April’s After-Action Report

Thank you, Vicki Brouwer, for this report on our April meeting:

“Our April Round Table presenter provided interesting information regarding Central States Hospital and the condition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as experienced by Civil War veterans. Bob Houghtalen, with an education and career steeped in history, is the author of two books, A Hoosier in Andersonville (2013) and I Am A Good Ol’ Rebel: Biography and Civil War Account of Confederate Brigadier General William H. F. Payne (2016).

Bob’s great-great-grandfather, Erastus Holmes, is the subject of the A Hoosier in Andersonville book. Erastus was a sergeant in the 5th Cavalry (90th Regiment) Indiana Volunteers and his Civil War and post-war Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder issues prompted Bob to explore the methods families and communities used to address mental health issues experienced by returning veterans.

Doctors had no real treatment plans for returning veterans who were emotionally scarred by the relentless traumas experienced during combat. The hours of mental anxiety anticipating the battles, home sickness, disease, peril-filled letters from home, and on-going physical strain due to excessive marching and physical labor, all exacted a physical and emotional toll. The fact that doctors had little or no medical or family histories of the returning soldiers further complicated their care.

Many states had created “asylums” prior to the beginning of the Civil War. Indiana’s Central State Hospital was completed in 1848 and, along with the Central Hospital in Washington, D. C., was one of the largest such facilities in the North.

While Central State Hospital was initially built for short-term stays, Bo’s ancestor remained in the facility for twenty-five years. As doctors did not know how to treat PTSD, patients were typically housed with the treatment plan of “we’ll observe them and send them home.” Often, upon their return home, the returning veterans committed crimes or committed suicide.   Many veterans found themselves being committed numerous times. Small communities had little, or no, resources to address the veterans’ emotional needs and would often incarcerate them. Central State Hospital required a statement from the town officials that the community had neither the money nor the means to provide the necessary care.

Erastus received a pension of $12.00 per month and that request had to be renewed each year. As written verification of military service and disability was required for the issuance of a pension, many veterans did not receive a pension or did not do so until after 1900. Erastus’ pension was paid to his daughter who used it to pay for his care at Central State.

Central State is one of three hospitals that kept records when the hospital closed. Bob cautioned that the handwriting makes researching the documents extremely challenging. He also noted that there are no pension records for soldiers who fought for the Confederacy.

Erastus’ mental issues prompted him to build a large model of Andersonville prison in the backyard of his daughter and son-in-law’s home in Indianapolis. He would invite people passing by to “tour” the prison and, in his later years, he would talk of little but Andersonville and “Sherman’s coming to rescue me.”

While there is a cemetery on the grounds of the Central State Hospital, Erastus Holmes was buried in the family’s plot in Franklin, Indiana.

After his remarks, Bob showed Erastus’ Civil War cap and other memorabilia that the family has kept through the generations. The family also possesses Erastus’ diary which he gave, while in Andersonville prison, to a man from New York. The recipient of the diary endeavored to return it to the family and Bob used the diary as a foundation for the book, A Hoosier in Andersonville.”

Contact information for Bob Houghtalen: houghtalen3@aol.com

Joanne Case, from the Manchester Symphony Orchestra, joined us to let us know about their upcoming Civil War Letters Concert scheduled for Monday, Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the Cordier Auditorium under Manchester University. The program is inspired by letters written by Civil War soldier Tyler Houghtaling. $15 tickets, free for children 18 and younger. For additional information, contact Joanne at 260-901-0277 or jjgcase@gmail.com.

Denise Stroup, a member of the CWRTNEI, has graciously donated about 50 books from the collection of her husband, John. We will raffle or auction them off at our meetings. Thank you, Denise! John loved reading Civil War books and this is a great way to keep his memory alive.

There were 20 members and guests at the April meeting.

 

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