Dr. Mungo heads up the volunteers of the 6th Ohio Calvary unit during a recent Civil War reenactment.
Courtesy of David V. Mungo, MD

AAOS Now

Published 7/1/2014
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Jennie McKee

Orthopaedist Rides with Civil War Cavalry

David V. Mungo, MD, has a passion for historical reenactment

“Civil War reenactments are very moving events,” said David V. Mungo, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon who practices at Alliance Community Hospital in Alliance, Ohio. “When you see the soldiers marching, smell the gun powder filling the air, and feel the ground shaking as the horses charge, it gives you a real appreciation for what our forefathers did during the Civil War.”

For more than a decade, Dr. Mungo has been part of the 6th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, a unit that was part of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. For Dr. Mungo, participating in reenactments is about teaching the public about American history—in particular, the sacrifices made by those who fought during the Civil War.

“We do our best to educate, but we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t enjoyable, too,” he said. “There’s a significant adrenaline rush that comes when you line up with 40 other horses and ride knee to knee with other members of the cavalry. It’s exhilarating to scream and yell as you charge at Confederates across the field with your sabre drawn, as cannons and gunfire go off all around you.”

A window into the past
Dr. Mungo first became interested in Civil War reenactments while attending medical school at the University of Rochester.

“My wife and I went to see a reenactment that’s held annually in Rochester,” he remembered. “There was just something about it that beckoned to me. Civil War reenactments are a nice combination of history, guns, camping, and playing soldier.”

As a second lieutenant in the 6 th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, Dr. Mungo participates in reenactments that are usually held over a weekend in various places around the country. During the Civil War, the 6 th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry saw most of its action in the eastern theater.

“Today we are the largest federal cavalry unit in the country, with more than 70 members on our roster,” he said. “We are typically the largest unit at the various reenactment events.”

Reenactments are usually held on the anniversary of an actual battle. Participants arrive in a given location and set up a picket line for tying up their horses, pitch their tents, set up camp, and start a campfire, while curious spectators enjoy learning about history.

“For that weekend, we do everything we can to live as though it is the 1800s,” said Dr. Mungo. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t use modern-day amenities like showers and bathrooms, but when spectators are present, we portray an accurate example of what things were like.”

Large reenactments can attract tens of thousands of people, which makes adherence to military-style order and discipline necessary.

“We completely follow a military chain of command—there’s no other way to herd 10,000 people into doing what you need them to do,” said Dr. Mungo. “Officers carry out their various duties throughout the day.”

Riding into battle
Buddy, a 9-year-old saddlebred horse, is Dr. Mungo’s faithful companion during reenactments.

“Buddy is my main ‘war horse,’” said Dr. Mungo. “He is one of the fastest horses in our unit and is willing to do pretty much anything I ask of him. Because he is so big and strong, he can push other horses in a sabre melee, which occurs when you’re entangled with the enemy. He’s also well-tempered and quick to respond.”

Dr. Mungo appreciates the ability of all the horses that participate in reenactments to obey their riders, despite all that is going on around them during a staged battle.

“The guns, the swords, the actual equipment—everything but the bullets—are 100 percent authentic,” he said. “But the horses don’t know that. When you can get your horse to charge into battle, as other horses come toward you with guys who are trying to knock you out of your saddle, you get a whole new respect for what the horses are willing to do for you. It’s a humbling experience.”

Although Dr. Mungo’s volunteer group does provide new recruits and their horses with command and battle formation training, inexperienced riders and horses also add to the historical accuracy.

“When you look at the men who made up the original 6th Ohio during the Civil War, you find that they were in service for about 8 months before they actually got their mounts,” said Dr. Mungo. “In Ohio, half of the original soldiers had never ridden a horse before. Northerners hooked their horses up to plows and buggies and rode behind them; people in the South actually rode their horses.”

Adding to their difficulties was the fact that many of the horses had never been ridden before.

“The soldiers drew a number out of a hat, and that number corresponded to the horse that would be assigned to them,” he said. “They had their horses for less than a week before they shipped out to the front under Major General John C. Fremont.

