It has been said of Silas Weir Mitchell (1829–1914) that as a young man he was first among the physiologists of his day, in middle age first among physicians, and as an older man, one of the most noted novelists of his country. Mitchell's novels were written in his later life as a means to avoid boredom during lengthy summer vacations that were the norm for that time among the affluent members of Philadelphia society. These novels were criticized by some because of poor plots, which in some instances failed to move along, or for text that offered a stereotyped depiction of genteel society and the effects that war or personal disaster had on the characters' behavior The criticism came despite the fact that all critics agreed that Mitchell's portrayals of psychopathology in his fictional characters was unique and accurate. However, in his 30s, Mitchell had written and by chance had published a fictional short story that not only transcended such criticisms but became immensely popular.
“The Strange Case of George Dedlow” portrays a union officer who was not a physician but who had some medical background and who sustained a series of war wounds leading to severe nerve pain, the author's first description of causalgia, multiple amputations, and the psychological as well as physical symptoms of phantom limb syndrome. The protagonist tells of his torments in the first person in a very engaging fashion. Thus, long before he began writing his, at that time, acclaimed novels in the 1880s, Mitchell wrote a piece of fiction that combines accurate and very important medical observations with fiction of great historical interest. The following rendering of this now classic short story includes selected quotes and some interpretation and is perhaps appropriate for this year, 2 years after the centenary year of his death in 1914.