In May 1864, Union corporal James Denn was hit in the hand by a Confederate minie ball in the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. Denn survived the fighting, but the ball remained lodged in his now-useless hand, and he was discharged from the service in December.
The ball remained in Denn’s hand for 38 years, during which time he would often rattle it to entertain (or appall) visiting children. In 1902 he moved into the Soldiers’ Home in Washington D.C., where surgeon Louis A. LaGarde finally removed it, arguably performing the last surgical operation of the Civil War.
“Missile was loose in a thick sac under palmar fascia,” LaGarde memorably reported. “Sac contained about 1 ounce of hemorrhagic fluid, the blood being no doubt the result of frequent traumatisms from shaking the hand violently near the ears of his friends to cause them to hear the ball rattle in the cyst. The succussion sound made by the loose ball and the fluid in the unyielding sac was very perceptible to the sense of hearing.”