Tag Archives: combat stress injury

The Troubled Hero of Little Round Top: G.K. Warren and Combat Trauma

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Here is the newest revision to my Gettysburg text which focuses on General Gouvernor K Warren. It is rather lengthy, but in addition to dealing with the battle it deals with issues that are still very real to those who have served in combat. PTSD, combat stress disorders, Moral Injury and the effect of trauma and war on the character of people, as well as the injustice that some receive at the hands of leaders of the institutions that they serve. War leaves no one unchanged. I do hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Brigadier General Gouverneur K. Warren

History, Memory and Myth at Little Round Top

The battle of Gettysburg is an iconic part of American history. The accounts of Buford’s delaying action and John Reynolds death on July 1st, the savage battle at the Wheat Field, the Peach Orchard and Plum Run on July 2nd and the great charge known as Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd 1863 all draw us to the battlefield. The stories of individual courage and the sacrifice of soldiers from the North and the South that are enshrined on the monuments that now populate the battlefield have a nearly religious quality that draws Americans to Gettysburg by the hundreds of thousands every year.

But there are some places on the battlefield that seem to be the most iconic, the most spiritual, and the most inspirational for various reasons. Two of these places in particular have a nearly magnetic attraction, the “High Water Mark” of the Confederacy on Cemetery Ridge where Pickett’s Charge met its end, and the rocky hill known as Little Round Top. A large part of the reason that these two places hold such an attraction is not just the way that the battle was fought. Rather, it is often because of the way the stories of those actions and the stories of the men who fought at them have been passed down to us in the accounts of survivors, in history and even in the fictional accounts of the battle. In each of these stories there are elements of courage, devotion, sacrifice, and tragedy that touch us in deeply personal ways and connect us to them and what we see when we experience history tells us as much about us as it does them.

The story of the Battle for Little Round Top has been passed along to us in the many accounts and histories of the battle, but perhaps more importantly in literature and cinema through Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Killer Angels and that book’s film adaptation, Gettysburg. Many people who have never read an actual history of the battle know about the Battle for Little Round Top from Jeff Daniels’ inspirational portrayal of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in the movie.

The mythic status that we accord Gettysburg is important to Americans as a people. It is a defining moment in our American story and that is why so many of us come to the battlefield. It is a part of who and what we are as a people. Chamberlain said this well a quarter century after the battle at the dedication of the Maine Monuments in 1888:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” [1]

While the accounts in the novel and the film are certainly inspiring and allow us to experience the emotion and near spiritual sense of what Chamberlain writes about the battle, there is much more to learn. When we go beyond the mythic portrayal of the battle we find that despite the vast amount of information available that there are a large number of approximations and ambiguities in the accounts of the battle. So as we endeavor to look at the actions of these leaders on that fateful day it is important to recognize that it is impossible for us to totally separate the actions of the men that helped decide the battle from the mythos that surrounds the story. [2] Likewise, it isimportant for us to acknowledge, that we cannot completely separate the character of these men and how they lived their lives from their actions on this particular battlefield and afterwards.

That understanding is important if we want to be able to interpret these men and their actions; actions that are recorded in their journals, after action reports, unit histories, individual diaries and letters, as well as the accounts of their contemporaries who served alongside them; accounts which for many reasons are not completely reliable.

As important as these accounts are for us in attempting to sort out the truth of the matter we must apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to them and we must interpret them. [3] We have to do this because all historical accounts are influenced by the writer’s motivations, ideology or perspective. There are some authors who omit damning or damaging information, especially about their own actions, or the actions of those leaders that they wish to protect, and the writers that “spin” the event in order to build up or destroy the reputations of those present. Even those writers of the contemporary accounts of the battle who wrote their accounts with the best motivations and intentions to record the events as best as they could describe them were often prone to mistakes, even in details such as the time an event took place. The location of people during the event was limited by their physical position on the battlefield and what they could see amid the bullets and bombshells that created carnage around their point of observation. Those not present at the battle, the men who recorded their accounts based on the recollections of those present are similarly limited.

There is also another factor to consider in dealing with these accounts, especially when untrained observers make observations of the actions and behavior of others which seem strange or erratic to them. This is especially true of men who are writing about men who have experienced the horrors of war and combat which might have resulted in some sort of combat stress injury such as PTSD, brain injuries such as TBI or a concussive syndrome or experience which is now called Moral Injury. Thus when we examine the behavior of such leaders and see a marked change in the way that they deal with others after their experience of war, those conditions, unknown to their contemporaries must be considered as a possibility when evaluating their actions.

