PTSD During The Civil War

33rdVaCoB

Private
Joined
Dec 10, 2014
Hello everyone, I was just thinking about how ptsd effects military personnel today in the modern Era, but how did it effect soldiers during and after the Civil War. I can only think what it was like for the boys who where no older the 13 or the men who had never killed some one . Especially since many of the battles where fought up close and personal. So is there any resources that describes how ptsd effected the men in the armies ?
 

Booner

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
May 4, 2015
Location
Boonville, MO.
I would think it was worse then than what we have today. Was such a thing like PTSD or "Battle Fatigue" even recognized then? And what help was there for the men who suffered from it? The field of Medicine was still in it's infancy at this time, much less mental health. I would assume the use of alcohol was probably higher then than it is now. Thank God that we have a better understanding of mental health and how to treat it now and don't view someone with mental problems like they did 150 years ago.
 

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
You don't only get PTSD from seeing bad things. A central issue is stress.
Being in danger effect the brain and make it harder to relax. The longer you are in danger the longer it take to get back to normal.
And if you are in danger for too long a period the brain gets altered permanently.

So soldiers who on a daily basic walks patrols in Iraq/Afghanistan (or Vietnam for that matter) can get combat stress, even if they never get into combat or loss any friends to IEDs... simply by being in danger.

Also In the experience of the modern Danish military, the best way to deal with it when the soldiers get home from Afghanistan, is getting them back into a very structures daily life, where there are few surprises and a lot of physical activities, since that makes it easier to sleep.
This is pretty much how army life was during the civil war, when not on active campaigns.

So having a few weeks of lots of marching, and a day or two of combat, and then back into camp for weeks or month was very likely helpful in dealing with the combat stress... compared to danger day after day after day... than is more the norm with western military campaigns as seen since 9/11.

Note Iam not arguing that they didn't get PTSD, but that there where structures in how the war was fought that helped.
Obviously from summer of 1864 things changed in the east.
 

Don Dixon

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 24, 2008
Location
Fairfax, VA, USA
Was such a thing like PTSD or "Battle Fatigue" even recognized then? And what help was there for the men who suffered from it?

It was referred to as "Soldiers' disease," although I don't believe that the causation was understood and there certainly was no organized help for it. As Thomas pointed out a central issue in PTSD or combat fatigue is long term stress. The tempo of battle was different in the Civil War, which may have reduced some of the impact of psychological casualties. Except for the Overland Campaign, the Atlanta Campaign, and the Sieges of Vicksburg and Petersburg one generally didn't have combat going on for days or weeks at a time with no breaks. Former soldiers self medicated: opiates and cocaine were uncontrolled and commonly available over the counter in various formulations. Up until the closure of the West, there was a significant wave of western migration after each of America's wars - the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War - I've often wondered if some of that wasn't a degree of self medication as well, but I don't know how you could document it.
 

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
Up until the closure of the West, there was a significant wave of western migration after each of America's wars - the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War - I've often wondered if some of that wasn't a degree of self medication as well, but I don't know how you could document it.
A Danish officer/author called Dinesen* served as a LT in the Danish army in 1864 when he was 18.
Including being a platoon commander during the main fight At Dybbøl. (he wrote a book about his experience, just as his father had done about his service in 1848-50, and in north Africa with the French)

He then in 1870 traveled to France and joined them against the North German federation.
He served on a staff, but this did included messenger duty to units in combat.
The force he was part of was pushed into Switzerland where he gave his word that he would not escape and rejoined the fighting.

So he "escaped" but went to Paris to write about what was happening. So he documented the Paris commune and watched how it was suppressed... in a horrible bloodshed, he called the worst he ever saw. (Published a book about it in 1873)

After the Franco-Prussian war he moved first to Nebraska but ended up in Wisconsin, and spend most of 73 and 74 living by himself, but did have a close relationship with a local tribe. (and he wrote about it)

He wrote that he had a sickness in the soul, from taking part in the two wars, being a spectator to the civil war in Paris.. and he just gave up and traveled to America.

In late 1874 he returned to Denmark and took over his fathers estate.
In 1885 he hanged himself.

So this is one example of just trying to get away from everything... because of a sickness in the soul.

