Monday, October 3, 2011

The Madman/Union Officer- Part 2

One of the truths concerning the Union Army was that there were a goodly amount of Irish soldiers serving in it--about 150,000. The Second Brigade--the Irish Brigade--fought with great distinction at the Wilderness, along with the 28th Massachusetts and the 116th Pennsylvania, along with New York's Irish units, the 63rd, the 88th, and the 69th.

With this number if Irishmen, it follows that some of them would be among those who deserted during this time. The Emancipation Proclamation had made a subtle difference in the attitudes of many Union soldiers. Some of the soldiers were immigrants, and many were forced to work at low-paying jobs. Now it seemed those jobs might be taken from them by newly-freed African Americans. Perhaps it was in their best interests to go home and reclaim their previous employment!

The Union Army felt differently. It rounded up deserters, punishing many. Legally, deserters were to be shot, but in actuality, this punishment diminished Union numbers and weakened Union forces. Alternatives were sought, and one such alternative was branding. For some unknown reason, doctors were the officers employed to use the branding iron.

Soon enough, Doctor Minor drew branding duty. Facing the quiet, academic doctor was a young man in his twenties, dirty and disheveled, who pleaded for his dignity. Minor hesitated, then pressed the glowing iron into the young man's cheek. The prisoner's screams resounded throughout the camp. They also burned, as surely as did the brand, into Minor's mind.

A week or so later Minor was transferred to Alexandria, to work as a contract surgeon at the L'Overture Hospital, the Alexandria Hospital, and the Slough Hospital. He worked terribly hard, as if trying to shake off the memories of the Wilderness. By 1866 he had been promoted to the rank of Captain. Although the War was technically over, it was not over for the men who were still hospitalized by illness and wounds received in the conflict.

It was not over for Dr. Minor either.

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