Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Jason Phillips

Committee Co-Chair

Katherine Aaslestad

Committee Member

Jeffrey Daniels

Committee Member

Brian Luskey

Committee Member

Aaron Sheehan-Dean


"War on the Mind: Trauma and Coping in the Union Army," is a work of social, cultural, and military history and examines experiences of mental trauma in the Union Army during the war and among veterans in the post-war period. Without our modern definition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Civil War soldiers had a very different view of how they were mentally experiencing the war. By looking at soldier accounts and the records of insane asylums it is clear that soldiers did have experiences of trauma and insanity during or related to their wartime service. However, those same asylum records, as well as medical and military policies and pension records, reveal that nineteenth-century Americans---doctors, military personnel, and the soldiers themselves---interpreted insanity as produced by physical or moral causes, not by the horrible experiences of warfare. My research analyzes official forms of treatment and diagnosis in the military and medical fields during the war as well as strategies of coping developed by the soldiers themselves. In the post-war period, the medical and social perceptions of insanity did not change drastically. Instead, society and the government distributed aid and support based on the same foundation of physical and moral causation as during the war. As a result of these continued perceptions of insanity, veterans' organizations and commemorations served as a coping mechanism in addition to the political and social purposes already studied by historians. At the same time that veterans' organizations, such as the Grand Army of the Republic, acted to commemorate their participation in the war and push for veterans' benefits in the post-war period, these groups also provided veterans support systems that helped those struggling to survive and those struggling with their wartime experiences. By looking at both the wartime and post-war periods, this research demonstrates that the Civil War, which sparked great transformations in many areas, did not significantly change the study and care of the insane. Instead, the prevailing culture of nineteenth-century America---including notions of masculinity, standards of social behavior, and beliefs about society's relationship with the government--- hindered the acceptance of the idea that the horrific experience of war might itself affect soldiers.