Iam sure plenty of veterans tried the same after the civil war. (just like it unfortunately happens to day)

But yes, It would be a hard and every labor intensive job to actually document if this was common.
One would need to prove that a veteran was more likely to move west than a none veteran.
Everything else being equal.


*(the father of author Karen Blixen and Victoria Cross winner Thomas Dinesen)
 
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rpkennedy

Lt. Colonel
Member of the Year
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May 18, 2011
Location
Carlisle, PA
I'm fairly certain that two of my ancestors suffered some sort of PTSD after the war ended. My great x3 grandfather Patrick was married with four children when he enlisted in a heavy artillery regiment in the winter of 1863-4. He saw heavy action with the Army of the Potomac throughout the Overland and Valley Campaigns (about 300 casualties between Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, another 100 at Petersburg, and 100 more at Cedar Creek). When he returned home, he crawled into a bottle for the rest of his life. He was abusive to his wife who divorced him, he remarried and had another three children but continued his abuse of his family until he died penniless in a gutter at 48 in 1879.

Patrick's brother, Andrew, enlisted in May 1861 at the age of 19 along with his close friend. He served in the Army of the Potomac and its predecessor until May 1863 when his enlistment ran out (he had been heavily engaged during the Seven Days, South Mountain, and Second Fredericksburg). He didn't return home but instead enlisted in a newly forming cavalry regiment and served until the end of the war (the regiment suffered about 200 casualties from October 1863-April 1865). When he got home, he had a great deal of trouble returning to regular life. According to family accounts, he hated crowds and loud noises and eventually moved to Idaho before 1870. He spent years there, before moving into a veteran's home in the late 1880s. Eventually, he began making his way back to New York, staying at various veteran's homes in Wisconsin, Ohio, and New York before moving into his sister's home around 1910. He died in 1915, leaving everything to his sister since he never married and is buried with her and her husband.

Perhaps some of this had to do with their experiences during the war but one can't discount the devastation in the family. Their youngest brother to serve was mortally wounded at the Salient at Spotsylvania at the age of 17. Andrew's best friend, with whom he enlisted, was killed as a first sergeant in one of the early assaults at Petersburg (his friend's sister was Patrick's second wife). It's impossible to diagnose from 150 years apart but it's also difficult not to look at how the war changed these men and how there are similarities to what more modern soldiers have experienced.

Ryan
 

29thWisCoG

Corporal
Joined
Apr 12, 2021
Thanks for posting that book reference, I was looking for something like that and ordered it.

I have often wondered what type of emotional trauma my gg-grandfather suffered after his 3 years of service. My initial thoughts are he came home and was welcomed back to his hometown in Wisconsin as a war hero, along with all the other Union soldiers returning home. He soon married after mustering out, and did quite well for himself until his death in 1907, he owned some farm land and fathered 9 children.

However, he did see some horrific events in the battles he fought during his service (Champion Hill, Siege of Vicksburg, Mansfield), I have often wondered what type of emotional anguish he endured. There was no therapist back then to help sort it all out, I assume you just kept a stiff upper lip and kept pushing forward through life, or turned to other measures to deal with it. I will never know, but somehow he worked through it all.
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
I read a series of sad letters I found online some years ago, written by a Union veteran who had turned to alcohol to chase away what he called his "shadows." In order to save his family from the shame and humiliation he felt his drunkenness brought on them, he went to California and worked as a painter, sending money, when he had it, back to his wife in the East. In every letter he wrote about the profound love he had for his wife and their children and apologises for the life she is forced to lead because of his "weakness."
 

Story

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Location
SE PA
Working from memory here, but I thought deCosta conducted about 700 interviews.
"Soon after the end of the American Civil War, Dr. Jacob Mendez Da Costa*, a Philadelphia physician, reported evidence linking what we now term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Based on analysis of 300 soldiers in a dedicated hospital in wartime Philadelphia, Da Costa's report may have been the first ever example of a modern “big data” clinical study. Da Costa termed the relationship “soldiers heart ” or “irritable heart,” More recently, this relationship has been described in different groups of combat veterans and civilians with PTSD. Until very recently, there was no biological evidence to link PTSD to CVD. However, the possibility of a genetic mechanism for the link was recently raised by twin studies from the Viet Nam Era Twin (VET) Registry. This study showed that if both twins had PTSD, the risk of CVD was doubled in both twins. Strikingly, the increased risk was unrelated to smoking, blood lipids, obesity or lack of exercise. By contrast, no significantly increased
familial risk for Type II diabetes could be found in the same cohort.. Together, these epidemiological and experimental data suggest that a hitherto unknown genetic mechanism might be responsible for the link between PTSD and CVD."

