MICHAEL DUNN OF POTTER COUNTY
published in the August 22, 2001 issues of the Potter County Leader
"Words of Gold" by PHGS Member
All my life, I have heard of Michael Dunn, the local man who
lost both legs in the Civil War. Recently, several of his descendants have
generously shared his remarkable story with me.
On August 17, 1865, Sarah Ellison Dunn drove from Raymond to
Shongo, NY with a team of horses and a wagon, to meet her husband Michael,
who was coming home for good. Both of his legs had been shattered when
struck by canister shot in a battle near Dallas, Georgia on May 25th, 1864.
One leg was amputated in a field hospital the day after he was injured.
The next day, it was necessary to remove the other one. His wounds refused
to heal properly, and more operations followed. For over a year, he was
shifted from hospital to hospital, as doctors attempted to heal the stumps
of his legs. At last, he was sent home to Raymond, cushioned in a barrel
of cotton to protect his stumps.
Michael Dunn was born in Ireland in 1833, the son of Oion and Colleen
McGinnis Dunn. While he was still small, his family immigrated to Canada.
Mike went out on his own when very young, and worked his way into the United
States in the company of a tin peddler. He was first counted in the Potter
County census in 1850. Before the onset of the Civil War, he ran a store
and sawmill in Raymond, situated across from the cemetery.
Mike enlisted in the army September 1, 1861 in Co. H 46th Regiment as
a Private. He took part in several battles, and by late 1863 was stationed
in Tennessee where he met pretty Sarah Elizabeth Ellison. He re-enlisted
November 31, 1863 at Decatur Tennessee, and on December 15th of that year,
Sarah became his wife. His regiment remained in winter quarters near Chattanooga
until May 6th, 1864, when they began the march with Sherman’s army, ‘to
the sea’. He received his injuries during the heavy fighting that took
place around Atlanta, probably at the battle of New Hope Church.
Michael Dunn was awarded a double pension, due to losing both legs,
which enabled him to purchase two lots of land near Raymond. Not content
to rely on his pensions, he supported his family working in various lumber
camps in the area as a ‘scaler’ while Sarah worked as the camp cook. He
tried various ways to get around, including patent limbs, dog wagon, and
hand carriage. He used a sort of boot appliance to stay on the horse that
he rode as he marked trees for the loggers.
Michael and Sarah Dunn were the parents of six children, the youngest
of whom was only six months old when Mike died October 23, 1877 at the
age of 44. His legs or the stumps of his legs had tormented him constantly,
and he was heard to say, "They will use me up yet." He is buried in the
Although he was denied and education when a youngster, he learned the
three R’s as an adult. Shortly before he died, Mike Dunn began his autobiography.
His account of the horrendous days and weeks after he was wounded is a
tale of incredible suffering. There is no way that I could write it as
powerfully as he tells it in his own words:
|"----I was wounded by canister shot in both legs, just before night;
and after a little time, two comrades laid me in my blanket and carried
me back nearly half a mile, while all the way my legs trailed on the ground,
striking stones and stumps. But the boys were not to be blamed for that,
for shot and shell were flying like hail, and they had to hurry with all
their might until they got to a place where they felt safe. Then they halted
and laid me down, as they and I, too, thought to die. It was now raining
hard, and I, thinking my time had come to die, went to sleep, expecting
never to wake in this world. But in the morning, I roused from my slumber
in much surprise and pain. The boys then took me up and carried me along
a mile to the hospital department where I lay on my back in the hot sun
four hours. Then I was laid on a table, and was soon under the influence
of chloroform. When I came to, I was minus a leg, and the other was done
up. I asked the doctor to take off the other, but they thought it might
be saved. So they carried me into a tent, and laid me on a tick filled
with green oak leaves. The next day my leg was mortified up above the knee,
so I was carried out and laid on the table again, and was soon asleep.
When I came to, I had no legs at all. Well, this did not end my sufferings,
for a few days after; gangrene got into that stump. Then I was put to sleep
again and when I awoke, my nurse informed me that they had cut off a slice
around my leg. We stayed there for some time, and fared as well as we could
on hardtack and coffee, as the railroad bridges were all burnt, and we
could not get supplies; and the army went after the Rebels. In about ten
days I was loaded into the ambulance and started for some church. Don’t
remember the name, but we traveled all day and all night before reaching
the place. The road was rough, so the ride was not very pleasant for me.
During the day, the tents were pitched and the ticks filled with green
leaves again. So I was laid on the bed again, with all the attention and
care that could be rendered me, with hardtack and coffee the main supplies
for a number of days. Finally a man came into my tent, and the boys began
to quiz him about chickens and vegetables. He said he had one rooster left,
and he agreed to bring the rooster and a pail of soup by noon the next
day. The time came and the soup did not come. But at three o’clock the
old man came, and said the rooster was so old it took longer to cook him
than he thought. The soup was just as good as it would have been at noon.
We stayed at this place about two weeks. During this time my stumps discharged
freely. Then the blue fly came and left his deposits, and soon I was swarming
all over with maggots. The wounds were filled with them, and I was a sickly
sight. In the meantime, my back was scalded and raw from lying on the green
leaves. Up to this time, all the doctors and nurses were very kind, sparing
no pains for my comfort. At length, a freight train came up, and a number
of wounded were placed on board for Chattanooga and at my request, I also
was sent along. When I arrived, they carried me on a stretcher to a large
tent, where I stayed four weeks. While there I was attacked with chronic
diarrhea, which never left me till I came to Shongo NY. While at Chattanooga
I was under the charge of a nurse who used me like a brute. Otherwise,
I can speak well of every man that had any charge of me in every hospital
I was in. At the end of this long four weeks, a sanitary train was loading
for Nashville. I begged the doctor to send me along and he did so. The
minute I was put on the car and released from that nurse it seemed as though
I was cut loose from the Evil One.----"
Here, Mike Dunn’s personal account comes to an end. From Nashville,
he was sent to Shongo, NY and then to the U.S. Hospital in Elmira where
he spent the winter. In the spring, he was moved to New York City, where
another surgery was performed. Finally, he was sent back to Shongo and
to Sarah, who brought him home, cushioned in that barrel of cotton.
Descendants of Michael and Sarah Dunn still own and operate the family
farm at Seven Bridges. Many others live around Potter County, and still
others are scattered throughout the country. They are rightfully proud
of the man who never gave up in the face of what would appear, in any generation,
to be nearly impossible odds.
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