Naming a part to stand in for the whole — that’s metonymy, as in “suit” for executive, or “Washington” for the United States government. The veneration of parts of saints, or relics, is a funerary version of metonymy. There’s a somewhat parallel phenomenon for military commanders. Meet five famous people from history remembered with a body part.
1. The arm of Stonewall Jackson
While Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was preparing his troops on the evening of May 2, 1863, near Chancellorsville, Virginia, he was struck by friendly fire that led to his left arm being amputated. The Rev. Beverley Tucker Lacy, who acted as chaplain, took the severed arm to Ellwood Manor, his brother’s nearby plantation, and buried it in the family cemetery — with a full Christian ceremony.
Eight days later, while waiting for a train to Richmond, 39-year-old Jackson died of pneumonia in nearby Woodford, in a small office building on the Fairfield Plantation. That site is now managed by the National Park Service as the Jackson Death Site.
As for his arm, Jackson’s wife refused an offer to reunite the arm with the general, and rumor has it that Union soldiers repeatedly dug up the general’s arm and reburied it. A granite marker today marks “Arm of Stonewall Jackson, May 3, 1863” at the approximate spot of its burial in the graveyard at Ellwood Manor, which is now owned and operated by Friends of Wilderness Battlefield.
2. The boot of Benedict Arnold
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To honor the centennial of the American Revolution and promote reconciliation following the Civil War, the Saratoga Monument Association got busy erecting monuments marking the critical Patriot victory over the British at Saratoga. A mile from where British general John Burgoyne surrendered his troops on Oct. 17, 1777, a 155-foot-tall granite monolith now honors Continental Army generals Horatio Gates and Philip Schuyler, along with Col. Daniel Morgan in niches at three corners of its base.
But the niche in the fourth corner remains empty, a repudiation of Benedict Arnold, the talented American general who led a daring charge and turned back British forces at Saratoga, but later defected to the British.
More enigmatic is the so-called Boot Monument, depicting a boot, a two-star epaulet of a major general, and a laurel leaf atop a howitzer. It’s tellingly located where Arnold was shot in his left thigh during battle. The dedication reads: “In memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army who was desperately wounded on this spot, the sally port of Burgoyne’s great [western] redoubt 7th October 1777 winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution and for himself the rank of Major General.”
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3. The leg of Antonio López de Santa Anna
The first time that Mexican general and former president Antonio López de Santa Anna lost a leg was in 1838 in Veracruz, during a brief conflict with France over the treatment of French citizens residing in the country. He honored the lost limb with a burial in Mexico City and was fitted with a cork prosthetic. In 1844, however, Mexican citizens angry at his rule dug up his lower left leg and dragged it up and down the streets.
Santa Anna lost his artificial leg — again, near Veracruz — in the Battle of Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847. In one of his many stints as president of Mexico, he had stepped down to serve in the Mexican-American War. After he had to hastily flee a campsite without his leg as U.S. troops approached, soldiers from Illinois took the prosthetic, used it as a baseball bat, and displayed it in a peep show. It is now among the artifacts in the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield, Illinois.
Mexico has asked for its return. Illinois has refused.
4. The Leg of Dan Sickles, the First Person to Use the Insanity Defense
A congressman from New York City and Union general, Sickles was crippled on the evening of the second day of battle at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, when a cannonball shattered his lower right leg.
He didn’t get to keep it. A year earlier, U.S. Surgeon General William Hammond had ordered medical officers to send specimens, notes and artifacts of battlefield trauma to what would become the National Museum of Military Medicine, in Maryland. Sickles himself submitted his amputated leg in a metal box bearing a note: “With the compliments Major General D.E.S., United States Volunteers.”
Hammond’s people repaired Sickles’ limb to highlight the complex fractures, and the tibia-and-fibula specimen was put on display — Sickle was said to visit it, with guests, regularly.
Sickles’s greater claim to fame is that he was the first person in the United States to plead temporary insanity in defense against a murder charge. On Feb. 25, 1859, Sickles shot Philip Barton Key — Francis Scott Key’s son — who was having an affair with Sickles’s young wife, Teresa Bagioli Sickles. After a sensational trial, the jury delivered a verdict of not guilty.
5. The Heart of Richard I “Lionheart”
The first of England’s three King Richards died, probably of sepsis, due to a poorly treated arrow wound suffered to his left shoulder while attacking a castle on March 26, 1199, in Châlus, France. He wasn’t wearing chainmail. As was then customary, his body, entrails and heart were separated for burial in different places. The heart of 41-year-old Richard the Lionheart, as he was known, was buried in Notre-Dame Cathedral at Rouen, 329 miles from Châlus and headquarters for the English occupation of Normandy.
In 1838, a lead box containing his desiccated heart was found during cathedral renovations, bearing the Latin words “HIC IACET COR RICARDI REGIS ANGLORUM,” or “Here is the heart of Richard, King of England.”
In 2013, scientists analyzed the heart, which had by then turned to powder, and found that it had been wrapped in linen and buried with a variety of substances to preserve it, including myrtle, daisy, mint, creosote, mercury and frankincense. (And, no, the heart was not actually leonine.) Richard’s heart was then reinterred in the cathedral in Rouen.
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