Sunday, April 8, 2012

Angel’s Glow

In response to Wednesday's post about Civil War casualties, reader Chase sent along the link to Thursday's post on Mental Floss that I in turn want to share. After 2 days of combat in Tennessee, winning the bloody Battle of Shiloh allowed Federal troops to advance into Mississippi at great cost on both sides. Among the 65,085 Union soldiers led by Major General Ulysses S. Grant, there were 13,047 casualties, including 1,754 killed and 8,408 wounded. The Confederate Army began with 43,968 men and suffered losses of 10,699, including 1,728 killed and 8,012 wounded. Thousands lay dead and dying of bullet and bayonet wounds, with medics unable to keep up and infection spreading in the untreated injuries. Over the next 2 rainy days, soldiers noticed that "their wounds were glowing, casting a faint light into the darkness of the battlefield." After they realized that the glow had foreshadowed a better survival rate, they nicknamed it “Angel’s Glow.” Bill Martin learned of this as a teenager when he visited the Shiloh battlefield (above, battlefield today and in 1862) with his family in 2001. It just so happened that his Mom was a microbiologist with the USDA studying the luminescent bacteria Photorhabdus luminescens. "Could that have caused the glowing wounds?" he asked her, and she encouraged him to find out. He and his friend Jon Curtis researched the bacteria (learning that it lives in the guts of parasitic nematodes) and the conditions during the Battle of Shiloh (finding that low temperatures would have made the hypothermic soldiers good hosts). The students earned 1st place in team competition at the 2001 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for determining that the bacteria entered the wounds from the soil, caused the glow, helped kill off other pathogens, and were ultimately cleaned out by the soldiers' own immune systems. After the battle - 150 years ago this month - Grant wrote, "The battle of Shiloh, or Pittsburg Landing, fought on Sunday and Monday, the 6th and 7th of April, 1862, has been perhaps less understood, or, to state the case more accurately, more persistently misunderstood, than any other engagement between National and Confederate troops during the entire rebellion." Now, a little less so.

(Link goes to 2009 post)

My Dad arrives today for a week-long visit, during which I will be working on an overdue Follow-ups post and an even more overdue entry to my sorely neglected Health Diary.

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