Inside The Time A Civil War Soldier Accidentally Tasted A Human Brain

There are generally a limited number of individuals who know what human brains taste like. There are cannibals, of course, and those who have eaten other mammalian brains have a pretty good idea as well. While it's a bit disturbing how easy it is to find serious sources tackling the question "What does the human brain taste like?" the spread of this knowledge was probably inevitable. Slate, for instance, reports it tastes like fish eggs. Some cannibal tribes throughout history believed it was the most flavorful part of the human body.

Now, it's one thing to know what you're about to eat, but it's quite another to be taken by complete surprise, and to suddenly have human brains in your mouth. That brings us to a bizarre story about a soldier in the American Civil War who experienced just that. 

Note: we in no way condone eating brains or any other part of the human body.

The Story of Henry Fitzgerald Charles

Union soldier Henry Fitzgerald Charles served in 17 battles and skirmishes between 1862 and 1865, and left behind a short memoir of the events. According to a website documenting the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia, one of Charles' descendants published the memoir online, which can be read on Dokument. The incident in question occurred after a battle, possibly in Virginia.

Henry Fitzgerald Charles was walking with a fellow soldier, observing the slaughter. "Lots of dead were laying around with a few shovels of dirt thrown on them by the burial detail." They sat upon a log to rest, and were soon spotted by a faraway enemy. "All at once I heard a gun crack and at the same time my mouth was filled with another man's brains. There was a sharpshooter in the distant woods somewhere and we were a too tempting bait for him." One imagines Charles had been mid-sentence when his friend's head exploded.

Charles vomited. "If I swallowed any of it, it certainly came up along with everything else I had in my stomach. My whole body rebelled..." Then he sprinted for cover.

The Dumb Luck of War

Such a traumatic, disgusting event was not soon forgotten. Charles seemed to wrestle with fate, probability, and luck. One of the two had to be shot first. Why was it his companion? Or were they both supposed to die from a single shot? "I studied for years why he took him instead of me," he wrote. "I reckon he waited till he had us both in line and was going to kill two birds with one stone, but my friend's head was too hard—it reflected the bullet" (download the full story on Dokument).

With guns and cannon ripping apart one's fellow soldiers, being hit by body parts was not actually unusual. Charles even writes that another incident took other body parts dangerously close to his mouth. "I was also hit in the face by a piece of human flesh at Petersburg one night. With what part of the body I can't tell, as at the time I did not wait to investigate..."

Overall, the Civil War took over 600,000 lives, and another 400,000 were wounded (via American Battlefield Trust).