Revisited Myth # 142: During the Civil War, wounded soldiers bit bullets against the pain.

Rhonda Florian wrote: “I’m hoping you can help me with some information. I am a living historian. I keep running into what I believe is a history myth—that soldiers used to bite on a bullet during surgery. I always scoff at the idea. I ask the person, “What’s going to happen the first time you scream?” Besides, I ask, what would be the purpose of biting a bullet even if it were humanly possible? But then there’s always that person who says they’ve seen a Civil War bullet with teeth marks on it. Undeniable proof, they exclaim.”

I can only point to an excellent response to this question, written by George Wunderlich, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, here. 

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2 Responses to Revisited Myth # 142: During the Civil War, wounded soldiers bit bullets against the pain.

  1. Dan Hopping says:

    While working with a real archaeologist on a Rev War battlefield survey, we found a bullet that had obviously been chewed on. We asked the archaeologist about it and he pointed out that in the last several hundred years, pigs had been on this farm. He said that the pigs root around and find the bullets, thinking they may be something salty or something to eat. When they chew them and find out they are not food they spit them out. Many pig teeth marks can look like human molar marks and pigs certainly have the jaw power to indent a lead bullet.

    Freezing and thawing can keep the bullets in range of a modern metal detector and in range of a rooting mobile ham.

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