Aberration of MindSuicide and Suffering in the Civil War-Era South

Aberration of MindSuicide and Suffering in the Civil War-Era South

Diane Miller Sommerville

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9781469643304

Publisher: University of North Carolina Press

Abstract

Aberration of Mind is a social history of suicide in the American South during the Civil War era. The book casts a wide net, focusing on Confederate soldiers and veterans and their families, and the enslaved and newly freed. The central question is, how did the Civil War and the suffering it generated shape suicidal thoughts and behavior? The author seeks to understand how the suffering experienced by southerners living in a war zone contributed to psychological distress that, in extreme cases, led southerners to contemplate or act on suicidal thoughts. The unprecedented human toll the war took on southerners created a psychological crisis that has not been fully explored. Drawing on sources like letters, diaries, military service records, coroners’ reports, and asylum patient case histories, the work recovers myriad stories, previously hidden, of individuals exhibiting suicidal activity or aberrant psychological behavior linked to the war and its aftermath. In addition to expanding our understanding of the full human costs of the Civil War, the book concludes that southerners transformed the meaning of suicide from an act of cowardice to a heroic symbol of white southern identity. The book fills a neglected niche in an otherwise crowded field of Civil War scholarship – the psychological impact of war and defeat on southerners.