Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Aaron Sheehan-Dean


Studying the Civil War soldier involves a quest to comprehend how they soldiers understood and managed their war experiences. Under the conditions of soldier life and the horrific violence of Civil War battles, mental trauma and suicide would not be unthinkable consequences. Union soldiers did commit suicide during the war, sometimes in response to the trauma of battle, hospital, or prison camp. However, suicide in fact was a very small percentage of casualties in the Union army, representing less than one percent of the losses during the war.;This thesis examines the dual nature of suicide in the Union army. On one hand, the transformation from civilian into soldier and the traumatic experiences related to military life greatly affected men. The first year of enlistment proved the most difficult, particularly for men between the ages of twenty-six and thirty. One hundred and one cases of suicide are analyzed both contextually and statistically in order to further understand the experience and decisions of the Civil War soldier. On the other hand, the low suicide rate suggests that most soldiers managed their war time experiences. Men relied on a "cultural toolbox" of religious beliefs, established methods of facing and mourning death, ideas about courage and masculinity, and ties to the civilian world to understand and act within their role as a soldier.;By focusing on suicide, the analysis centers on the possibility of failure in negotiating the experience of war, instead of the successes most historians have emphasized. In addition, instead of ideas such as liberty, freedom, and country, soldiers understood their experiences and persevered because of social norms and behaviors. The motivation for suicides as well as the support system which prevented them came from a soldier's interactions as a family and community member, as well as a part of a volunteer army fighting a war. Questions about life and death are not always grandiose; they can come from basic understandings of and connections to one's world. Soldiers felt the impact of both positive and negative influences; using suicide as a focal point allows for an examination of how soldiers negotiated trauma and wartime conditions to survive.