Every so often, history offers a story that is so improbable there is no way it could be true. Yet once in the proverbial blue moon, a tale defies the odds and turns out to have really happened.
This story isn’t one of them.
It was, in fact, a prank that people accepted as fact for over a century. But the story behind the story is enjoyable, and the whole bizarre incident is a hoot and a half, so here goes.
Doctors got a big surprise when they opened the November 7, 1874, edition of “The American Medical Weekly.” A headline breathlessly announced, “ATTENTION GYNECOLOGISTS! — NOTES FROM THE DIARY OF A FIELD AND HOSPITAL SURGEON, C.S.A.” It was written by a former Confederate army doctor named L.G. Capers.
He was born in Charleston, S.C., in 1834, practiced as a ship physician at sea, and served in the Confederate medical service. His article described an incident 11 years earlier during the Battle of Raymond, Miss.
As Capers recalled, “I beheld a noble, gallant young friend staggering closer, and then fall to the earth. In the same moment, a piercing scream from the house reached my ear!” The doctor said he examined the wound and found a minie ball (the war’s misnamed and widely used cone-shaped bullet) had struck the shinbone, ricocheted upward, and exited the body via the soldier’s private parts. Then things got strange.
Capers continued, “Scarcely had I finished dressing the wounds of this poor fellow when the estimable matron came running to me in the greatest distress, begging me to go to one of her daughters who, she informed me, had been badly wounded a few minutes before.”
The young woman had also been hit in her private area. “Believing there was little or no hope of her recovery, I had only time to prescribe an anodyne when our army fell back.”
Six months later, the army returned and, according to the good doctor, he discovered the patient was pregnant. “A short time later, I delivered this same young lady of a fine boy, weighing eight pounds.”
As if all this hadn’t been enough, the story ended with a weird twist. “About three weeks from the date of this remarkable birth, I was called to see the child, the grandmother insisting there was ‘something wrong.’”
Capers said he examined the infant and immediately performed surgery. He “extracted a minie ball, mashed and battered as if it had met in its flight some hard, unyielding substance.”
Bottom line: The minie ball that had wounded the soldier carried some of his male essences as it exited his body and slammed into the young woman’s womb. The result was known from then on as the Minie Ball Pregnancy.
I will spare you the medical mumbo jumbo but suffice it to say it is physically impossible for conception to occur this way. Which makes it all the stranger that men of science perpetuated the absurdity.
The highly respected British medical journal The Lancet reprinted parts of the original article. In 1896, its piece was cited as a footnote in a book called “Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine.” The tale later gained fresh traction in an influential 1959 article in the New York State Journal of Medicine. From then on, it was cited as a “documented case” and was mentioned in everything from American Heritage magazine to the popular Dear Abby column.
Yet it never happened.
A few weeks after the publication of the original 1874 article that started it all, the editors acknowledged in a subsequent edition that the whole thing had been in jest. “Dr. L.G. Capers, of Vicksburg, Miss., disclaims responsibility for the truth of that remarkable case of impregnation by a minie ball, as reported in … this Journal. He tells the story as it was told to him. He does not say it is untrue but is disposed to appositely remember the truth of the old adage, that ‘accidents may happen in the best-regulated families.’ The joke is, that the doctor reported the case without any signature.”
You saw it: It was all a joke.
But to this very day, some Civil War buffs adamantly insist the Minie Ball Pregnancy actually happened.
It’s a shame it didn’t. If it had, the baby indeed would have been the world’s only “son of a gun.”