When Jeremiah (“Jerry”) Watson Tallman (1841-1916) and his cousin John D. Brown of Miller county, Missouri, enlisted to serve together in Co. F, 1st Missouri Light Artillery Volunteers, they had no idea what hardships they would face and what horrific scenes of carnage they might witness on the battlefields their regiment would participate in. These battles included Shiloh (April 6–7, 1862), Corinth (April 29 – May 30, 1862), Prairie Grove (December 7, 1862) and the Siege of Vicksburg (May 18 – July 4, 1863). Some soldiers coped with these scenes better than others. Those who did not often developed the symptoms of what we now call post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—surely as common during the American Civil War as modern day wars, though perhaps less well documented.
There are two connected letters transcribed and posted here. From the first letter, written by Jerry Tallman, we learn that his cousin John Brown “became insane at Vicksburg” and was subsequently sent to the Government-operated insane asylum for the treatment of soldiers in Washington D. C. In the second letter, Dr. Charles Henry Nichols—the superintendent of the Insane Asylum (later called St. Elizabeth’s Hospital)—responds to Tallman’s letter describing Brown’s psychotic symptoms and the progress of his recovery. From family records, we know that Brown was discharged in July 1864, and returned to Miller County where he married in 1866.
Charles Henry Nichols was one of the most famous U. S. psychiatrists of the 19th century, and, in addition to founding or running multiple psychiatric institutions (including St. Elizabeths in WDC), served as president of what became the American Psychiatric Association.
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]
Point Isabelle, Texas
December 13th 1863
To the Superintendent of the Soldier’s Military Insane Asylum
I am informed that my cousin, John D. Brown, of Co. F, 1st Mo. Light Artillery, who became insane at Vicksburg, Mississippi, has been sent to Washington City and is in your charge. He left Vicksburg on the 14th of September. His mother and sisters and myself are anxious to hear from him. You will oblige us by letting us know how he is and if he is in condition to read a letter, please give him the one enclosed. His sister I presume has written to you. Her address is Oakhurst, Miller county, MO.
Your obedient servant,
J. W. Tallman
Co. F, 1st MO Light Artillery
1st Brigade, 2nd Division
13th Army Corps, Dept. of the Gulf
Hanna M. Brown
Oakhurst, Miller county, Missouri
or both if you can spare the time. — J. W. Tallman
Government Hospital for the Insane
near Washington D. C.
February 10, 1864
John D. Brown, Private, Co. F, 1st Mo. Light Artillery admitted September 24, 1863. At first & for some time he was emaciated, filthy & constantly talking about the Indians who he thought troubled him in various ways—particularly at night. He has steadily but slowly improved & is now neat in his habits & has ceased to manifest any delusions or hallucinations. He is still dreaming & a little wandering in his mind. We hope for his full recovery. He might now return to his home with advantage if some near friend or relative could accompany him.
We have written to his friends in Mo.
Yours &c. — C. H. Nichols