Thursday, July 21, 2011

Learning to Recognize Mental Illness in Civil War Soldiers

I have written before on the physical and mental health effects in Civil War soldiers and veterans exposed to the horrors of combat (see here, for example) and my next two "Medical Department" columns for the Civil War News will add to this: one on nostalgia, or homesickness, and another on suicides.

Most Civil War surgeons and physicians entered wartime service holding conventional, even primitive, ideas about the nature of psychological illness, but a wartime letter I recently added to my collection shows that surgeons began to recognize these invisible wounds of war

Dr. Thomas Crosby was an 1841 graduate of Dartmouth College who during the war was chief of the Union Army's Columbian General Hospital in Washington, D.C., and after the war returned to join the faculty at his alma mater.

In this 1864 letter he writes to a colonel that one of his patients had a disease "rather mental and moral than physical" and that he did not recommend releasing the soldier from the hospital.

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