Discussion I Wonder How Civil War Soldiers Managed This

james99

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http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/08/us/combat-stress-found-to-persist-since-vietnam.html?&hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=HpSum&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

Most veterans who had persistent post-traumatic stress a decade or more after serving in the Vietnam War have shown surprisingly little improvement since then, and a large percentage have died, a new study finds, updating landmark research that began a generation ago. Members of minorities who enlisted before finishing high school were especially likely to develop such war-related trauma, as were those veterans who had killed multiple times in combat, the study found.
 

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thomas aagaard

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Until the overland campaign of 1864, most soldiers were only in combat for a few days each year.
Makes the risk of problems much smaller...

It is important to understand that the actually killing is not the main problem, or seeing people killed.
Not getting to relax for weeks or month at at time is a much bigger problem, since that have a very clear effect on body and brain.
One problem with more modern warfare is the fact that you have to be alert all the time. This makes relaxing hard when the soldier gets home. For the average civil war soldier walking into an ambush or getting hit by en IED was not something he should really fear.
The (lack of) support for the soldiers also factor in.

It is to early to tell, but it is likely that Danish UN troops deployed to ex-Yugoslavia in the 90ties have a higher % of problems than Danes fighting the Taliban in the Helmann provins... despite the fact that Afghanistan was a real war... with a much, much higher risk and much higher % and number of killed and wounded.
The danish army today is very, very aware and very open about the problem. So it is in no way looked down on the soldiers who openly say he/she have nightmares or other problems.
Back in the 90 ties it was not so. Then it was "men don't cry"
When soldiers get home they go true a 90 day program designed to help clear the physical effects of the deployment...
Lots of sports help by getting the soldiers very tired... making it easier for them to relax and sleep.
So focus on the problem and openness looks to make a huge difference.
 

thomas aagaard

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So my point is. The problem during 1861-summer of 64 would very likely have been much smaller than what we see today from Afghanistan or Iraq, since the soldiers back then was not under stress each and every day.
It was naturally still a problem, but likely smaller.

HBO made a documentary about it

Wartorn 1861-2010
"Must you carry the bloody horror of combat in your heart forever?" – Homer, The Odyssey. Beginning with the first documented cases from the Civil War, the film examines occurrences of PTSD through two World Wars and Vietnam, as well as more recent cases.

It is pretty good.

Can be found here:
 
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Post Civil War, many Veterans simply did not talk about particular aspects of the service/experiences with. Psychology was in it's infancy.....Sociologically, no one kept statistics on how many Veterans suffered what we today call PTSD, so we have no way of knowing numbers or the total suffering.......

Some Veterans became drunks, as alcohol was easier to purchase than Morphine, though some were also Morphine addicts......

Some Veterans re-integrated into civilian life with less difficulty than other Veterans.....

If one puts combat in perspective of the time period, there is little difference between a soldier in 1863 and a soldier in 1943, 2003 or 2013....EVERY one of them was scared, far from home, had seen horrors, suffered privations and was afraid......War affects all of them.....

My above answer is a summation of a book entitled "Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans In The Gilded Age of America" by James Marten. For more details, please refer to that book, as it studies the answer to your question in greater detail.
Thanks!
 

Miles Krisman

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The following took place following the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864.

As was his custom, General Rodes and one of his staff members, walked over the battlefield after the fighting had ceased. After three years of campaigning, the sights and sounds they encountered, were familiar to them. They came across a young Confederate not more than sixteen years old, standing at a tree as if he was glued to it. “Move on and get with your command.” said General Rodes. “I can’t.” was the reply. They continued, “Why can’t you?” “I don’t know, Sir; but I feel like I am going to fall all to pieces.” “All right – go back to the hospital and tell Dr Whitfield I sent you there. Don’t pretend that you are sick or wounded; and when you get so you don’t feel like you are going to fall to pieces come back to your regiment.” General Rodes knew that not all battle wounds were physical. Apparently, that boy made a first-rate soldier Rodes would later observe.[1]