“So, when we get new recruits,” continued Dr. Mungo, “I tell them that if they have already ridden their horse, they are doing better than half the recruits from the 1860s.”

Because horses are herd animals, explained Dr. Mungo, when they are surrounded by veteran horses that have become desensitized to the sounds of gunfire and the chaos of battle, most of them quickly adapt. And yet, despite all the planning and training that goes into reenactments, things rarely go as planned once the action starts.

“We know in retrospect how the battle happened, and which side won,” said Dr. Mungo. “Beforehand, the officers will get together and plan how the battle will pro-gress, but I have yet to see a battle plan followed for more than 5 minutes. It always goes to pot, which gives you more appreciation for the challenges the soldiers faced during the Civil War.”

Many other challenges—such as the weather—are the same ones faced by men who actually fought in the Civil War.

“We were at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of First Manassas (also known as the First Battle of Bull Run) in Virginia, and it was 110 degrees in the shade,” remembered Dr. Mungo. “So, we had to deal with the heat and stay hydrated. The weather can be your biggest enemy.

“Travelling and logistics can also be challenging,” he continued. “Back then you had to figure out how to feed 10,000 men and a group of cavalry horses. We have some of the same issues—on a much smaller scale—since we have to get enough hay to feed a couple hundred horses, for instance.”

Encouraging respect
Experiencing just a few of the difficulties faced by soldiers during the Civil War has given Dr. Mungo a deep respect for what Civil War soldiers endured.

“That first day at the Battle of Gettysburg, when the infantry ran up, those men had marched 26 miles all through the night—or even 30 miles, for some units,” said Dr. Mungo. “It was about 90 degrees, and they were wearing wool uniforms and were weighed down by heavy gear. They were not well-nourished or well-hydrated, but when they got there, they had to fight for their lives.”

Dr. Mungo enjoys talking with children as well as adults who attend reenactments to learn more about the Civil War.

“The challenge is to put it into perspective for people so they can understand,” he said. “But when you see a reenactment, you can’t help but have an appreciation for it.”

Dr. Mungo encourages everyone to attend at least one Civil War reenactment and learn what life was like for soldiers in the 1860s.

“Just like everybody needs to go to see the battlefield in Gettysburg, Penn., everybody needs to see a reenactment,” he said. “We as a nation are desperately in need of a deeper understanding of our history. It may sound like a cliché to say that you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been, but it is so true. You can’t have an appreciation for current events—or for our country, our veterans, or our history—without understanding what has happened in our past.”

Jennie McKee is a senior science writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at mckee@aaos.org

Bringing a bit of history into orthopaedics
Dr. Mungo’s enthusiasm for Civil War history is quite apparent at his office in Alliance Community Hospital, where an unusual display greets patients in the waiting room: a Civil War-era amputation kit, along with the tibia of a soldier whose leg was amputated in 1863 by Dr. Jonathan Letterman, chief surgeon for the Army of the Potomac.

“My exam rooms are all decorated in different Civil War artifacts and artwork, which provides a great way to break the ice with new patients and talk with them about history,” he said.

Dr. Mungo has recruited a few of his patients—as well as his colleague, the head of the anesthesia department at Alliance Community Hospital—to join the 6th Ohio Voluntary Cavalry.

“Whenever I have somebody in the office who broke his leg by falling off a horse, my next questions are, ‘What kind of horse is it? What kind of riding do you do?’” said Dr. Mungo, noting that he purchased the horse that serves as his back-up cavalry mount from one of his patients.

Dr. Mungo has also provided orthopaedic care to members of his unit.

“Our captain fell underneath his horse in West Virginia,” he said. “He drove up and had me treat his ankle injury. Another member of our unit brought his girlfriend to me for treatment after she fell off her horse and hurt her wrist. I’ve also performed a couple of knee replacements on older members in the unit, repaired some rotator cuffs and broken collar bones, and have sewn up a lot of people in the field.

“It’s nice to help take care of a few of my friends who ride with me,” said Dr. Mungo.