and died.

Some text could appear tomorrow and show otherwise, but this story looks more like folklore that grew up afterward than memories of actual events.

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