Carlton Burgan

Burgan was a Union foot soldier, just 18, when a bad cold turned into pneumonia in Winchester, Va. Today, antibiotics, nourishment and rest would quickly return him to normal. But he survived this Civil War-reality: For every soldier that bullets and shrapnel killed on the Civil War battlefields, two died of disease — ranging from childhood maladies such as measles to the more serious malaria, diphtheria and typhoid.

Burgan’s well-intentioned doctor, who knew nothing about germs or antibiotics, treated him with “calomel,” a mercury-based potion intended to make him salivate and, thus, flush his body of “bad humors.”

It was common practice 134 years ago. No one knew that mercury was a toxin. So the “remedy” ate away much of the soft tissue inside the young soldier’s mouth, not to mention his jawbone, right cheekbone and eye, and part of his nose. (from Baltimore Sun)

Image from  Otis Archives Medical Museum (flickr link)

His face was restored to near-normal dimensions and features, though thickly scarred with Frankensteinesque seams where live tissue was stitched to cover a reconstructed jaw, cheek and nose. Gurdon Buck, the New York doctor who did the work, is regarded as the father of modern plastic surgery.

Add a happy ending: Burgan was discharged from the army, married, and had “many” children before dying at age 71 in 1915.

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