They came home from war scarred.
Some drank too much. Others beat their wives.
They fought mental illnesses. Many became homeless or committed suicide.
And it happened a full century before most U.S. citizens had even heard of Vietnam.
The soldiers Brian Matthew Jordan has studied as he finishes his doctoral dissertation at Yale are Civil War veterans who re-entered society as marked men.
The dissertation he is finishing this summer will be published under the title Embattled Memories by W.W. Norton & Co. in 2015, he said.
“It is an untouched field,” said Jordan, a 26-year-old Tallmadge native and the son of Ralph and Terri Jordan. He wrote his first history book at the age of 16, a biography of the 14th U.S. president called Triumphant Mourner: The Tragic Dimension of Franklin Pierce.
Last year, his book on the Battle of South Mountain, which took place three days before the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, called Unholy Sabbath, was published.
Jordan, who lives in Gettysburg, Pa., with his wife, Allison, teaches history at Gettysburg College as an adjunct professor of Civil War studies. He received his undergraduate degree at the college.
He visited 75 different archives in 30 states as he researched the transition Civil War soldiers faced after the war ended.
Now called post-traumatic stress disorder, soldiers coming home from the Civil War with mental issues were said to have Soldier’s Heart or Battle Fever, Jordan said.
Putting the finishing touches on the dissertation and book this summer in the city of Gettysburg — on the 150th anniversary of the historic battle that happened July 1-3, 1863 — is somewhat surreal, he said.
“You can’t help but appreciate the history that is all around you,” Jordan said.
The reason there has not been much research into the way the Civil War affected its veterans, Jordan said, “is the archives are kind of hard to find. It takes a lot of investigative work to get them out and get their stories told.”
The story Jordan will tell, he said, “is a much darker Civil War story than I think most people realize. The prevalence of problems for returning veterans is much greater than we ever imagined.”
Every soldier “was inexorably altered by the Civil War. They couldn’t help but be transformed by the scenes they had seen and smelled,” he said. There was little done to help the veterans, and northern civilians were “less than hospitable to returning veterans.”
Jordan said the government did “next to nothing,” except for a Pension Bureau and Soldiers’ Homes.
He said he got the idea of researching how the Civil War veterans were treated and lived after being involved in various Civil War roundtables and meeting J. Gary Dillon of Akron, who interviewed surviving Civil War veterans decades ago.
“He told stories about what it was like to meet these veterans. I filed that away and thought of it as a dissertation topic,” Jordan said.
Dillon, 83, a retired optician, is vice president of the Tallmadge Civil War Society and a longtime member of the Cuyahoga Valley Civil War Roundtable.
“I give him a lot of credit,” Dillon said of Jordan and his Civil War research and understanding. “This young man is unbelievable. He is remarkable. I’ve met a lot of them in my lifetime, but none is exactly like Brian Jordan.
Dillon said he met three Civil War veterans: John Grate of Atwater Township, Alvin Smith of Akron and Albert Woolson of Minnesota.
One story Jordan uncovered dealt with Joseph Lapp, an Ohioan who lived at a Soldiers’ Home at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
“He was hopelessly insane,” Jordan said of Lapp. “He refused to live in the barracks and pitched a tent on the property, and in a fit of rage would uproot the flowers and flower beds. He lived his life in his tent well into the 20th century.”
Another soldier, Jordan said, wore his blue Union Army uniform as he sprawled himself across tracks of an East Coast railroad and “waited for the locomotive to crush his body”
Jordan called it “pathetic irony” that so many veterans longed for home during their days in battle.
“They returned home, and home is something new to them,” he said.
Jordan said he believes “we don’t want to think of war as ugly and its devastating consequences.” But these soldiers came home, wanting someone to listen to them, and they discovered “that the rest of their lives they are living with the shadow of what happened when they were 21 and 23.”
He said being in Gettysburg for the 150th anniversary is “somewhat frustrating” as he “sees the celebratory atmosphere of the Civil War. We don’t have a broader public understanding of how traumatic those four years were.”
Various historical accounts put the death toll from the Civil War at about 620,000 soldier deaths. Jordan said Gettysburg was the largest and most deadly battle, accounting for about 51,000 casualties over three days.
A century and a half later, thousands of veterans are dealing with many of the same post-war issues. Of the more than 1.6 million service members who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than 286,000 had been treated for PTSD through the end of 2012, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Congress designated June as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month to help foster a greater understanding of many veterans’ day-to-day lives.
Jordan said the Civil War “was an unprecedented war, and there was not a lot of empathy” for veterans. People simply were not “connecting the dots that this is what war does to people.”
To contact Jordan, email email@example.com.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.