I have rediscovered a fascinating story reported by L. G. Capers of Vicksburg, Missouri in the American Medical Weekly (131, 7 Nov. 1874) and quoted by The Lancet (476, 1875, I, 35). It is about an incident which took place during the American Civil War.
On 12 May 1863, during a skirmish between Grant’s army and a few Confederates, a young friend of the author stumbled and fell to the ground. At the same moment, a piercing scream was heard from a nearby house.
The wounded soldier had received a bullet which had travelled through his scrotum and taken off his left testicule. The same bullet had apparently penetrated the left side of the abdomen of a seventeen-year-old girl, passing between the navel and the front part of the iliac bone touching the spine, and had disappeared inside her abdomen. The young lady subsequently suffered from peritonitis but, after treatment, had completely recovered two months later.
278 days after receiving the bullet, the girl gave birth to an eight-pound baby boy. The hymen was intact and the young mother insisted that she was a virgin and had no idea how she could have conceived. Naturally, she was not believed by her family and friends.
About three weeks after this birth, Doctor Capers was called to examine the baby because its grandmother was adamant that there was something wrong with the boy’s genitals. The doctor’s examination revealed a hard, swollen, tender scrotum, containing something hard.
The doctor operated and was able to extract pieces of a crushed bullet. He concluded that it was the same bullet which had taken off his friend’s testicule, and had penetrated the ovary of the young girl. The few spermatozoides which were on it had fertilized the young lady.
He was so convinced of this that he contacted the young man and told him the whole story. The soldier didn’t really believe him, but agreed to meet the young mother. They became friends, and eventually married.
The couple had three children, but the one who bore the most resemblance to the father was the first-born.
This amazing story has been used as a remarkable example of medical imagination, and does not appear to have been generally accepted by other members of the medical profession as being a description of what really happened. What was their explanation?