Civil War PTSD Along the Creek

The Farm has a connection to Civil War veterans: a son in the homesteading family married the daughter of a veteran. The families of that veteran and his brother-in-law, who was also a veteran, lived about four miles up the Creek where a major trail crossed the Kanaranzi. In fact, there was a cluster of about eight veterans and their families who lived in that area. This is all described in the blog post for May 5 called Civil War Trails and it even has some maps.

This portrait of Great-grandpa James Walker was taken at about the time that he joined the army. He carried this “mess kit” throughout his time in the service. It folds up into the wooden handle like a jack knife.

On August 14, 1862, James Walker and his brother-in-law, George Barnes, and a third friend, Miles Birkett, enlisted together we think at Dubuque, Iowa. Although they varied in age (20, 32, and 18 respectively), they all three signed up for a three year enlistment rather than the optional one hundred day alternative. And, they all joined the 32nd Iowa Infantry Regiment, although Barnes later moved to the 4th Iowa Calvary. Walker served as a courier attached to command headquarters and Birkett was a regimental drummer.

It’s unclear how these three came to know each other in Iowa because they all three had moved around a lot before that. Walker was born in Ireland, immigrated to the U.S. and lived in Ohio for a time before settling in Iowa. Barnes was born in Vermont, came west as a child, and also ended up in Iowa. Birkett was born in Canada, immigrated to the U.S. and lived in Illinois before moving to Iowa.

These shared histories of mobility before the Civil War and the long enlistment periods during the war are attributes shared by other Civil War veterans who settled in clusters or colonies after the war in South Dakota (Hackemer, 2019).

But, there is another hallmark of veterans who lived in these clusters: they usually had seen substantial military action or had been wounded. One way to get a handle on wartime experiences is to find the specific outfit listed in Fox’s Regimental Losses in the American Civil War also known as Three Hundred Fighting Regiments (Hackemer, 2017). It’s available online and does include the 32ND Iowa Infantry. So, it’s very possible that the three Civil War veterans who homesteaded on Kanaranzi Creek had difficult wartime experiences and may have had some degree of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

We now know that “battle fatigue” and “shell shock” were probably some of the more extreme expressions of PTSD that came out of later wars. But, after Viet Nam we began to recognize that those deep emotional scars may also be expressed in more subtle behavior patterns like alcoholism and domestic violence. And, it is often the families of these wounded warriors who end up caring for their loved ones even if some forms of institutional help might be available. This was especially true after the Civil War.

Our three veterans mustered out on August 24, 1865. And, before they took soldiers’ homesteads along the Kanaranzi in 1871, they all three were married in Franklin County, Iowa. So, they were family men. Although there are no stories pointing to clear PTSD symptoms, the Barnes family always blamed George’s premature death on what he experienced in the war. We do know that he was receiving some sort of disability payments. His young wife was left with two small children and a farm to run. Who knows what subtle behavior in the other two families may also have been expressions of combat trauma?

This is Great-grandpa Walker as an aged Civil War veteran along with his favorite book of poems. Did they remind him of wartime experiences or did they help him to forget?

This past weekend we celebrated Independence Day. Remember the movie Born on the Fourth of July? Google it, if you don’t recall the institutional failures it describes for Viet Nam veterans. In the early 1930s there was a march on Washington by World War I veterans trying to collect benefits promised by the government. And, there have been many difficulties getting PTSD formally recognized as a disability.

We should never forget that it is the families of our military personnel who end up on the front lines of dealing the physical and emotional fallout of service. We should honor those families who take up the slack when the institutional help is inadequate or nonexistent.

About Lone Tree Farm on Kanaranzi Creek

Recovering academic, earth scientist in phased retirement, farm manager by default, son, husband, father, grandfather.
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1 Response to Civil War PTSD Along the Creek

  1. margshurr says:

    Interesting. The photos are great. I wonder how many other cluster homesteaders had served together and did these three guys know any of the others before they landed in their respective areas.


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