The Tale of Christopher McNanny’s Left Foot

Photograph of skeletal remains of Christopher McNanny's left footMy interest in genealogy sprouted at an early age, when my father would tell me stories he heard as a child about my great-great-grandfather, Christopher McNanny. He recounted that Christopher served as a drummer boy during the Civil War, and endured the amputation of both his legs due to wounds sustained during battle. As I got older and more serious about genealogy, I found out that Christopher was not actually a drummer boy, but a private who served in Company G of the 106 th New York Infantry Regiment. He also only had one of his legs amputated.

Before enlisting, Christopher resided in Madrid, New York, and was the husband of Margaret White. Christopher and Margaret had four children before the Civil War, including my great-grandmother Sarah McNanny, who eventually came to Brookline, Massachusetts in the 1870s. According to Christopher’s pension file, he mustered into Company G on 19 August 1862, at Camp Wheeler in Ogdensburg, New York. Company G was composed of men from Madrid as well as nearby Stockholm, New York, and took part in battles such as the Battle of the Wilderness, the Battle of Cold Harbor, the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, and the Battle of Summit Point.

My fascination with Christopher grew, and I wanted to learn as much as possible about his service to the country. I scoured various websites dedicated to the 106 th Regiment. However, while many of these websites detailed the campaign and battles of the 106th, I yearned for more specific information on Christopher’s personal experience. One of my first sources was Christopher’s obituary, published in The Madrid Herald on 8 April 1909, which provided a high-level overview of his service, though with some errors.

I decided to try to connect with experts on the 106th, to see if they could offer any information or steer me in the right direction. I found an expert through a website I discovered via a Google search, and sent an email requesting any information on Christopher. Later that same night, I received a bizarre response that left me astounded.

The email contained an impressive level of detail. It began by describing the campaign history of Company G, detailing the names and locations of the battles they fought. It then revealed that the little toe on Christopher’s left foot had been wounded by a minié ball (a type of bullet) during the Battle of Summit Point in West Virginia on 21 August 1864. This wound eventually led to the amputation of his left leg below the knee on 21 September at Jarvis U.S. General Hospital in Baltimore. As it turns out, all this information was preserved from Christopher’s medical case file alongside a surprising relic: the amputated foot itself.

Illustration of the Battle of Summit Point

I learned that Christopher’s foot was retained after his surgery as a teaching specimen, and has since remained in the anatomical collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, formerly the Army Medical Museum. Discovering his preserved skeletal foot has been one of the strangest discoveries of my genealogical research.

In May of 1862, during the Civil War, the Army Medical Museum was established by Surgeon General William Hammond. The museum’s purpose was to collect and study specimens related to military medicine and surgery. One of the museum’s first and most significant projects was the study of preservation techniques for amputated limbs. At the time, amputation was considered standard procedure to save soldiers’ lives from injuries sustained in battle. However, the mortality rate for these procedures was high, due to the risk of post-operative infection. The museum’s researchers sought to improve the survival rate of patients by examining different preservation methods such as refrigeration and chemical treatments. The study’s findings were instrumental in improving the outcomes of amputations and saving countless lives during the Civil War.

The Army Medical Museum continued to collect specimens and conduct research, eventually becoming the National Museum of Health and Medicine in 1989. Today, it remains a vital resource for medical researchers and historians. Christopher’s leg became part of what is now the NMHM collection of Civil War specimens. 1

Photograph of Christopher McNanny's gravestone

Soon after receiving this news, I contacted the NMHM to see whether Christopher’s foot was still retained in their collections, and whether I could see it. A few days later, they sent me a series of photographs. As I looked at the images, I couldn’t help but imagine the life the owner of that left foot had lived. Christopher was born in Ireland, made the journey across the Atlantic as a child, became a farmer in Northern New York, fought for the Union in the Civil War, and ultimately lost his foot in battle for his country. Given the lack of post-operative care for amputees at the time, I cannot imagine Christopher’s life was easy after he was discharged on 1 June 1865, but he did live for almost another 45 years before passing away in Madrid, New York, on 15 April 1909. Whatever difficulties he may have faced during his life, his obituary in the Madrid Herald speaks highly of him:

“In addition to his service as a good soldier in his country’s defense, Mr. McNanny deserves honorable remembrance as a respectable, industrious citizen, a good father to his family, a kind husband, and a good neighbor.”

As a genealogist, I am proud to have uncovered Christopher’s remarkable life and his unique legacy. However, as a descendant, the quality of his character is the legacy that makes me proudest.




About Don Reagan

A native of Brookline, Massachusetts, Don has been fascinated with family history since a young age starting with Don’s father telling him of a great-great-grandfather named Christopher and knowing only he lived near Malone, New York, served in The Civil War and was wounded. The mystery behind Christopher is what pushed Don to seriously start researching his family and over the past decade has discovered roots in Saint Lawrence County, NY; Northumberland County, New Brunswick, Canada; numerous counties in Ireland, and Brookline.

11 thoughts on “The Tale of Christopher McNanny’s Left Foot

  1. Spotsylvania Courthouse holds a record of the injury there, one to the tibia and a second through the bottom of the foot, of my husband’s great grandfather, Sgt David Gilchrist, who fought in the 139th Pennsylvania. Although amputation was not necessary, the leg never fully recovered and he is pictured with his cane. NARA holds the records of his full year in the hospital and his subsequent years of applying for financial assistance in which a physician described his debility. Living to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary, attending the 50th anniversary of Gettysburg and dying in 1920, he deserved the honor that we bestow, memory.

  2. My great great grandfather also fought in the Civil War for the 121st infantry from upstate New York. He was injured in the Battle of the Wilderness. He took a mini ball in the knee but chose not to have his leg surgically removed and instead went home. Officially listed as a deserter. Probably saved his life by making that choice. So our 2 grandfather’s fought together at the Battle of the Wilderness!

  3. I was amazed to see this story; I thought I was the only person who had a similar one. My great-grandfather, Lewis Cass White, served with the 102nd Pennsylvania and was shot three times at the Battle of Cedar Creek (in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia). He was the color sergeant for his unit and he was shot through the hand while carrying the flag. He lost fingers, but his hand was saved. There is a cast of his hand in what used to be the Army Medical Museum. Lewis was on duty at Fort Stevens in Washington, D.C. when Lincoln visited the troops, and was hospitalized in Philadelphia when Lincoln died. The ambulatory patients were taken to view Lincoln’s coffin when it passed through. After the War he moved to Washington and worked at what was then the Pension Bureau until he died in 1916.

    1. Thank you, Chris. My father didn’t know Christopher’s name (just a variation of McNanny) when I was born, but my middle name comes from my great uncle, Christopher “Christie” Johnson, who was the grandson of Christopher. I am willing to bet Christie was named after his grandfather which means the name has been passed down.

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