Civil War Soldiers…that Glowed in the Dark?

In 1862, the Union and Confederacy locked horns at the Battle of Shiloh. More than 3,000 people died and another 16,000 received wounds. As the fighting came to an end, something strange started to happen. Wounds started to glow. And this glowing seemed to have a miraculous effect, leading to saved lives and faster-healing wounds. The soldiers called it “Angel’s Glow.” But what caused it?

Battle of Shiloh – What was the Mysterious Angel’s Glow?

In 2001, nearly 140 years after the Battle of Shiloh, two high school students named Bill Martin and Jonathan Curtis discovered the truth behind Angel’s Glow. It was caused by a strange luminescent bacterium known as Photorhabdus luminescens. Photorhabdus luminescens is lethal to insects and pathogens. It also, you guessed it, glows in the dark. Here’s more on the Battle of Shiloh and Angel’s Glow from Mental Floss:

Looking at historical records of the battle, Bill and Jon figured out that the weather and soil conditions were right for both P. luminescens and their nematode partners. Their lab experiments with the bacteria, however, showed that they couldn’t live at human body temperature, making the soldiers’ wounds an inhospitable environment. Then they realized what some country music fans already knew: Tennessee in the spring is green and cool. Nighttime temperatures in early April would have been low enough for the soldiers who were out there in the rain for two days to get hypothermia, lowering their body temperature and giving P. luminescens a good home.

Based on the evidence for P. luminescens’s presence at Shiloh and the reports of the strange glow, the boys concluded that the bacteria, along with the nematodes, got into the soldiers’ wounds from the soil. This not only turned their wounds into night lights, but may have saved their lives. The chemical cocktail that P. luminescens uses to clear out its competition probably helped kill off other pathogens that might have infected the soldiers’ wounds. Since neither P. luminescens nor its associated nematode species are very infectious to humans, they would have soon been cleaned out by the immune system themselves (which is not to say you should be self-medicating with bacteria; P. luminescens infections can occur, and can result in some nasty ulcers). The soldiers shouldn’t have been thanking the angels so much as the microorganisms…

(See Mental Floss for more on the Battle of Shiloh and Angel’s Glow)

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