Monday, April 7, 2014

Who Killed James A. Garfield?

General James A. Garfield

President James A. Garfield
  Most of the presidents from Ulysses S. Grant to William Mckinley were Civil War veterans and Republicans. The only exception being Grover Cleveland who didn't fight in the war and he was a Democrat. I won't hold that against him because in my mind he was what we would call a good conservative today and was also one of our most honest presidents in American history. He is the only president to serve two terms but not consecutively. James Garfield was born in Ohio on November 19, 1831 and died on September 19, 1881 after being shot by an assassin. He was raised by a widowed mother and came from humble origins. During the Civil War he fought bravely as an officer in the Union Army of the Cumberland and was a man of integrity. Once he was ordered to use his men to capture a runaway slave but he disobeyed orders, telling his commander that he wasn't in the slave hunting business. In the Fall of 1862 he learned that he had been elected to Congress from his district in Ohio but he returned to the Army of the Cumberland. He became Army Chief of Staff to General William S. Rosecrans in January 1863. He reported to Murfreesboro after Rosecrans former C.O.S. Julius Garesche had been decapitated by a cannon ball at the battle of Stones River. Garfield served Rosecran's all through the Chickamauga campaign until Rosecrans was badly defeated at battle of Chickamauga and replaced by General George H. Thomas. Lincoln needed loyal Republicans in Congress and at the request of Lincoln Garfield took up his congressional seat and remained in Congress until he was elected president in 1880. 

  Garfield's presidency lasted just 200 days. From March 4, 1881 until his death on September 19. Until the Twentieth Amendment presidents were inaugurated on March 4. Franklin Roosevelt was the last president to be inaugurated on March 4 and that was in 1933. The assassination of Garfield is very interesting. The man who shot Garfield was a lawyer named Charles Guiteau, who was probably insane. He had applied for the position of U.S. Ambassador to France and was denied. Some say that his outrage over not being selected was his motivation for shooting Garfield. Others say that he was a deeply religious man and he was following God's command to kill him. Whatever his motivation he visited the city jail in Washington in order to see whether it was nice enough for him to stay in after he was arrested for shooting the president. It met his standards so he set about with his plan to shoot the president. He may have stalked Garfield up to a week prior to the shooting and passed up one opportunity because the First Lady was present. Things changed a lot between him and Lee Harvey Oswald. Then on July 2, 1881 Garfield was waiting for a train that would take him to Elberton New Jersey to visit his wife who had fallen ill. Guiteau had hired a fancy cab that was waiting outside of the train station for just the purpose of transporting him to jail. He was afraid that an angry mob would take him out to be lynched. He walked up behind Garfield and shot him twice. One bullet grazed his arm and the other lodged somewhere in his body. 

  Over the next two and one half months as many as sixteen doctors were consulted in treating the president. Dr. Willard Bliss stuck his unwashed finger into the wound followed by an non sterile probe. Doctors were advocating sterilization at this time because of lessons learned in the Civil War. The vast majority of wounded men who had died in the Civil War had died because doctors had probed wounds with dirty and bloody hands causing deadly infections. Penicillin wasn't discovered until 1928 and they had no way to cure infections in 1881. Because Bliss had created a false passage with his probe other doctors assumed that the bullet had penetrated his liver. If that was the case surgery would do no good. The Army surgeon general was next and he stuck his unwashed finger very deeply into the wound. The Navy surgeon general rammed his finger so deep that he actually did puncture the liver. He concluded that Garfield only had 24 hours to live. Garfield didn't die in 24 hours but his fever rose and he was put on a diet of milk spiked with brandy. The doctors continued to probe with dirty fingers. Alexander Graham Bell not only invented the telephone but he also invented the metal detector. His was crude compared to today's metal detectors but he was called to the presidents bedside to see if his machine could find the bullet. After a few passes he told the doctors that the bullet was deeper than he thought. The decision was made to operate on Garfield but they found nothing. Bell was unsuccessful because he didn't think about the metal springs under the mattress. 

  Garfield was steadily growing worse because doctors had turned a 3 inch wound into a 20 inch canal full of infection and pus. He developed blood poisoning that weakened his heart. Garfield suffered a massive heart attack but the doctors also misdiagnosed that. They thought that he had ruptured a blood vessel in his stomach. Finally he died on September 19, 1881. An autopsy was performed and the bullet was found 4 inches from his spine. The pathologists determined that Garfield would have lived if the doctors had just left him alone. Charles Guiteau's attorneys used the defense that he didn't kill the president. The doctors did. The jury didn't buy it. Guiteau was executed on June 30, 1882. The government refused to give the body to the family. They stripped the skin off of the body and planned to exhibit the bones to the public free of charge but this never happened. Many experts believe that these bones still exist and are at the Army Medical Museum in Washington. The physicians brazenly sent the government a bill for their services which totalled 85,000 dollars. The government settled for 10,000 dollars, which was a travesty, but Dr. Bliss in the end was forced to make a public apology.
Shooting of Garfield

Alexander Graham Bell

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