- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 27, 2007

FREDERICK, Md. — Some Civil War hobbyists search for bullets. Mark Quattrock looks for legs.

The insurance agent from Kenhorst, Pa., is a medical re-enactor specializing in accurate presentations of Civil War battlefield surgery. His audiences expect amputations, so Mr. Quattrock has a supply of artificial limbs, purchased at Halloween costume shops.

“Most of the legs you find out there are right legs. There are very few left legs,” he said during a recent re-enactor workshop at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick.

That’s a minor problem, though, for living historians intent on explaining 19th-century medical techniques to people who mistakenly believe Civil War surgeons prepped their patients by handing them a bullet to bite on. In fact, the near-universal use of ether at field hospitals proved to physicians of the 1860s that general anesthesia was safe.

Amputations draw crowds — and they were indeed performed at field hospitals — but an accurate portrayal of battlefield medicine also should include treatment for horse kicks, gunpowder burns and embedded metal shards from musket percussion caps, said George Wunderlich, the museum’s executive director.

“One problem we have as re-enactors is, we’re not treating enough minor wounds at the field hospitals,” Mr. Wunderlich told about 15 persons at the Jan. 20 workshop. “Those wounds are never represented at re-enactments, yet they’re probably more common in the course of a doctor’s treatment than the sexy wounds that everyone wants to see.”

Besides documenting the Civil War roots of many modern medical practices, the museum conducts research on Civil War weapons to gain a better understanding of the damage they did. Before the workshop, Mr. Wunderlich fired muskets into amber blocks of ballistic gel to prove that a mini ball, a type of muzzleloading rifle bullet, could travel through as many as four human bodies — possibly infecting each with germs from the animal fat that lubricated the projectiles.

The museum, headquartered in downtown Frederick, also runs a field hospital exhibit and conference center at the nearby Antietam National Battlefield. There were nearly 23,000 casualties — including about 3,700 killed, 17,300 wounded and 1,800 captured or missing — at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, the bloodiest day in U.S. history.

This summer’s 145th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam will be America’s biggest Civil War tourism event of the year. Thousands of costumed hobbyists and onlookers will visit the rocky Western Maryland farm fields where the clash occurred, and the medical re-enactors are eagerly polishing their scalpels.

Jason S. Grabill, an Army police sergeant from nearby Johnsville, Md., has been a re-enactor since 1996 and a medical re-enactor since 2000. He said audiences love medical scenarios, especially after watching round after round of musket fire.

“How many times do you have to see ‘load in 10’ as a tourist at 15 different battle sites before it gets old?” said Sgt. Grabill, 44. “Even I got bored with it.”

While some surgical re-enactors go for the gore by, for example, using stage blood and raw chicken to create gushing wounds, Sgt. Grabill said such gimmicks aren’t necessary.

“I’m not a big one for blood dripping all over you because, as a surgeon, that means you screwed up somewhere,” he said.

Mr. Quattrock, 37, a medical re-enactor since 2000, agreed that stage blood is a bother. And he said he prefers mannequins to live volunteers for surgical presentations.

“If you get a particular person and you mess up his best uniform, he’s going to be upset — very, very upset,” he said.

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