The problem for the historian or for that matter the writer of military doctrine is how to interpret the information that they have available to them to make it relevant and useful in the art that they practice. This can be a daunting task with many associated pitfalls that is neither an inductive, nor a deductive process. David Hackett Fischer writes:

“The logic of historical thought is not a formal logic of deductive inference. It is not a symmetrical structure of Aristotelian syllogisms, or Ramean dialectics, or Boolean equations….Instead it is a process of adductive reasoning in the simple sense of adducing answers to specific questions, so that a specific “fit” is obtained. The answers may be general or particular, as circumstances may require. History is, in a sense a problem-solving discipline. A historian is someone (anyone) who asks an open ended question about past events and answers it with selected facts which are arranged in the form of an explanatory paradigm.” [4]

All this is important because it reminds us, that when we study these accounts and attempt to use them as a basis for leadership theories, operation art and strategy, or for any other reason, that all that we know to be “true” is a combination of fact, myth and spin. Our task is to do the best we can with that in mind while admitting that we all have our own prejudices, agendas and ideas that color the glasses by which we interpret the event and the actions of the people involved.

In a sense when we look at the records of the people present or their contemporaries we must entertain a fair amount of suspicion and be able to ask questions as if the writers were talking or writing to us presently. We must ask three questions to do this: Why are they telling this fact or story? Why are they telling it to me? Why are they telling it now? Or more succinctly put “Why this? Why me? Why now?”

Gouverneur Warren: A Complex Character

It is in this context that we examine Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren’s actions on Little Round Top on the afternoon and evening of July 2nd 1863, the controversy that embroiled his career and left him embittered and disillusioned at the end of the war; and even the possible explanations for what occurs to Warren during and after the war provided by modern medicine and psychological knowledge. We must do this because Warren is one of the most important people who step into history that day and because he is such a contradictory figure, to try to understand him and in doing so attempt to understand ourselves more fully.

At the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren was serving as the Chief Topographical Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, a position that he had been appointed to by Joseph Hooker prior to Chancellorsville. At Chancellorsville Warren took command of the Pioneer brigade and “was responsible for the spectacular display of improvised field fortification during Hooker’s withdraw from Chancellorsville.” [5]

Unlike some of the other characters on Little Round Top that day, particularly Joshua Chamberlain, Warren does not engender myth; in fact some historians almost go out of their way to besmirch him, Joseph Whelan described Warren as “a fussy man who liked limericks, decidedly lacked gravitas.” [6] The description Warren being a “fussy man” who “lacked gravitas” is decidedly unfair for it immediately paints Warren in the mind of the reader as a man lacking in courage or fortitude and it distorts history. As I mentioned earlier when examining the evidence we have to carefully sift through it and not assume that any one characterization of a person is correct.

Whelan’s description of Warren is decidedly prejudicial. Warren was actually a complex and often contradictory figure as many military leaders throughout history have been. Though heroic, he did not look like a hero, and though an intensely proud man did not seek to bolster his image in the media, during or after the war. Warren’s most recent biographer, David Jordan wrote that Warren was “prone to long sieges of depression, and he himself agreed that others found him to be morose and unsmiling. A complex and enigmatic man, Gouverneur Kemble Warren is not one to be easily categorized.” [7] His peers seemed to either admire or loathe him for he could be openly critical of others and had arrogance about him, which put some people off. Likewise Warren was often openly disdainful of those that he regarded as his inferiors, which at times included some of his superior officers, a trait that worked against him in the “hierarchical realm of military life.” [8]

Though Warren was considered the “savior of Little Round Top” in the years immediately following the war; his story faded. In part this was due to being relieved of command of Fifth Corps by Philip Sheridan at Five Forks, something that Chamberlain and many other officers and men of V Corps “considered an unjust act made cruel by his [Sheridan’s] refusal to reconsider it.” [9] His story also faded because he resigned his commission as a Major General of Volunteers soon after the war, and returned to relative obscurity working as an Engineer officer along the Mississippi River.

After Warren’s untimely death at the age of fifty-three in 1882, three months before he exonerated by the Board of Inquiry, he was forgotten by many. Likewise, the book he had prepared from his carefully arranged letters and reports was not published until 1932, forty years after his death.

