Historical Association of Tobyhanna Township

HATT | PO Box 2084 | Pocono Pines, PA 18350-2084

History prof to talk on PTSD in Civil War vets

By David Pierce
Pocono Record Writer

Battle-tested Union Civil War soldiers suffered painful post-war memories, just as modern soldiers do today.

But people of the late 19th Century didn’t call it post-traumatic stress disorder — or PTSD. If there was a term for it at all, people commonly called the painful flashbacks “nervous heart” or “nostalgia,” Northampton Community College history professor Brian Alnutt said.

Brian Alnutt (Melissa Evanko/Pocono Record)

Brian Alnutt
“A lot of vets — they suffered quietly with no real assistance,” said Alnutt, who will speak in Tobyhanna Township this morning about Union soldiers' re-entry into civilian life.

“It wasn’t defined very well back then. They didn't have today's psychological language,” he said.

Civil War soldiers knew all too well that war is hell, Alnutt said.

Only one out of four soldiers served in support roles, with the vast majority fighting in direct combat. Today there are three troops serving in support roles for every American in direct combat in Afghanistan.

More Civil War soldiers died of diseases like dysentery, or fevers, than combat wounds. Yet war wounds and deaths occurred on a massive scale. Painful amputations of limbs was normal.

“They would have seen things that were unimaginable,” Alnutt said.

After the war, there was no Veterans Affairs to help assimilate former troops into civilian life, he said.

“It was, ‘Now you’re back in society and you have to be aggressive and help yourself,’ language like that,” Alnutt said. “You could sum it up as, ‘Be a man.’ ”

Their sacrifices were celebrated, however.

In July 1865, Stroudsburg held a torchlight parade, reception and fireworks for returning soldiers. They were given certificates for free meals at local restaurants.

“The problem was all the vets weren’t back by then,” Alnutt said.

Hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers were mustered out of the service between June and November, reducing the size of the army from more than a million to 55,000.

“A lot of people feared an army takeover," Alnutt said. “They really feared a large standing army. They feared it might become non-democratic.”

Soldiers’ homes were formed soon after the war for the physically disabled.

“The government tried to make it not a stigma,” Alnutt said. “But there was a real stigma then about charitable things. They thought it was a real version of the poor house.”

Those homes were eventually expanded to take in all Civil War vets during their old age.

Alnutt will deliver a 40-minute talk at 10:15 a.m. today on “Off to War and Coming Home.” The event, sponsored by the Historical Association of Tobyhanna Township, takes place at the Lake Naomi clubhouse, 135 Miller Drive, Pocono Pines.

The talk, financially supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and several regional libraries, historical societies and school districts, is free and open to the public.