"So Lonesome I Could Die" seeks to historicize the emotional effects of war by analysing debates over how to manage and treat nostalgia in the Civil War North. At this time, both physicians and laypeople viewed nostalgia (or homesickness) as a deadly disease that might kill a man outright, but more frequently precipitated or exacerbated other illnesses. Focusing on the emotional distress caused by soldiers' detachment from homes and families, this diagnosis stands in contrast to modern conceptions of war trauma, which emphasize the impact of participating in or witnessing horrific violence. Whereas the diagnosis of nostalgia generated little controversy in the mid-nineteenth century, there was no such consensus over the proper treatment of homesick troops. According to certain physicians and military leaders, the best curative lay in turning soldiers' thoughts away from home through harsh discipline and active combat. Yet, there were also many in the North who believed in the medical, military, and political value of promoting, rather than repressing, strong domestic feeling in the Union ranks. Wartime debates over the treatment of nostalgic men suggest that even as some held up the detached warrior as a model, others continued to emphasize the primary importance of domestic ties in creating ideal soldiers and virtuous citizens.


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pp. 253-282
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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