Conversely, the story and myth of his friend and defender Joshua Chamberlain story grew throughout the late 1890s and early 1900s. By then, Chamberlain, a superb writer and orator, alone of the men who made the stand at Little Round Top was still alive to tell his story, and this considerably shaped the history that we know. The rise of the Chamberlain account is one reason why Warren is so often overlooked by many casual students and observers of the Battle of Gettysburg.

But to look at Warren’s actions is by no means to minimize the actions of others such as Colonel Strong Vincent, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Brigadier General Stephen Weed, Colonel James Rice, or Colonel Patrick “Paddy” O’Rorke. All of these men played an instrumental part in the battle for Little Round Top, but only Warren, Chamberlain and Rice survived the battle, and Rice was killed in action at the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 10th 1864.

Ante-Bellum Staff Officers, Military Culture and an Expanding Army

For the purposes of this study it is important to note that Warren was not acting as a commander during the Battle of Gettysburg. Warren was, like most senior officers today, serving as a staff officer. Many times students of military history and theory are inclined to dismiss the contributions of staff officers because they do not have the overall responsibility of a battle, or the glamour of the limelight of the commanders that they serve under. However, for military professionals, especially those serving on senior staffs who prepare campaign plans, contingency plans and crisis plans the study of officers like Warren is essential.

The Federal Army at Gettysburg, like its Confederate opponent had a wide variety of officers serving in its ranks. Many of its senior officers were graduates of West Point. Many had served together in Mexico and in the various campaigns against Native American tribes. Those who stayed in the Army during the long “peace” between the Mexican War and the outbreak of the Civil War endured the monotony, boredom and often miserable conditions of isolated army posts, long family separations, as well as low pay, slow promotion and often low social status.[10] In light of such conditions, many resigned their commissions to undertake various professional, business or academic pursuits; in fact Samuel Huntington noted that in the years before the Civil War that “West Point produced more railroad presidents than generals.” [11] However, on the outbreak of the war, many of these graduates returned to service whether in the service of the Union, or the Confederate States.

When the war began the Army underwent a massive expansion, which it met through the call of up militia and by raising new volunteer units from the various states. In the expansion many officers were appointed who had no prior military service, or if they did it was performed years or even decades before the war. Some of these men were simply patriots who rallied to the flag, others due to a sense of righteousness about their cause, while others were political opportunists or appointees. In the north this was a particular problem as “professional officers were pushed aside and passed over in the Union, the higher commissions going, in the first stages of the war at least to officers called back into service or directly appointed from civilian life, many of them “political” appointees.” [12] At times the lack of experience, training and sometimes the poor character of some of the volunteers and political appointees was tragic. However, many of these men in both Union and Confederate service performed as well or better than some of their regular army counterparts at various levels of command. Gettysburg would provide opportunity for the best and worst of all of these types of officers to succeed or fail. In this chapter we will look at how Warren succeeded remarkably at Little Round Top.

Explorer, Engineer and Instructor: The Preparation of a Staff Officer

As the Union mobilized a good number of Regular Army officers were allowed to assist the states in the formation and training of the new volunteer units. One of these officers was First Lieutenant Gouverneur Warren.

Warren was typical of the many professional officers of the old army. An 1850 graduate of West Point Warren was a bright student who had absorbed the teachings of his professor, Dennis Hart Mahan as the core of his own military thought, both in his senior year in college and through reinforcement as a faculty member. [13] Warren was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant and because of his high standing in his class was assigned to Corps of Topographical Engineers. He spent his first seven years in a number of assignments which took him throughout much of the country. Warren did not look the part of a hero. Short and willowy, he appeared no more substantial in body than a young boy, or as some remarked, a young woman; his uniforms tended to hang off him as if they were several sizes too big. [14]

Warren’s work involved exploring and mapping for various enterprises including the project to help tame the Mississippi River, and the exploration of the Great Plains and Black Hills where he developed a sympathy for the various Sioux tribes he encountered noting on completion of his mission in 1858, writing that He had never heard a Sioux chief express an opinion in regard to what was due them in which I do not concur and that many of them view the extinction of their race as an inevitable result of the operation of present causes, and do so with all the feelings of despair with which we should contemplate the extinction of our nationality. [15] Following his years in the west he returned as faculty to West Point where he as an Assistant Professor, shared mathematics instructional duties with Oliver O. Howard and resumed his relationship with his former professor Mahan. [16]

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Commander of the Red Devils: The Peninsula, Gaines Mill and Second Manassas

On the outbreak of war Warren was granted leave from his duties at West Point to serve as Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers in the 5th New York Infantry Regiment, also known as the Duryee Zouaves. When Abraham Duryee was appointed as a Brigadier General, Warren became the Colonel of the regiment.