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5033971/

*See also https://www.civilwarmed.org/jacob-mendes-da-costa/
 

randy596

Corporal
Joined
Jun 16, 2013
Location
Georgia
My 2xg-grandfather, Ransom B Myers from family history sounded like he had PTSD. And please give me some
slack on this since I'm not by any means an expert on the subject. He was 18 when he enlisted and
ended up in Co. A, 23 Infantry Regiment, NC, Iverson's Brigade, Gettysburg, July 1.
He was wounded and captured and spent the rest of the war POW. Family talk about him was he drank
a "little too much", but lived to be 85 years old. I don't think the family knew anything about the effects of what
the war or specifically that engagement could do to a farmer's kid.
 

rbhyland

Cadet
Joined
Jan 24, 2020
This paragraph is from a Smithsonian article:
These conditions contributed to what Civil War doctors called “nostalgia,” a centuries-old term for despair and homesickness so severe that soldiers became listless and emaciated and sometimes died. Military and medical officials recognized nostalgia as a serious “camp disease,” but generally blamed it on “feeble will,” “moral turpitude” and inactivity in camp. Few sufferers were discharged or granted furloughs, and the recommended treatment was drilling and shaming of “nostalgic” soldiers—or, better yet, “the excitement of an active campaign,” meaning combat.​
The whole article is here:
 

Arnie Slater

Private
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
As a college student in the early 90's I wrote a psychology paper on PTSD. I wanted to know the reality of it compared to what is often portrayed in film. After reading stacks of books about WWI,II, Korea, and Vietnam and noted cases of PTSD across them all... WWI was noted as some of the worst...1, because of the constant stress, lack of down time, and lack of medical awareness of the psychological damage it causes. Vietnam was significant because of the shortness of tours and the dramatic shift from being on the battlefield and then suddenly you are on a plane and home stateside...that shift is traumatic. I can only imagine the effect that being at The Crater or Gettysburg....being next to firing cannons all day....would do. Psychology wasn't even considered in those days. It was literally....adjust or die.That is probably why desertions were so common.
 

Trooper "D"

Private
Joined
May 20, 2018
Hello everyone, I was just thinking about how ptsd effects military personnel today in the modern Era, but how did it effect soldiers during and after the Civil War. I can only think what it was like for the boys who where no older the 13 or the men who had never killed some one . Especially since many of the battles where fought up close and personal. So is there any resources that describes how ptsd effected the men in the armies ?
"Well don't make him ask you.
Don't make him beg.
He was a war hero
And that's how he hurt his leg.
He killed 30 injuns,
With one cannonball
Now hes just an old hobo,
Asleep out in the hall..."
The Hobo Song off of Old and in the Way.
 

Trooper "D"

Private
Joined
May 20, 2018
Hello everyone, I was just thinking about how ptsd effects military personnel today in the modern Era, but how did it effect soldiers during and after the Civil War. I can only think what it was like for the boys who where no older the 13 or the men who had never killed some one . Especially since many of the battles where fought up close and personal. So is there any resources that describes how ptsd effected the men in the armies ?
As a victim of PTSD I think having support from family and friends and time calms down the effects of PTSD. That feeling of fight or flight doesn't go away and people gooz down a huge amount of alcohol and still remain on their feet. Just more confused and ******. Alcohol is the worst thing for PTSD but of its all that is available that's what gets used.
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
Rufus Dawes, of Gettysburg fame, and who wrote the excellent book, "Service With The Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers," was said to suffer from PTSD, but he mentions the support of his wife and her encouragement to write down all his experiences. Getting stuff on paper is actually a good way to get it out of your mind sometimes. They offered to make Dawes a General if he would reenlist when his time was up, but he makes clear in his book why he was done.
 
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