Glow in the Dark Wounds

The Civil War was an extremely violent period of American history, and soldiers from both the North and South faced terrible violence and painful situations. There were many wounds and casualties during the war, some of the worst and most grotesque in all of American history. Even the lucky ones who survived had many serious wounds and injuries that continued to affect them for the rest of their lives. 

One day, during the battle of Shiloh, something extremely surprising occurred. The soldiers from the North and South were at a standstill, and they ended up sitting in mud and rain for two whole days. Even soldiers with serious, open wounds had no choice but to sit in the mud, which allowed bacteria and eventually infection to begin attacking their bodies. While normally the infections would simply lead to amputations or even death, at Shiloh, the soldiers’ wounds, filled with dirt and detritus, began to glow. . This glow was named the “Angels Glow.”

When the doctors treated them, they had never experienced anything like it. It was already strange to see glowing wounds, but what’s more, the wounds healed faster because of a bacteria called Photorhabdus Luminescens. This species of bacteria was found in parasites, plants, animals, and insects. The P. Luminescens bacteria would release bioluminescent toxins to kill other parasites and bacteria it was competing with, keeping the wounds of the soldiers cleaner and healthier since there was relatively less bacteria to infect them.  

So, why don’t we see this happening more often? While it can’t be proven exactly where this species of bacteria came from during the battle of Shiloh, researchers think that the soldiers probably got the bacteria from insects that were in the dirt of the battleground during the war. The insects may have regurgitated on the soldiers wounds, hoping to use their flesh to eat or breed. This regurgitation on the wounds may have left a scent, which possibly could have attracted the glowing bacteria. So, researchers thought that  when  the insects threw up,  the bacteria probably went into the wounds to get to the nutrients of the barf. Little did the bacteria know that this would actually lead to more rapid healing for the soldiers. 

The men who got the bacteria experienced their wounds healing a lot faster than normal, and in the dark, they would glow. They healed faster because, according to iflscience, the bacteria that was in the soldiers’ wounds fought off the bacteria that was harmful, causing them to be safe and heal quicker. 

…it’s possible that the Angels Glow reported by Civil War doctors and soldiers may have been a bacterial species simultaneously fighting off infection and preventing the rotting of wounds until doctors could arrive, all whilst glowing to demonstrate their otherworldly healing.

In 2001, the bacteria was actually isolated and discovered by a man named Bill Martin. One day, he was out in the battlefield of Shiloh and heard about the Angel’s Glow. He wanted to do research about it. His mom was a microbiologist who studied soil and he decided to find out how it helped the soldiers’ wounds. Bill and his research partners soon figured out that there were actually worms that had a very bright blue color and that bacteria living in the worms, the same Photorhabdus Lluminescens I mentioned before, could fight off other bacteria that did harm. Bill succeeded in discovering where exactly this bacteria came from, but there are still many mysteries to solve. 

The Shiloh soldiers experienced something that no one has ever experienced before. Even though BIll  found out about the worms, people still do not know the full explanation of where the worms live most often, or if they can be used in a laboratory or medical setting. Maybe in the future the glowing worms and their associated bacteria will become a specific type of medicine that people can use to help with the healing process.