July 2, 1863 - Today was the day that a Confederate cannonball mangled the right leg of General Daniel Sickles. The leg and the cannonball are still on display in the National Museum of Health and Medicine.
The injury came during the Battle of Gettysburg. General Sickles disobeyed orders and repositioned his troops in a move that is still hotly debated. By seeking higher ground he inadvertently exposed his Third Army Corps to a massive Confederate assault from two sides. 578 of his men were killed and over 3000 were injured. Some historians argue that the General's unwise move actually preoccupied the Confederates and served to blunt their original attack plans.
The insubordination at Gettysburg was just one of many controversies in the colorful career of Daniel Sickles. Before the war he represented New York in Congress and caused a considerable scandal when he brought a well-known prostitute (Fanny White) into its chambers. He also took White to England and presented her to Queen Victoria using the surname of one his political rivals.
Meanwhile, his young and neglected wife, Teresa, was carrying on a steamy love affair with Philip Barton Key (the son of Francis Scott Key). When Sickles found out about it, he shot and killed the unarmed Key in Lafayette Park - within earshot of the White House.
Sickles immediately confessed to the murder and received an unprecedented outpouring of sympathy. His defense team came up with a novel strategy. They asserted that Sickles was so upset by his wife's infidelity that he was driven literally mad with rage. It was the first use of the temporary insanity defense in US history - and it worked! Sickles was acquitted.
Sickles continued his womanizing ways throughout the rest of his life - even after his leg was blown off. He died in 1914 and received a hero's burial at Arlington National Cemetery.