The Civil War: Siamese Twin Against Siamese Twin

Years of exhaustive research have concluded that the Sanderson boys were the only conjoined twins to have fought in the American Civil War. What is eye-opening about the raw brutality of the time is that Malachi Sanderson chose to join the Union while Joshua sided with his fellow-Virginians.

Brothers were torn apart in the 1860s – except for the Sanderson twins. Medical science would have to advance significantly before they could be safely separated.

The only battle the boys participated in was Big Bethel on June 10, 1861 in Virginia. It being their only battle is directly connected with them being conjointed. The brothers were joined at the hip – they had only two legs but four arms.

Unfortunately only one account exists that describes the brothers during the battle. It was recorded by Union Colonel Joseph B. Carr. In his account he said, “The Sanderson brothers were merely a sideshow during the battle. At the outset of the battle, Malachi seemed to knock Joshua unconscious and then began to run back to our lines. After a few moments Joshua woke up and struck Malachi on the back of the head. Joshua must have taken control of the legs because they began to scoot over to the Confederate lines. They went on with this human tug-of-war for upwards to five minutes. Tired and beaten, they eventually sat on a nearby hill and assisted a wartime photographer for the remainder of the battle.” The battle of Big Bethel was the birth of two of the country’s most celebrated and conjoined wartime photographers.

A photograph of General Robert E. Lee as taken by Malachi and Joshua Sanderson.

For the duration of the war they photographed portraits of war-time political figures, officers and common soldiers. At war’s end they compiled all of their photographs into an essay. President Abraham Lincoln hailed it as “a work of art that adds depth and emotion to the great tragedy that our nation has undergone.”

Unfortunately little is known about the twins after the Civil War. One source says that they retired to South Carolina where they had a part in founding the family portrait studio Picture People.

This story is featured on Digital DriveBy, watch the video!

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2 Responses to “The Civil War: Siamese Twin Against Siamese Twin”


  1. 1 Rebecca October 27, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Oh that was too funny! This made my day! I’m looking forward to more stories this week about the Civil War! šŸ™‚

  2. 2 Lib October 29, 2008 at 11:53 am

    You are ridiculous.


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