1871: Union general’s war service causes severe rectum issues

Major-General George Stoneman… ouch.

George Stoneman was a Union general during the United States Civil War and later, a governor of California. Stoneman was born in the far western corner of New York state, the eldest of ten children. As a teenager he was shipped off to study at West Point, where he shared a room with the better known Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. Stoneman graduated in 1846 and spent the next 15 years as a cavalry officer in California and the Midwest.

When the Civil War erupted in 1861 Stoneman was quickly promoted to flag rank and given commands of both cavalry and infantry divisions. He was captured by Confederates in 1864 and for a few months was their highest ranking prisoner-of-war. Stoneman was released in mid-1864 as part of a prisoner exchange, returning to active service and commanding a division that swept through the South in the final months of the war.

When the Civil War ended in May 1865 Stoneman had spent most of it in the saddle, participating in some long and arduous campaigns. The effect this had on his backside was later revealed in a post-war legal tussle. Retired and pensioned at the rank of colonel, rather than his brevet rank of major-general, Stoneman petitioned the Army for a better pension, citing agonising medical problems he had incurred in the service of the Union:

“The disability he now labours under was occasioned by a continuous series of contused wounds from jolting in the saddle during his raids in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia… At the commencement of his campaigns he was suffering severely from piles, and under this hard service occurred an extreme falling of the rectum, amounting to an extreme protrusion of the bowel, which yet with great difficulty [was] returned and kept in place… Death itself is preferable to the injuries he sustained.”

Stoneman continued this fight until the early 1880s but alas, it was unsuccessful. In 1881, the US Attorney General ruled that Stoneman’s injuries were “not wounds received in battle” but were the result of “the disease from which he was suffering”. Much aggrieved, Stoneman went into politics, serving one term as the governor of California. He later returned to his native New York, where he died shortly after his 72nd birthday.

Source: Medical panel letter to the Secretary of War, November 2nd 1871. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.