[1]“Third Alabama! The Civil War Memoirs of Brigadier General Cullen Andrews Battle, CSA edited by Brandon H. Beck, page 107
 

Brendan

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So my point is. The problem during 1861-summer of 64 would very likely have been much smaller than what we see today from Afghanistan or Iraq, since the soldiers back then was not under stress each and every day.
Unless you factor the persistent fear of death from diseases (which took more lives than combat), such as dysentery, in which you could literally sh#t yourself to death, or wondering where your next meal might come from, or whether you'd have sufficient clothes to survive the winter, or whether you'd make another 30 mile march without shoes, or the presence of family members and childhood friends in your unit who could be among those you could see die or get horrifically maimed, or the strain of being separated from your loved ones without the ability to ever call home or skype, or the lack of any official support structure for soldiers facing depression, stress, anxiety, etc, or the fact that the battlefields were literally in your own country, or that enemy soldiers or guerrillas might burn your house down or rape or kill your loved ones, or the worry that a relative might be on the other side where you might be firing your weapon, or the higher rate of disease among children meaning your kid could die before you get home, or worrying how your family would get by because your pay was months overdue, or, if you were a conscript, having to fight in a war completely against your will.

I'm not saying CW soldiers necessarily had it worse, but that I certainly think you're over generalizing and not really thinking this all through. The nature of the soldier's trauma might have been different, but it was there, and it often was daily. I just don't think it's right to assume either one was worse than the other.
 

major bill

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Did the GAR and other veteran groups, both North and South aid in recovery? I do know the veterans got together and there must have been some therapeutic value in meeting with your fellow veterans. One of the complaints of those suffering PTSD is they are different from everyone else and not longer fit in. With the very large number of fellow veterans post Civil War I am not sure this was as much of an issue. I do think some of the raising of monuments to the dead was as much about justifying your suffering during the war as it was honoring of the dead.

I do wonder if returning Vietnam veterans would have seen nearly every town putting up statues and memorials to them and been able to return to battlefields they fought in and see how their sacrifices were honored, if they would have suffered as much as they did and still are.
 

Elennsar

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I do wonder if returning Vietnam veterans would have seen nearly every town putting up statues and memorials to them and been able to return to battlefields they fought in and see how their sacrifices were honored, if they would have suffered as much as they did and still are.
Hard to say. Vietnam was an ugly war, and I don't mean that to characterize US tactics - just that all the horrors were in full display.

From my reading so far on PTSD, it seems like the brain just plain goes into self-destruct mode. Not necessarily suicide - just that it gets trapped in a situation where you can't just "let go" and "move on". Instead of how someone without might remember the trauma, someone with it seems to relive the trauma - and we humans are simply not set up to cope with being under enormous amounts of stress for prolonged periods. We need to be able to pull away from that and relax in order to function.

Without that, every snapping twig really is an enemy about to ambush you, and the only difference between "then" and "now' is that "now" is that "now" is it happening twice. Or three times. Or fifty.

That might be slightly exaggerated, but that is the impression I get. And dear Lord does it scare me.
 

Shadow9216

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Without that, every snapping twig really is an enemy about to ambush you, and the only difference between "then" and "now' is that "now" is that "now" is it happening twice. Or three times. Or fifty.
That's a pretty good summation, but you need to take it a step farther...not only is every twig snap an ambush, but everyone you meet is an enemy. Every shadow is a hidden danger. And if you think it's safe, that there's nothing to worry about/be afraid of- then you get to twitching extra-hard, because that lack of danger means you've missed a hidden danger. The absence of danger becomes another source of fear/paranoia- what am I missing? What's hiding? Why can't I see/sense anything? The sense of danger- the actual "sense" which registers danger- is stuck in the "on" position, making every.single.encounter a fight/flight situation. Worse, it means that there can never be a relaxing of one's guard, because the chemical signals ramp up even more in the absence of verifiable danger...think of the "jump scare" in movies or haunted house attractions- you know something is going to happen, something will jump out at you, so you go into it apprehensive and tense, waiting for it. There's a distraction (the music dies down, etc) and you let down your guard- BAM! The crazed killer jumps from hiding. Imagine that all the time. Because you know there MUST be danger, or else you wouldn't be getting the signal that there's danger. Confusing? Certainly.
 

