What do we know about PTSD and moral lnjury from the American Revolutionary War?

by | Feb 15, 2014

Please support my mission of helping families who suffer from PTSD and moral injury…order my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story.  Click and order paperback or download Kindle version.  Buy my book at BarnesandNoble as well… Thank you! Steve Sparks, Author

Taken from the Sons of the American Revolution Facebook page…

PTSD throughout American History…BY  | NOVEMBER 11, 2013 

“Revolutionary War: In the 1700s, PTSD was called nostalgia. A French surgeon described it as having three stages: 1) “heightened excitement and imagination,” 2) “period of fever and prominent gastrointestinal symptoms,” and 3) “frustration and depression” (Bentley, 2005). Not much was written about the effects of the war on soldiers. But they had to have suffered emotionally. These men fought for the freedom of their country in conditions where they didn’t have the resources needed to keep them warm, dry, and fed. Many died from starvation and exposure. Yet after the war, when they returned to civilian life, they were forgotten. The new nation couldn’t even afford to pay them.”

Suffering in Silence…

Soldiers facing death, 1861
Photo: Library of Congress

Psychological Disorders and Soldiers in the American Civil War

Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

“The first mentions of symptoms correlated with PTSD dates back three thousand years ago; four thousand years before it would be clinically recognized. Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics depicted the emotions and fears soldiers felt while in combat. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote, in 480 B.C, of a Spartan soldier who was taken off the front lines due to his trembling and later took his own life in shame.6 In the seventeenth century any disorder associated with depression or changes in personality was termed melancholy or nostalgia. Symptoms similar to PTSD were called Soldier’s Heart and Da Costa Syndrome during the mid and late nineteenth century.7 The catalyst for the recognition of PTSD was the outbreak of World War One. The Great War had some of the worst casualties in human history as a result of revolutionary weaponry that redefined warfare. The psychological effects of this war were often seen in the returning veterans as many experienced involuntary ticks and shook unaccountably.8 This later would be termed Shell Shock.”

PTSD on the Frontier… 

January 12, 2012 by Frances Hunter
George Rogers Clark and the Defense of Fort Harrod in 1777, by Frederick Yohn
“For decades to come, frontiersmen were often characterized as hard-drinking, violent, and anti-social, as well as restless and always ready to move on to the next frontier. It would be interesting to know to what degree PTSD played a role in these aspects of life in the early American West. In any case, dealing with traumatized people would have simply been part of life for William Clark (and later, during his many years on the frontier, Meriwether Lewis). Who knows — it’s even possible PTSD may have played a role in the alcoholism and lack of focus that characterized the post-war years of George Rogers Clark.”
PTSD song…video music clip… click this YouTube link… Powerful and healing!


I just joined Sons of the American Revolution Facebook page!  I love history and have written in the past about “Soldiers Heart,” the term used for PTSD during the American Civil War.  I have also looked at the symptoms connected with war and trauma in the book, Odysseus in America…Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, by Jonathan Shay, which shows evidence of moral injury and PTSD in the time of Ancient Troy.  When we speak of the horrors of war and generations of pain in life after war, we now know without question how damaging war is to the moral fabric of society.

Please take quality time and learn more about how early America lived and coped with war and trauma by going to the above links.  If your interest in American history and ancestry is peaked with this introduction, join the Sons of the American Revolution Facebook page.  Staying in touch with our past is most helpful in connecting the dots to life today in the 21st Century.  It can also be healing and heartwarming to know that we have never been alone as survivors in life after trauma…

Steve Sparks
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story  click to order…

About the author

Steve Sparks is a retired information technology sales and marketing executive with over 35 years of industry experience, including a Bachelors’ in Management from St. Mary’s College. His creative outlet is as a non-fiction author, writing about his roots as a post-WWII US Navy military child growing up in the 1950s-1960s.
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