He commanded the regiment during the Peninsula campaign where he was eventually given command of a provisional infantry brigade. At Gaines Mill, Warren’s regiment and brigade distinguished itself. Along George Sykes front no troops fought better than the small brigade of two volunteer regiments, the 5th and 10th New York, under Warren’s command. On the afternoon of the battle Warren led the 5th New York in a riveting counter attack.The Red Devils smashed into the 1st South Carolina Rifles and drive them back. The Zouaves were, declared a Regular, the peers of any troops on the hard fought field. Captain John W. Ames of the 11th United States told his parents that the counterattack of the New Yorkers haunted his sleep. Every night, he wrote home a week later, he saw a Zouave, with his arms around a comrade, who was fairly a dead man, walking with his friends support. Ames admitted, the horrors of sudden, accidental, bloody death are here so much augmented and multiplied. [17]

Warren described the action to his wife Nothing you ever saw in the pictures of battles excelled it. The artillery which had been firing stopped on both sides, and the whole armies were now spectators. In less than five minutes 140 of my men were killed or wounded and the other regiment completely destroyed. [18] Warren and his men received many accolades that day. George McClellan credited them with saving the Union left and said that Warren was everywhere conspicuous on the field, and not only directed the movement of his own brigade, which he handled with consummate skill, and placed in the most advantageous of positions, where they could produce the most effect on the enemy, but directed the movement of other regiments. [19] and during the action Warren suffered a slight wound from a spent bullet and had his horse shot out from under him.

Warren’s tiny provisional brigade composed of his 5th New York and the 10th New York was at Second Manassas where they had the bad fortune to be on the exposed Federal flank when Longstreet’s massive attack rolled over them. Warren and his brigade were left to protect the Fifth Corps artillery and trains when that corps was ordered by John Pope to attack Jackson’s corps, and John Reynolds’ division was ordered to withdraw leaving the Fifth Corps’ flank uncovered. On his own initiative Warren moved his brigade to protect the flank when Longstreet’s massive blow hit. Alone the two regiments, numbering about 1100 soldiers were overwhelmed in what one soldier called the very vortex of hell. [20] Robert E. Lee had drawn Pope into a trap and was poised to destroy his army. Longstreet’s corps led by Hood’s Texas brigade struck Warren’s troops and the 10th New York fell back as Warren and the 5th New York hung on long enough for artillery to limber up and withdraw, but they too were forced back with heavy losses. The 10th New York lost 133 killed and wounded, the 5th New York over 300 more. Warren wrote Braver men than those who fought and fell that daycould not be found. It was impossible to do more. A member of Fifth Corps wrote that Warrens regiment and brigade, commanded by him, sustained heavier losses than any command on that disastrous field. [21] However, Warren’s gallantry was rewarded with promotion to Brigadier General effective September 26th 1862.

Though present at Antietam and Fredericksburg Warren’s brigade was not committed to either fight. However, Warren was in a position to see the disastrous attacks of Union troops against enemy troops in strong defensive positions. As an engineer Warren recognized the advantages that now were afforded to the defense with the advent of the rifled musket, something that would influence many of his decisions as well as his questioning of Meade, Grant and Sheridan for tactical decisions to attack in situations where he viewed such actions to be either unwise or suicidal. Warren was affected by what he had seen, both in the human cost of the war as well as the politics that had engulfed the army. He wrote his wife Emily on Christmas Day:

I today feel very desponding about our government and the management of affairs.I left my home without ambition to save a noble cause. I have seen that cause almost betrayed- I know of bleeding hearts, desolate homes, and unnumbered nameless graves of noble men who have vainly perished. There must be a just God[.] Why does he permit these things…” [22]

Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac and Savior of Little Round Top

In January 1863 Warren was pulled from his brigade duties by Hooker who employed him with good effect to assist his engineering staff, first with mapping and then building the fortifications that stopped the ferocious Confederate storm on the second day of battle. [23] In less than 48 hours Warren’s troops threw up five miles of the most formidable entrenchments yet constructed under battlefield conditions. [24] Edward Alexander, Longstreet’s artillery officer noted that when the Confederates came upon the fortifications after Hooker’s withdraw that “they were amazed at the strength and completeness of the enemys fortifications. [25] Following the battle Warren was appointed as Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac on May 12th 1863 by Hooker. When Hooker was relieved of command and was replaced by Meade on June 28th 1863, he was kept in that position by his fellow engineer George Gordon Meade.

