"Nearly Well"- the story of Civil War soldier Robert Butcher

27 January 2013 - 10:04pm by Melissa Grafe

Robert A. Butcher, Co. H, 82nd Infantry, Pennsylvania
Robert A. Butcher was 21 when he enlisted in H Company 82nd Infantry Pennsylvania. Before the war, he was living with his mother, father, brother and sister in Philadelphia. His head was struck by a sabre on April 6th 1865 at Burkes’ Station, Virginia and he suffered two major cuts across the top of his head. He was admitted to Harewood Hospital on April 16th and, although the wounds healed rapidly, he began complaining of severe headache and intolerance to light. His anterior head wound re-opened a month later and began discharging unhealthy pus. After the wound opened, his headache gradually subsided and the wounds healed again. Physicians discharged him on June 9th and listed him as “nearly well.”

Robert moved through three different homes for disabled veterans over the course of the next sixty years until he died in 1933. The first was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the second was in Grant, Indiana, and the third was in Chesapeake, Virginia. He varied from being listed as an inmate to being listed as a mental patient. He is buried in Hampton National Cemetery.

On view now, the Medical Historical Library explores Civil War medicine through the haunting photographs of wounded soldiers in an exhibit, "Portraits of Wounded Bodies: Photographs of Civil War Soldiers from Harewood Hospital, Washington, D.C., 1863-1866." Selections from a set of 93 photographic portraits, including Robert Butcher's, from Harewood Hospital, Washington D.C. are on display in the Rotunda of the Medical Library. In the foyer of Sterling Hall, the exhibit expands to include a larger discussion of Civil War medicine and surgery, including hospitals and nurses, using images and materials from the Medical Historical Library. On view until April 1st, 2013.  An online version of the Harewood Hospital photographs is available in the Digital Library.