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Civil War General's Leg On Display In Maryland

FREDERICK, Md. (WJZ) -- As donations go, it is unusual.

During the Battle of Gettysburg, a wounded Civil War general's leg was amputated.  He donated it the Army's medical museum.

Alex DeMetrick reports it's been on exhibit ever since.   

A small display case in a hallway at Fort Detrick in Frederick holds what's left of a leg on loan. It's a relic of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, amputated after it was hit by a 12-pound cannon ball.

"Broke both bones in the lower leg and obviously mangled the leg.  He had a battlefield amputation," said Maj. General James Gilman, U.S. Army.

The leg belonged to Union General Daniel Sickles, who heard the Army's new medical museum in Washington was looking for specimens.

"He actually had the leg encased in a small box -- a velvet lined box -- where the leg was stored and shipped to Washington. Sickles added a note, 'Complements Major General D.E.S.' in the box," said Tim Clarke, National Museum of Health & Medicine.

Re-enactments of that war capture the feel without the pain. But in the real battles, amputations were often the first, last and only treatment.

The Gettysburg Battlefield is not far from Fort Detrick, and it's the closest Sickles' leg has come to that landmark since he lost it.  It's being temporarily displayed there while a new museum in Washington is finished.  It includes an image of Sickles, who used to visit his leg on the anniversary of its amputation.

"And he would bring his friends and visit the leg on display," said Clarke.

Exhibits like the leg one weren't staged as curiosities; they were actually teaching tools.

"To be able to understand this type of cannonball caused this type of trauma, resulted in this type of treatment," said Clarke.

It's a learning experience that continues to this day and the modern traumas of war.

The leg will remain at Fort Detrick through the summer.

It will return to public display in the new D.C. museum this fall.

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