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Wisconsin in the Civil War

A Captain Describes the New Process of Embalming

In the mid-19th century, nearly all deceased people were promptly interred. But with so many soldiers dying so far from home during the war, modern embalming was born. The inventor, Army surgeon Thomas Holmes of Washington, D.C., reportedly embalmed over 4,000 soldiers and officers. On February 26, 1862, Captain William Bugh of Berlin witnessed Holmes at work. A comrade sent home Bugh's account of the new science.

Joshua S. Smith, a corporal of company G, 5th regiment Wis Vol., died in the hospital at Washington, on the 26th ult. The evening before his death Capt. Bugh visited him and found him, as he supposed, very much improved, so much so, that he expected to be able to join his company in two or three days. The next morning Capt. Bugh learned to his great surprise that he was dead. Capt. Bugh had the body embalmed and expressed home. The embalming process is a discovery of Dr. Holmes, of Washington, and was patented Dec 16th, 1861.

We are indebted to a private letter from Capt. Bugh for the manner in which the embalming is done.

"The body was rendered nude and placed in a horizontal position on a platform. A very small incision was then made in the left arm, to get at a vein; a tube was then inserted in the vein, and attached to a pump; the pump was set in a vessel containing about two gallons of a prepared fluid, and then this fluid was injected into the blood vessels.

Before the commencement of the operation, the face was very much emaciated, and the body quite reduced; but in a few seconds after the commencement of the embalming process, the blood vessels began to enlarge, the face became full, and the whole body assumed a life-like healthy appearance."

Source: E.B. Quiner Scrapbooks: "Correspondence of the Wisconsin Volunteers, 1861-1865," Volume 3, page 188.

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Embalming surgeon at work on soldier's body.
Embalming surgeon at work on soldier's body.

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