Shadow9216

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I do wonder if returning Vietnam veterans would have seen nearly every town putting up statues and memorials to them and been able to return to battlefields they fought in and see how their sacrifices were honored, if they would have suffered as much as they did and still are.
This is an interesting point, and I'd love to know more about the rates of PTSD among northern vs. southern vets- did perception of the war's success/failure have an impact on the rates? Did perceptions of war aims have an impact?

Research suggests there are "risk factors" for who gets PTSD- certain groups, certain ages, certain social/economic backgrounds, etc...that it's more of a physio-psychological reaction to the stress, rather than caused by the stress- thus, two people can experience the same traumatic event- or one can even experience worse trauma- but only one of them will suffer from PTSD. Thus, even victory or righteousness of cause wouldn't necessarily predict a lower incidence of PTSD in a population.
 

Elennsar

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That's a pretty good summation, but you need to take it a step farther...not only is every twig snap an ambush, but everyone you meet is an enemy. Every shadow is a hidden danger. And if you think it's safe, that there's nothing to worry about/be afraid of- then you get to twitching extra-hard, because that lack of danger means you've missed a hidden danger. The absence of danger becomes another source of fear/paranoia- what am I missing? What's hiding? Why can't I see/sense anything? The sense of danger- the actual "sense" which registers danger- is stuck in the "on" position, making every.single.encounter a fight/flight situation. Worse, it means that there can never be a relaxing of one's guard, because the chemical signals ramp up even more in the absence of verifiable danger...think of the "jump scare" in movies or haunted house attractions- you know something is going to happen, something will jump out at you, so you go into it apprehensive and tense, waiting for it. There's a distraction (the music dies down, etc) and you let down your guard- BAM! The crazed killer jumps from hiding. Imagine that all the time. Because you know there MUST be danger, or else you wouldn't be getting the signal that there's danger. Confusing? Certainly.
It doesn't help that the kind of things that cause this (PTSD) tend to shake up one's confidence in the world being a basically safe place (because if it was a basically safe place this sort of thing wouldn't happen), or that other people are basically decent (because if other people were basically decent this wouldn't have happened), or both.

So instead of Bob being able to rely on Tim to help with "Is it just me or ______?", Tim saying it's just Bob is not at all reassuring, and depending on what is going on, it might make Bob question Tim.

Even if rationally Bob has no reason independently of what the fight-or-flight freakout is saying to question Tim. The fight or flight reaction overrides considerations like "my best friend for thirty years" when its this intense.

Best case scenario, Bob thinks Tim is the one imagining things. Worst case scenario, Bob starts to think Tim is lying on purpose.

Even without crossing into full blown paranoia in all circumstances, that's a hell of a Gordian knot to untangle with help, and it's as close to impossible as makes no difference to do so without.

A mind without faith - in this case, trust in others, not necessarily religious beliefs - will indeed wander in very dark places.
 

ole

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We might also think about those who came out of the troubles with no problems at all. We seem to be assuming that all came out troubled. Is that so? Can't say, as I've not been there. Know quite a few people who've seen violent action and are not troubled. Or are they?

Little bro retired after 40 years. Two combat tours in Nam. He's the same butt head he was before he went in.

I have no doubt that the same experience might mess up someone, but let's not give it more importance than it actually has.

I'm fortunate to be of an age to have known, and worked with vets of WWII and Korea. (Is it fortunate to be old?) Only one was "disturbed." He was a Ranger climbing the cliffs on Omaha Beach. Shall we say he was nervous? But they didn't come to take him away, haha, heehee.

I don't mean to make light of those who really suffer. All I'm saying is that we assign too much panic to the syndrome. Shades of global warming.
 
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Elennsar

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I think the problem is that for those it does mess up, it messes them up terribly.

