Claim: A woman became pregnant from being struck by a bullet that had passed through the scrotum of a Civil War soldier.
Origins: 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
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
Last updated: 22 June 2014
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Choking Doberman. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. ISBN 0-393-30321-7 (pp. 134-138). Capers, L.G. “Notes from the Diary of a Field and Hospital Surgeon, C.S.A.” The American Medical Weekly. 7 November 1874 [1(19):233-4]. Gould, George L. and Walter L. Pyle. Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1896 (pp. 44-45). Napolitani, F. Donald. “Two Unusual Cases of Gunshot Wounds of the Uterus.” New York State Journal of Medicine. 1 February 1959 [59:491-3]. Van Buren, Abigail. “Dear Abby.” 6 November 1982 [syndicated column]. The American Medical Weekly. Editor’s note. 21 November 1874 [1(21):263-4] The Big Book of Urban Legends. New York: Paradox Press, 1994. ISBN 1-56389-165-4 (p. 128).