Prickling sensation irritates a supposedly missing foot

Corp. Calvin Bates of Co. E, 20th Maine Infantry Regiment, lies on a hospital bed while recovering from his horrid treatment at Andersonville prison in Georgia. His feet had so badly decayed that surgeons were forced to amputate them. (Library of Congress)

Shot and wounded as the charging 20th Maine Infantry Regiment reached Confederate trenches at Saunders Field in the Wilderness on Thursday, May 5, 1864, Sgt. Charles H. Haynes of Ellsworth soon experienced a peculiar sensation.

Striking his left leg “about five inches below the knee,” two lead bullets shattered leg bones, and a third bullet punched through his right leg “in about the same place but without injuring the bone,” Haynes said. A captured Union surgeon later amputated the left leg.

As would be expected, Haynes paid attention to both legs, whether present or not. In Confederate hands for the past four weeks, he feared on Thursday, June 9 that “a hole in the top of my [left] leg … caused by the bone” would cause trouble.

A day later, the stump of his left leg was “doing well” except for “the bone coming through” the skin. Such was known to happen occasionally, and if bone ruptured the skin, surgeons would likely amputate more of the leg.

Now starving, Haynes wolfed down “the whole days (sic) ration of corn bread with nothing to go with it but cold water” on Saturday, June 11. Unable to stand, he had developed boils on his back and right leg; prisoners endured the nutritionally bland corn bread-water diet, partially supplemented by milk brought into the hospital by local women.

A “doctor took a piece of bone out of my leg” on June 15 “and told me that I had a very healthy wound and that it was doing well,” Haynes said. That night the wounded Union prisoners “got nice S.B. (soft bread) and butter” and coffee “for supper,” then enjoyed the same menu for breakfast on June 16.

Haynes discovered while changing the dressing on his right leg on June 18 that the Confederate bullet had “cut the heel cord,” leaving his heel “so drawn up that I fear … my right leg will be almost useless for life.” He found “a very bad sore near the wound.”

Shot and captured while fighting at the Wilderness with Co. E, 20th Maine Infantry Regiment, Sgt. Charles H. Haynes of Ellsworth lost his left leg to an amputation. He later experienced “phantom pain” involving his missing left foot. (Courtesy Photo)

Then came Sunday, June 19. “My foot that is gone troubles me very much,” Haynes reported. “Sometimes my toes are turned in all directions and there is in the bottom of my foot a prickling sensation[,] which troubles me very much and seems to be growing worse every day.”

Was Haynes experiencing phantom pain and prickles about 1½ months since his leg’s amputation? His diary sows confusion at this point. Although Haynes did not specifically refer to “my [left] leg” in the May 7 diary entry describing the amputation, he wrote on May 8 that “I hope to be able to walk on my right leg in two months.”

There follows the specific June 18 reference to his wounded right foot, obviously still attached to his right leg.

Then a locomotive and box cars arrived on June 20 to transport the prisoners to Lynchburg, Va., and Haynes noted that “my left foot feels very bad, that is, prickles and my toes are turned in all directions[,] which keeps me nervous and in a laughing mood.”

Other references to his left foot feeling “pricked with needles” (June 23 and 28) indicate that the foot was still attached to his body, with the toes “now turned in all directions and my heel … being torn from the rest of my foot,” Haynes claimed (June 28). Yet earlier he had referred to a bullet severing “the heel cord” on his right foot, so what exactly had happened to Haynes?

A Saturday, July 2 diary entry clarified the situation. By now confined to “a three story brick building situated in the heart of the city,” Haynes “had a cramp in my bowels” on Friday night, and “got up on the stool.”

I put my heft (weight) on my right leg thinking that I could steady myself with my hands[,] but it was a no go,” he admitted.

I fell on my stub, the end striking upon the floor[,] causing the blood to run quite fast,” Haynes said.

Crawling back into his cot, he waited until morning to “move the cloth” covering the stump of his left leg. “I found my leg very bloody and the flesh all torn and bleeding,” Haynes said. “Still I do not think that the injury is very great.”

It was. Haynes pulled a piece of bone out of his leg on July 3. “There is one more to be seen and probably a number of pieces that must come before the leg is healed,” he noted.

These diary entries indicate that Haynes intended to stand on his right leg, which he could not have done if that limb was missing. He fell and struck “my stub,” which bled profusely.

Destined for parole and a return to Union lines, Charles Haynes had evidently experienced phantom pain and perhaps even hallucinated a bit during those weeks when his left foot prickled and burned.

Haynes had lost his left leg, but his left foot “hung” around for weeks afterwards in his mind.

Source: Diary of Sergeant Charles H. Haynes

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.