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Solving the mystery of glow-in-the-dark Civil War soldiers

Posted by / February 23, 2016

The brutality of the Civil War has been well-documented in history books, and the limited modern medical knowledge of the time made the carnage all the worse when infection set in.

16,000 soldiers were wounded at the Battle of Shiloh, yet some appeared to be saved by an odd glowing in their wounds. Lying in the Tennessee mud for days, certain soldiers were affected by what was dubbed “Angel Glow,” and survived more often than their other fallen brethren, but what was the scientific explanation?

It wasn’t until 2001, when a teenager started sniffing around for the answer with the guidance of his microbiologist mother, that the case was cracked. The answer was in the soil and the particular weather conditions that Tennessee spring.

Based on the evidence for P. luminescens’s presence at Shiloh and the reports of the strange glow, the boys [Bill Martin and his friend, Jon Curtis] concluded that the bacteria, along with the nematodes, got into the soldiers’ wounds from the soil. This not only turned their wounds into night lights, but may have saved their lives. The chemical cocktail that P. luminescens uses to clear out its competition probably helped kill off other pathogens that might have infected the soldiers’ wounds.

So, while “rubbing dirt in it” isn’t usually what’s recommended for open wounds, in this case, it was a lifesaver.

Full story at Mental_Floss.

Strange chapters of history.

Photo credit: By Thure de ThulstrupThis image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID pga.04037, Graphics credit: Canva

Comments are off for this post.

  • janice

    very interesting.

  • Interesting article.

  • Some good with all the bad. Thanks for the article.

  • meyati

    TG those poor men had something to help and heal their bodies.

  • TED

    It would be an interesting article if there was some info in it.

  • It’s “foxfire”.

  • JohnJ

    years ago I cut a small swamp tree down, the stump glowed for a couple of nights.

  • Perhaps some help might be to the anti-inflammatory properties of the negative charged electrons in abundance in our electrical planet earth. It’s called grounding.

  • Dirt, ocean water, and dog saliva can help wounds heal.

  • James minor

    I remember this story quite well. I was the park ranger at Shiloh National Military Park who answered the letter from those who were researching the material for the story. After checking all available sources we determined there was no evidence to back up the claim. I think it is one of the many myths about the battle.

  • Mike Planchunas

    Honey was known as an antiseptic back in Medieval times and was used to seal wounds.