A woman became pregnant from being struck by a bullet that had passed through the scrotum of a Civil War soldier.
Sometimes touted as the origin of the phrase “son of a gun,” the apocryphal tale of “the bullet through the balls” is a well-traveled legend, often reported by such infamous urban legend vectors as “Dear Abby,” as in this example from her
It seems that during the Civil War
(May 12,1863, to be exact), a young Virginia farm girl was standing on her front porch while a battle was raging nearby. A stray bullet first passed through the scrotum of a young Union cavalryman, then lodged in the reproductive tract of the young woman, who thus became pregnant by a man she had not been within 100 feetof! And nine months later she gave birth to a healthy baby!
The story, in fact, is completely false. The claim for the miraculous “bullet pregnancy” originated with an article that was printed as a joke in the journal The American Medical Weekly on
Subsequent journals and books cited the article as fact without checking the original source or realizing that it was a
The long and tortuous history of this legend begins with an article entitled “ATTENTION GYNAECOLOGISTS! — NOTES FROM THE DIARY OF A FIELD AND HOSPITAL SURGEON, C.S.A.” appearing under the name of an
The general tone and style of the article should have indicated to the astute reader that the whole thing was a gag. Even if they didn’t, at least a few more obvious clues gave away the joke: The baby was said to have been born “with something wrong about the genitals,” and upon examination the surgeon discovered that the ball which had wounded the soldier and impregnated the woman was lodged in the newborn infant’s scrotum! Even more implausibly, the soldier, when told of his astonishingly-achieved fatherhood, quickly wed the child’s mother! For those who still didn’t catch on to the article’s facetiousness, a note from the editor explaining that the whole thing was a bit of “fun” (complete with a pun on the putative author’s name) was printed in the same journal two weeks later.
(Note: The details of battle given in the original article do correspond to actual events. In May of 1863, Union troops under the command of Major General
Several months later, the British medical journal The Lancet reprinted (portions of) the 1874 article. Then, in 1896,
From then on, one or more of these sources has been cited as proof of an actual occurrence “carefully recorded for the annals of medicine” in everything from American Heritage magazine to “Dear Abby,” with each source accepting the previous ones’ references as accurate citations of a “real” medical journal article.
The links below include the original 1874 article from The American Medical Weekly that started it all, an editor’s note from a subsequent issue of the same publication explaining the whole thing as a gag, an
Sightings: This legend was told during an episode of the television series House (“Joy to the World,” original air date