MICHAEL DUNN OF POTTER COUNTY

published in the August 22, 2001 issues of the Potter County Leader Enterprise  
     
  "Words of Gold" by PHGS Member Jeannette Buck 


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 Raymond Cemetery. 

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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