The Civil War soldier who battled a terrible disfigurement
As the Civil War dawned in 1861, young men and boys from both the North and South dreamed of going to war. They wanted to "see the elephant," a popular 19th-century expression for taking on the world's challenges. They soon learned that there is no glory in war, only the carnage of battle and the ravages of disease. The Civil War left over 600,000 men dead and scores with lifelong debilitating conditions.
Carlton Burgan was one of those young soldiers. He lived in Baltimore and worked as a gardener, until he enlisted for three years in Purnell Legion, Maryland Infantry as a Private. He volunteered in August 1861, at the age of 21, to help preserve the Union.
Private Burgan caught pneumonia, secondary to Typhoid fever, in August 1862. He was treated with calomel, a Mercury compound. The mercury caused an ulcer in his mouth that became gangrenous. He was sent to the Army Field Hospital in Frederick, Maryland. Reports noted that while the gangrene was stopped, it had already destroyed the bone and tissue on the right side of his face. The damage to Private Burgan's face caused a "frightful deformity." He lost the roof of his mouth, part of his lip, nose and right eye. This created a large opening on the right side of his face exposing his mouth and nasal cavity. Captain Hogarth, Carlton's Company Commander, stated in Private Burgan's discharge summary that "the incompetency of the Regimental Surgeon, who prescribed the Mercury compound, caused the horrible injury."
In December of 1862, Private Burgan was sent to the City Hospital of New York for further treatment. He was fortunate to have Dr. Gurdon Buck, a pioneer of reconstructive surgery as his physician. With multiple surgeries and dental fixtures designed by Thomas B. Gunning, his surgeon managed to close the open areas on his face. While Carlton Burgan still had a significant facial disfigurement, he was able to return to a somewhat normal life, although he did use a black cloth to cover the damaged portion of his face.
Carlton married Elizabeth Meyers in 1866 and they had ten children. He continued to work as a laborer/gardener and passed away at the age of 72. Carlton Burgan was buried in Baltimore Cemetery in March of 1914.
The Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War, Volume VIII. Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, North Carolina, 1991.