The First Amputee Of The Civil War


James Edward Hanger Historical Monument

Churchville, Virginia

From “Virginia Curiosities” by Sharon Cavileer



You'll know you're in Churchville after you cross over Whiskey Creek on U.S. 240 west of Staunton. Four churches highlight the hamlet. Except for the Wool Festival and Pumpkin Festival out at Chester's Farm, Churchville is pretty quiet. Its only ongoing tourist attraction is the James Edward Hanger Historic Monument stuck smack-dab in the middle of town.


Hanger was a Churchville teen who wanted to enlist in the Grand Army of the Republic in 1861. A food ambulance corps, laden with supplies for the Confederacy, passed through town on its way to West Virginia. Hanger hung on to the group and bedded down with them in a nearby barn, fired up and ready to go. At dawn he woke suddenly to the sound of gunfire. Hanger jumped from a hayloft to grab his horse, but he never left town. In the skirmish, he was severely wounded by a cannonball.

Union troops found him later in the day and surgeons amputated one of his legs above the knee, making Hanger the first amputee of the Civil War. The traumatized teen went home and took to his room, spending hours whittling and working with barrel staves and scraps of wood. Three months later, he amazed his family by walking down the stairs on an artificial leg that hinged at the knee.

That invention not only made Hanger's life easier, it made him rich. He made "Hanger limbs" for other area amputees, and the state legislature commissioned him to make artificial limbs for wounded veterans. His patent led to a thriving business. When he died in 1919, Hanger Company had branches in London, Paris, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Saint Louis.


Today, Hanger Orthopedic is traded on the New York Stock Exchange and has more than 1,000 employees in forty-three states. Fortune magazine ranked it as one of the fastest- growing companies in the United States.


From the corporate website at

Company History

James Edward Hanger founded the company in 1861. When he was an 18 year-old soldier he became the first amputee of the Civil War. After losing his leg in the first land battle of the war, hanger turned his personal tragedy into an invaluable service for mankind. He returned to his hometown in Virginia and developed an artificial leg from whittled barrel staves. His success prompted him to make the "Hanger Limb," as it became known, for other Confederate amputees in the area.

The State Legislature later commissioned him to manufacture artificial limbs for wounded veterans. Hanger patented his prosthetic device and established a thriving business headquartered in Richmond. His business expanded through his revolutionary developments, and at the time of his death in 1919, the J.E. Hanger Company had branches in Atlanta, London, Paris, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

In 1921 Congress created the Veterans Administration and authorized the Administration to operate hospitals and provide vocational rehabilitation for the disabled. This expanded further as veterans came back from World War I and World War II. The Depression of the 1930s caused the Federal Government to assist in the rehabilitation of the handicapped. The national health programs, Medicare and Medicaid, furthered this process, particularly for the aging and the underprivileged. Today, virtually any person who can benefit from prosthesis can be assured of superior service.

Each hanger patient care facility is available for individual preoperative consultation to patients, families and therapists. With an established Quality Assurance Program and nationwide continuum of care, each referred individual receives personalized, customized attention throughout their lifetime. Hanger contracts with multiple, national Managed Care providers. The goal of the expert staff is to assist all persons in reaching their highest possible level of independence so that the quality of life is enriched on a daily basis.

Another Civil War-inspired corporate entity still around is Vernors. - Jonah