Warren and Major General Winfield Scott Hancock arrived at Cemetery Hill on the night of July 1st 1863. He surveyed the ground with Hancock and they concurred that “it would be the best place for the army to fight on if the army was attacked.” [26] As George Gordon Meade organized the defenses of his army at Gettysburg, he not only depended on Warren’s advice about the ground, but consulted him constantly at headquarters or sent him off on matters of highest importance. [27] Meade respected Warren and had offered Warren the chance to serve as his Chief of Staff, a position that Warren, like Seth Williams, the Adjutant General declined that offer indicating that he had too much work in their departments to take on the burdens of a new job. [28]

Meade’s opponent, Robert E. Lee, who knew Warren before the war appreciated Warren’s calm, absorbed, and earnest manner, his professional skill and sound judgment. [29] These qualities would serve both men and the army well on July 2nd 1863.

When Sickles moved III Corps forward during the afternoon without permission of Meade, the result was that his Corps was deployed in a vulnerable salient at the Peach Orchard. This left the southern flank of the army in the air and the Round Tops undefended. Meade was aghast and set about to attempt to rectify the situation. Warren was with Meade and based on the reconnaissance that he conducted the previous day and that morning knew the position better than anyone. He recognized that something was badly awry on Sickles Third Corps front matters there were not all straight. [30] He had sent an officer to discover to investigate Sickles’ front and that officer reported that the section of Cemetery Ridge assigned to III Corps was not occupied. [31]

Meade and Warren discussed the situation and realized that III Corps “could hardly be said to be in position” [32] and knowing VI Corps was now close at hand order V Corps, at the time his only reserve into the position vacated by Sickles. They went forward and seeing the empty spaces Warren told Meade “here is where our line should be” to which Meade replied: “It’s too late now.” [33] Warren, whose familiarity with the whole of the battlefield gave him concern about Sickles’ corps dispositions suggest that Meade send him to the Federal left, “to examine the condition of affairs.” [34]

Meade concurred with his Warren and in dispatching him he also gave Warren the authority to take charge as needed saying “I wish you would ride over there and if anything serious is going on, attend to it.” [35] Again Meade’s choice of Warren for the task demonstrated the trust that is essential in command. The two officers worked together seamlessly and as Coddington described their relationship that day: “Meade chose him to act as his alter ego in crucial moments of the battle, and Warren rendered services for which Meade and the country were to be eternally grateful.” [36] Warren would not see Meade again that day “until the attack had spent its force.” [37]

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Warren and the Signal Station on Little Round Top

Hunt noted that “The duty could not have been in better hands.” [38] When Warren arrived on Little Round Top he found it unoccupied save for a few signal corps soldiers. Warren immediately recognized the tactical value of Little Round Top and noted that it was “the key of the whole position.” [39] Warren saw that the Confederates were massing not more than a mile away and that there were no troops on the hill to stop them. He believed that an area “of woods on the near side of the Emmitsburg Road as “an excellent place for the enemy to form out of sight” [40] which was exactly what Major General John Bell Hood’s division was doing, as Henry Hunt noted “The enemy at the time lay concealed, awaiting signal for the assault…” [41] To test his suspicions Warren sent a messenger to Captain James Smith’s 4th New York artillery battery on Devil’s Den to fire a single shot into the woods. Warren described the situation:

“As the shot went whistling through the air the sound of it reached the enemy’s troops and caused every one to look in the direction of it. This motion revealed to me the glistening gun-barrels and bayonets of the enemy’s line of battle, already formed and far outflanking the position of any of our troops; so that the line of his advance from the right to Little Round Top was unopposed. I have been particular in telling this, as the discovery was intensely thrilling to my feelings, and almost appalling.” [42]

Upon confirming his fears Warren resorted to ruse and action. He order the “signalmen to keep up their wigwag activity, simply as a pretense of alertness, whether they had any real signals to transmit or not…” [43] He also sent messengers to Meade, Sickles and Sykes, the commander of V Corps asking Meade to “Send at least a division to me” [44] instructing the messenger, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie to tell Meade “that we would at once have to occupy that place very strongly.” [45] Sickles refused on account of how badly stretched his lines were, however George Sykes of V Corps responded sending Captain William Jay to find Barnes commander of his 1st Division. As he waited Warren stood atop a “flat rock on the summit of Little Round Top, eyes fixed to his field glasses…he spent several nervous minutes wondering if his urgent appeals for help would be answered or ignored.” [46]

