CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (AP) — More than 30,000 soldiers ended up as amputees during the Civil War.
The very first one was an 18-year-old Virginian who lost his left leg to a Union cannonball in an insignificant little Wskirmish on June 3, 1861, in what was then Philippi, Va.
Only three Yankee cannonballs flew in that fight, and James E. Hanger, a soldier in the 14th Virginia Cavalry, was hit by the third one, Charles Town author Bob O’Connor writes in his 10th and latest book, nine of which center on the “war between the states.”
The significance of Hanger’s story, according to the author, is that Hanger designed and built his own artificial leg, a revolutionary device that made the pegleg obsolete.
Hanger, who had an above-the-knee amputation, invented a prosthesis that hinged at the knee and ankle, he said.
“It worked,” O’Connor said.
Hanger patented his device and founded the J.E. Hanger Co. to manufacture them.
Today the company has multiple manufacturing sites, 740 clinics, including one in Frederick, Md., and more than 4,300 employees, according to the company’s website (hanger150.com).
Hanger “turned his personal tragedy into an invaluable service to mankind,” the website said.
Wilson Magaha, a Confederate soldier from Charles Town, lost a leg at Gettysburg and had a prosthesis made by Hanger’s company, O’Connor said.
“It was called the Hanger Limb. Hanger was the Henry Ford of his time,” O’Connor said.
Hanger prostheses have served wounded veterans from the Civil War to Afghanistan, O’Connor said.
Hanger died in 1919.
O’Connor got turned on to Hanger’s story at an annual Blue and Gray Reunion in Philippi.
“One of the reunion organizers spoke on Hanger’s life, and I wanted to learn more about him,” he said.
His research took him to the National Medical Museum in Frederick and the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Md. He also met with company officials and spoke with Hanger’s descendants.
The book came out last month. It is available on O’Connor’s website, www.boboconnorbooks.com and at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown.