North Carolina Provided Limbs to Make Veterans Whole

A Civil War era amputation kit

Amputations were the most common operation performed during the American Civil War, constituting roughly 75% of surgeries.  Confederate veterans returning home found a collapsed economy, friends and family members lost to the war, and little opportunity to resume a normal life.  Many 21st century veterans face similar challenges and hardships.

In January 1866, North Carolina became the first Confederate state to authorize funds for the purchase of artificial limbs for veterans. The Federal government began providing money to Union soldiers for artificial limbs in 1862.

The book Phantom Pain, by Ansley Herring Wegner, research historian in the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources’ Office of Archives and History, details the development and implementation of the program in North Carolina, and compares it to other states. 

The post war General Assembly passed a resolution for the veterans to expend state funds, “to procure necessary limbs, and thus restore them, as far as practicable, to the comfortable use of their persons, to the enjoyment of life and to the ability to earn a subsistence.”

In addition to physical and psychological discomfort, veterans were vexed by phantom pain, when nerves sent messages to the brain that were perceived as being from the missing limb. That condition still is reported by amputees today. The vets were provided travel to Raleigh for examination and a place to stay while there being fitted for a limb.

Several models of wooden legs and arms were created to meet the extensive need. North Carolina contracted with the Jewett’s Patent Leg Company, paying $75 for legs and $50 for arms. Some veterans accepted the equivalent amount of cash rather than an ill-fitting prosthetic. Technology lagged behind the new realities caused by war.

Phantom Pain includes the names and county of residence of everyone who contacted the state regarding a prosthetic limb, along with anecdotes of some of the recipients’ experiences.  In March, Wegner will speak at a conference at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City that will examine the subject.

Read More About Civil War Amputations on NCpedia