The Story of the Civil War Veteran Who Got Shot In the Eye and Coughed the Bullet Out of His Mouth 58 Years Later
Willis Meadows, a 78-year-old veteran, clutched his throat and was gasping for air. Whatever was choking him wouldn’t come out and was causing a violent coughing spasm. Just when he thought he was about to take his last breathe, something flew from his mouth…
It was a 1-ounce Civil War bullet, trapped in Meadows’ head for almost 58 years. This slug took out the Confederate veteran’s right eye when he was still young.
And then months later, the old man actually came across the Union soldier who shot him.
In 1921, “Coughs Up Bullet” was a national newspaper story. The perpetrator, Peter Knapp, read the story and realized it was he who shot that bullet that was embedded near Meadows’ brain. Subsequently, he reached out to Meadows and after comparing notes, they found out it was true.
When he joined his brothers and cousins, Meadows was 19. During springtime in 1862, he enlisted alongside them in Company G of the 37th Alabama Volunteer Infantry.
He was appointed to the western front by the Mississippi River, where his company endured heavy casualties in one battle after another. By the summer of 1863, they were guarding the city of Vicksburg from the attack of the Union army.
On July 1, the ultimate push was on. Through a peephole in an iron boiler plate, sharpshooter Willis Meadows was shooting his rifle at the Yanks.
Three Union soldiers from Company H of the Fifth Iowa Volunteer Infantry, including Peter Knapp who was 21 years old, were advancing from the east. They were told to kill Confederate snipers.
Knapp caught sight of Meadows. He aimed his rifle at the boiler plate peephole and fired. Meadows fell, blood rushing from his right eye. He was supposedly dead and the men moved on.
Meadows was discovered and was seen by Union surgeons who tried to locate the bullet, but were unable to find it. They didn’t deem it safe to perform an operation.
On board a POW ship, he was transported to a Union hospital. Afterwards, he was released and transferred to a Confederate hospital, where he lingered as a patient for the rest of the war and sometime nurse’s aide.
After the war, he got married and returned to his farm in Lanett, Ala., just east of the Georgia state line. He had no children and would have probably died in obscurity had he not coughed up the bullet.
A few months after Vicksburg, Knapp was captured and was held in a various Confederate prisons, including Andersonville. When the war was over, he farmed in Michigan, got married, and moved to Kelso in 1887.
Mortal enemies when they were still young, they tried to kill each other. But now, as veterans, they would allocate their last few years as friends, exchanging photographs and bidding one another a good health.