The messenger could not find Barnes, but instead came across the commander of the division’s 3rd Brigade, Colonel Strong Vincent. Vincent knew that Barnes was self-medicating his “pre-battle anxieties out of a black commissary quart bottle” and was already “hollow from skull to boots” and demanded “What are your orders? Give me your orders.” [47] Upon learning that Sykes wanted a brigade to proceed to Little Round Top Vincent responded immediately to take the initiative and ordered his four regiments up Little Round Top without waiting for permission. Vincent told Sykes messenger “I will take the responsibility myself of taking my brigade there.” [48]

Meade’s choice of Warren for the task was confirmed by how Warren continued to act with alacrity and decisiveness throughout the afternoon. “As the Union line began to crumble on Little Round Top, Warren, vested with the authority of Meade’s chief representative, emerged as the right man at the right place at the right time.” [49] Warren did not stop with sending messengers, but seeing the danger building he noted that the northwest face of the hill was still unoccupied and open to attack. Warren forgot “all about a general’s dignity” he “sprinted down the east slope of the hill like a rabbit.” [50]

 

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Battle for Little Round Top

There Warren found Brigadier General Stephen Weed’s brigade which he had previously commanded. The troops of the brigade, “seeing their former commander, started cheering, but Warren had no time or accolades.” [51] Warren did not see Weed, but instead he found Colonel Patrick O’Rorke of the 140th New York, who had been one of his students at West Point, and ordered him to follow him up the hill, saying “Paddy…give me a regiment.” [52]

When O’Rorke told Warren that Weed expected him to be following him Warren took the responsibility telling O’Rorke “Bring them up on the double quick, and don’t stop for aligning. I’ll take responsibility.” [53] O’Rorke followed with his gallant regiment with the rest of the brigade under Weed following them. The 140th New York entered the battle to the right of the Vincent’s 16th Michigan which was being swarmed by the 4th and 5th Texas and 4th Alabama, who thought that victory was at hand, slamming the Texans and Alabamians and “at once the Confederate assault began to dissolve” [54]

Warren’s actions were fortuitous as the 140th New York and Lieutenant Charles Hazlett’s battery of the 5th Artillery arrived at the crest just in time to repulse the advancing Confederates, as the battery struggled to get into position Warren “took hold of one of the guns and labored with the gun crew to get the piece over the rocks and up the steep wooded hillside.” [55] The battery went into action immediately and soon drew concentrated enemy fire and “Warren narrowly escaped serious injury when a bullet nicked his throat.” [56]

In the ensuing fight the brigade would take fearful casualties. By the end of the day Weed, O’Rorke and Hazlett would all be dead, but together with Vincent’s brigade they held on and saved the Union line.[57]

Warren continued to urge on the Federal troops despite being wounded, in the words of a reporter who observed him in “a most gallant and heroic manner, riding with utmost confidence over fields swept by the enemy’s fire, seemingly everywhere present, directing, aiding, and cheering the troops.” [58] Once he was assured that Little Round Top was secure he proceeded to rejoin Meade “near the center of the battlefield where another crisis was at hand.” [59]

After Gettysburg Warren was proud of his accomplishments but did not boast of them. He wrote to his in his journal: “There was no merit in my actions except to secure for our army a position if I could, which would prevent our lines from being flanked and this when attacked was given an opportunity for a fair fight to front, and there our opponents did not win.” [60] However his comments belied his accomplishments on Little Round Top that day “for he alone was responsible for recognizing the crisis there, for Vincent’s brigade being sent up the hill, and for commandeering the 140th New York and the rest of Weed’s brigade as reinforcements.” [61]

Corps Command in Virginia and the Evidence of Combat Stress

Warren was promoted to be the acting commander of II Corps after Gettysburg as Hancock had been wounded and then was appointed to command V Corps. He served well as a Corps commander, although his often “quick and sulphurous temper which he displayed in the Virginia campaign of 1864 worked against Warren by making him unnecessary enemies and dismaying his friends.” [62] Warren was so short tempered during the campaign, probably, due to the result of the strain of it that Colonel Charles Wainwright complained that Warren “had a screw loose and is not quite accountable for all his freaks.” [63] In high command Warren’s “fellow officers respected his ability as an engineer, but disliked his arrogance and insolence. Warren’s temper was legendary, and when his anger boiled over he sputtered out profanities that, said one colleague, “made my hair stand on end.” [64] To be fair to Warren that last outburst followed the disaster inflicted by Grant on the army at Cold Harbor, when Grant threw it up against strongly entrenched Confederate troops with great loss. Warren who could not abide meaningless slaughter found it reprehensible.