Even if it's "only" 30% of Vietnam veterans and ?% of ACW veterans, that's a lot of misery.
 

ole

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I think the problem is that for those it does mess up, it messes them up terribly.

Even if it's "only" 30% of Vietnam veterans and ?% of ACW veterans, that's a lot of misery.
And the solution is?
 

thomas aagaard

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I'm not saying CW soldiers necessarily had it worse, but that I certainly think you're over generalizing and not really thinking this all through. The nature of the soldier's trauma might have been different, but it was there, and it often was daily. I just don't think it's right to assume either one was worse than the other.
Yes I am generalizing.

My main point is. From what I know about the topic. That is what I have read the last few years and what I know from being in the danish army (2006-08, but a knee injury in a soccermatch got in the way of my deployment to Afghanistan)
and following how we here in Denmark handle the problem - Then the killing is not main problem, and not something you can do anything about anyway. anxiety, stress and Lack of rest is.
So for a union infantry soldier (say from Maine)in the army of the Potomac in summer 1861- summer 64, he was not in combat for that many days. And for long periods (month) after a battle the armies pulled back to camp to resupplies, rest and refit. So this should help make the % of soldiers who get PTSD lower.
His home was not directly threatened. And yes there was the risk of disease, but people dying of disease or simply accidents was ore common back then, than today.
So I think that the % of men with that experience who had problems would be smaller than the % from a US infantry units who served for combat tour in Iraq or in Vietnam for that matter.
But we can of cause find cases where that is not true. Serving in the overland campaign and siege at Petersburg with daily combat and a daily risk.. Having family in the combat area. Just being on the csa side might have an effect. Likely had a clear negative effect.

But the basic problem is that we don't really know much about it when we are talking the civil war. And even today there are much that is not known about how and why some people gets PTSD and others don't.
So as you properly noticed, I use words like think, believe, likely... since this is just my opinion, that I really can't back up at this time.

And even if only 5% of all civil war soldiers ended up with problems, that still a lot of men.
(to pull a more or less random number, that I just know is lower than the % from the US army today)
 

John Hartwell

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I think it is no coincidence that after the Civil War, the roads of America were suddenly filled with rootless men ... wandering, homeless, unable to settle down or cope with 'normal' social interactions. It was the beginning of the era of the Tramp and Hobo. Continued up until the post-WWII era, and to a much lesser degree survives today.
 

james99

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I think it is no coincidence that after the Civil War, the roads of America were suddenly filled with rootless men ... wandering, homeless, unable to settle down or cope with 'normal' social interactions. It was the beginning of the era of the Tramp and Hobo. Continued up until the post-WWII era, and to a much lesser degree survives today.
The era of rugged individualism. There was no institutional structure in place or thought of creating anything to help the vets. If they were tough enough to charge enemy guns I suppose they thought, and everyone thought, they should be able to buck up and get on with their lives and move on. Any lingering trauma was probably viewed as weakness and perhaps viewed with contempt. Dorothea Dix had helped bring the issue of mental health and rehibilitation into the open but that was kind of limited. I bet there were a lot of victims after the war and a lot just took off riding the rails
 

Miles Krisman

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On the Confederate side......add the loss of friends and family to a cause that was now lost. Reconstruction and the loss of a way of life added to the stress of their memories of the horrors of war.

I believe the development of the "Lost Cause" glorification was an attempt on the Southerners part to reconcile their new reality with their memories of the past. It also helped their adjustment going forward, to believe that all their friends and relatives hadn't died in vain and "The South Would Rise Again".
 

Brendan

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So for a union infantry soldier (say from Maine)in the army of the Potomac in summer 1861- summer 64, he was not in combat for that many days.
Since we get to pick and choose who we're comparing, can I take "Iraq veteran" to mean a clerk who never left the green zone? Then again, even a boy from Maine had 99 problems you might be overlooking, and the same could be said for that clerk.

But the basic problem is that we don't really know much about it when we are talking the civil war.
At least we can agree on one thing.
 


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