Thursday, March 25, 2010

"A Perfect Horror"

There are all too many stories of Union and Confederate veterans who couldn’t seem to shake off their experiences in America’s bloodiest, ugliest, deadliest and most personal war. During WWI, doctors diagnosed a condition known as “shell shock”; WWII doctors named it “battlefield fatigue”. It wasn’t until the latter part of the twentieth century that we called it “post-traumatic stress syndrome”.

Confederate soldier John M. Copley was captured during the battle for Franklin, Tennessee, and sent to Camp Douglas, a Federal prison camp near Chicago. He spent the rest of the war there with 12,000 prisoners on seventy acres surrounded by twelve-foot walls and armed guards. Twice a day at gunpoint, Copley and the others lined up in front of a barred window with a small opening to receive their daily ration.

“Stepping up to the cashier's window in a National bank to cash a check very forcibly reminds one of going up to these crumb holes at Camp Douglas, to receive our kitchen hash or slop,” Copley recalled forty years later.

Some veterans were crippled for life by the effects of their wartime memories. Copley became a successful businessman in Texas, but he could never escape the memory of his time in a POW camp.

“I have a perfect horror for these openings or windows, and I dislike the very thought of stepping up in front of these seeming crumb holes in National banks. To see them in the banks makes me feel like I am back within that prison barrack every time I enter a bank.”

(From A Sketch of the Battle of Franklin, Tenn ; with reminiscences of Camp Douglas, by John M. Copley; Eugene Von Boeckmann, printer; Austin, Tex., 1893.)

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