The interesting thing about all the accounts of Warren’s temper being so violent is that they do not begin until after he is in Corps command, and he gives no hint of such anger and rage in his letters until after his experiences on the Peninsula, Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg and finally Gettysburg. During the Army of the Potomac’s inaction during the fall of 1863 it became clear that the war was taking a toll on Warren. Alcohol became a problem, so much that once after drinking a whisky punch with his staff he was “falling down drunk” and had to be told of his actions the following night by one of his staff members. [65]

His letters to Emily display a sense of depression and sometimes even despair. He wrote Emily:

“I repine a great deal. I begin to feel myself giving out in spirit. I need so to rest where I could be contented. So long now my life has been one continued worry or excitement that I am losing my elasticity and I am getting almost afraid for I am apprehensive that I cannot uphold my position…. Every day shows me more and more how this war is severing my old affiliations and making me lonely…here I sit all alone in this great camp (for so I feel) and the memory of my dear friends comes over me and I am morbidly depressed. Indeed I feel I am a very small man that I can endure no more, for I am well and not a prisoner…and have been honored more than I deserve. I have not the heart of a good soldier.” [66]

Since so many people that knew Warren after Gettysburg describe the fearsome and nearly volcanic nature of his temper we can accept that as a fact. Likewise his arrogant, insolent and even haughty attitude towards those that he believed himself to be intellectually superior is evident even during his early career as are his recurrent struggles with depression which only grew worse throughout the war and in following years.

Dr. Judith Herman, an associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School wrote:

“Traumatic events call into question basic human relationships. They breach the basic attachments of family, friendship, love and community. They shatter the construction of the self that is formed and sustained in relation to others. They undermine the belief systems that give meaning to human experience. They violate the victim’s faith in a natural or divine order and cast the victim into a state of existential crisis.” [67]

But it is only after the continued trauma that Warren experienced at Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg that we see the evidence of Warren’s anger, bitterness and rage becoming a major factor in his life and relationships. If we are to take into account the findings of modern science, medicine and psychiatry in relationship to the descriptions provided by Warren and those that knew him, we have to at least give serious consideration to the real possibility that Warren’s issues were caused by his experience of war and some type of resultant combat stress injury. This could include PTSD, Moral Injury, or possibly even changes brought about by a traumatic brain or concussive injury.

Jonathan Shay, a psychologist with many years of experience in dealing with veterans afflicted with PTSD wrote that “The social conditions that cause complex PTSD – persistent betrayal and rupture of community in mortal stakes situations of captivity – destroy thumos, destroy normal narcissism and undo character.” [68]

Dave Grossman writes about how such events can become what we now call “Character disorders”:

Character disorders include obsessional traits in which the soldier becomes fixated on certain actions or things; paranoid trends accompanied by irascibility, depression, anxiety, often taking on the tone of threats to his safety; schizoid trends leading to hypersensitivity and isolation; epileptoid character reactions accompanied by periodic rages…..What has happened to the soldier is an altering of his fundamental personality.” [69]

Shay writes about what happens to character when it is damaged by war, and the spectrum of clinical manifestations of an injury to character seen in many combat veterans. Among the manifestation that Shay describes, a good number which are present in what we know about Warren. These include: Demoralization, self-loathing, a sense of worthlessness, pervasive “raw” vulnerability and feeling conspicuous, social withdraw irritability, rage at small slights, disappointments and lapses, coercive attempts to establish power dominance. [70]

Warren’s repeated writings about his isolation; depression and despair to Emily are powerful. He writes Emily in words that he shares with no one else. In those letters he conveys the depth of his injury, an injury that has shaken his faith in himself, his leaders and brought about an existential crisis. It is an injury that with a man like Ulysses S. Grant in command that he could not voice to anyone in the army for fear of what we would now call the stigma of PTSD that is experienced by so many combat veterans. Instead it comes out in a drive to ensure that his soldiers are not sacrificed in senseless battles, a sense of his own unworthiness, and a sense that he has been shunted aside, even betrayed by those commanding the army, including his former friend Meade as well as Grant. His letter to Emily that he wrote in 1866 describes the effects of PTSD and Moral Injury almost perfectly:

“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [71]

