Authored by Megan Fritche
In 1862, eighteen-year-old Silas S. Auchmoedy was mustered into the 120th New York Volunteers as a private (Lyon 1904). In October of 1862, just three months later, he was promoted as corporal officer (Lyon 1904). During Auchmoedy’s deployment, he wrote a series of letters home depicting the time he spent in battle. On July 20th, 1863, he wrote a letter describing the events he saw at the Battle of Gettysburg (Auchmoedy 1863), also known as the bloodiest single battle of conflict (American Battlefield Trust, n.d.). Within this letter are horrific descriptions of his experience on the battlefield. He writes about his experience running through a field as he underwent heavy fire, his gun so packed with filth that he had to bang it on a stone to get the bullet in. Most tragically, he depicts the screams from A.D. Stokes, “a first-rate fellow,” as a bullet ripped through his thigh. He had screamed to Auchmoedy, “O God, don’t leave me!” (Auchmoedy 1863, para. 1.20). Auchmoedy had not left him and carried Stokes to safety before rejoining his regiment (Auchmoedy 1863). War was not a time of peace, and though these men were regarded as heroes, they were also boys covered in the blood of their friends.
In the 21st century, veterans suffering from PTSD can turn to a multitude of government-funded agencies (US Department of Veteran Affairs, n.d.); however, boys like Auchmoedy would have faced PTSD in silence. PTSD has had many names over the last few centuries, from shell shock to combat fatigue; however, during the Civil War, it was known as nostalgia (Dean 1997). Nostalgia was first recorded in Switzerland as a form of homesickness (Rechsteiner 2019). During the Civil War, instances of nostalgia were recorded with soldiers; surgeons often labeled them as “worthless” and “cowardly” (Humanities 1861, under “Nostalgia”). While some only experienced excessive sadness, others would barricade themselves in rooms and experience hysteria and hallucination (Dean 1997). In Camp Douglas, a newspaper article stated that out of their 1400 sick prisoners, nostalgia was the largest cause of death (Humanities 1865). Cases of nostalgia often increase in those who receive infrequent letters from home (Gwynne 2019). There is evidence that Auchmoedy could have been suffering from nostalgia, as his later letters speak to the depression he felt when he would not receive a letter from his family (Hobbs 2021). In his letter, he states, “I tell you Mother, which will discourage a soldier more than to have folks at home say or think Well now I must write him today… they say well I will write tomorrow & so on. That is no way. Write often” (Hobbs 2021, para. 5.9-12).
Auchmoedy was just a child when sent to war. By the time he was released, he had been a reaper to death, captured in war, isolated from home, and covered in his friends’ blood. His bravery will forever be recorded in history books. However, these letters tell the story of a young boy who saw too much and was suffering in the silence of his trauma.
American Battlefield Trust. n.d. “Gettysburg.” Accessed February 15th, 2023. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/gettysburg#:~:text=The%20Battle%20of%20Gettysburg%20marked,single%20battle%20of%20the%20conflict.
Auchmoedy, Silas. 1863. Transcript of No. 47, Letter Dated July 28th, 1863, at Campe near Warrington. Silas S. Auchmoedy and Andrew Snyder Collection, MSS 255. Historic Huguenot Street Archives, New Paltz, New York.
Dean, Eric. 1997. Shook over Hell: Post-Traumatic Stress, Vietnam, and the Civil War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Gwynne, S. 2019. “Nostalgia in the Civil War.” Timeline. https://www.timelinesmagazine.com/publications/civil-war-courier/nostalgia-in-the-civil-war/article_7880dd3e-17a6-11ea-819c-3b6bb8b44921.html
Hobbs, Elizabeth. 2021. “Recording the Ruckus: Field Desks and Battlefield Administration.” The Gettysburg Compiler. https://gettysburgcompiler.org/2018/11/15/recording-the-ruckus-field-desks-and-battlefield-administration/
Humanities, National Endowment for the. 1861. “Daily Intelligencer. [Volume] (Wheeling, Va. [W. Va.]), 1859-1865, October 15, 1861, Image 2,” October 15, 1861. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026845/1861-10-15/ed-1/seq-2/.
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Lyon, James. 1904. Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1903. Albany, NY: State Legislative Printer.
Rechsteiner, Alexander. 2019. “Homesick for the Mountains.” Swiss National Museum Blog. Last modified January 30th, 2023. https://blog.nationalmuseum.ch/en/2019/09/homesick-for-the-mountains/
U.S. Department of Affairs. n.d. “PTSD.” Accessed February 15th, 2023. https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/ptsd/next-step.asp