A Martyr to no Cause at All: Disgrace and Restoration

Among the people that Warren made enemies with during the campaign was his mentor and friend George Gordon Meade. The issue with Meade was particularly serious as Meade seriously considered relieving Warren due to his insubordinate attitude. Meade wrote a letter which he never sent to Grant’s chief of staff Colonel John Rawlins where he acknowledged Warren’s fine traits but also his problems. Meade wrote:

“No officer in the army exceeds Genl Warren in personal gallantry, in activity, in zeal and in sleepless nights, or in devotion to his duties,” Meade wrote- he suffered from a serious “defect” in which he often questioned orders rather than obey them. Such a serious defect Meade wrote, “strikes at the root of all Military subordination, and is entirely out of question that I can command this Army, if each Corps Commander is to exercise a similar independence of action.” [72]

Another enemy made by Warren was Phillip Sheridan, the new commander of the army’s cavalry. The two men were seemingly destined to clash; they had already clashed at Spotsylvania where Warren complained about Sheridan’s performance. Sheridan never forgave or ever forgot Warren’s justified criticism of him during that battle, and

But the issue really came down to personality and leadership style. Joshua Chamberlain who testified at his board of inquiry testified at it that “Warren gave the impression of a slow, quiet contemplative sort who could not be rushed into decision making. Whether on the march or in battle, he moved at a deliberate pace, refusing to commit himself or his troops until he had time to analyze the situation.” [73]

Chamberlain observed that to someone who did not know Warren, as Sheridan did not that “General Warren’s temperament is such that he, instead of showing excitement, generally shows an intense concentration in what I call important movements…and those who do not know him might take it for apathy when it is deep, concentrated thought and purpose” [74] much of which was rooted in Warren’s strong desire not to sacrifice his men needlessly taking care “to ensure that they were not thrown in to suicidal situations” and he “looked out for their welfare.” [75]

Warren and Sheridan were different types of people and commanders. Warren was an exceptionally intelligent man, one of the brightest in the army and highly regarded in many ways. He was excellent leader of men and he was beloved by his troops, but that being said the traits that were his strengths hindered him in command. He did command from the front, but “his real interest was in the science of command. Warren believed that leading a corps gave him discretion and leeway in carrying out his duties – which often he performed with the smugness of the righteous. It developed that not everyone would be tolerant of either his manner or his philosophy of command – particularly not U.S. Grant.” [76] Nsor did Warren have the kind of single minded vision and killer instinct that made Grant, Sherman and Sheridan such brutally effective battlefield commanders. He was “handicapped by the breadth of his vision,” [77] the trait that made him such an effective staff officer which at Little Round Top served the army so well.

After the war Grant praised Warren’s intelligence, earnestness and perceptiveness, but he found in Warren, what he called a “defect which was beyond his control, that which was very prejudicial to his usefulness…” What was the defect? Grant wrote: “could see every danger at a glance before he encountered it. He would not only make preparations to meet the danger which might occur, but he would inform his commanding officer what others should do while he was executing his move.” [78]

Grant had been apprised of the battlefield by a false report of Warren and his troop’s actual location, news that was hours old “told Sheridan to relieve Warren if he judged the Fifth Corps would “do better” under another commander.” Staff officers of Fifth Corps were shocked, and one wrote “General Grant knew that General Sheridan was not a person to be intrusted with such a weapon and not use it.” [79]

5forks

Fifth Corps at Five Forks

Sheridan did use the power Grant had given. Sheridan was still smarting from a setback incurred the previous day where one of Warren’s infantry divisions had to “extricate Little Phil from difficulties with George Pickett’s Confederates at Dinwiddie Court House on March 31” [80] relieved Warren while the latter was in the midst of actual combat. However, neither Sheridan nor Grant wanted to admit was that “Warren did about as well as anyone could have that night getting three divisions of the Fifth Corps to Sheridan’s position.” [81]

Sheridan relieved Warren of command of V Corps following the Battle of Five Forks where Sheridan believed that Warren’s Corps had moved too slowly in the attack. Sheridan’s actions to relieve Warren at the moment of a great victory “would reverberate for the better part of two decades.” [82] Sheridan’s staff had given Warren wrong information about the positions of the Confederate troops and Warren’s own orders to his division commanders were conflicting. Warren had been working to get Crawford’s division into the fight as it had strayed too far north before turning westward and hit the wrong Confederate units and Warren went to rectify the situation and to get Crawford’s troops into the fight.

Since Sheridan did not see Warren at the front he ordered him relieved of command, even though Warren had personally taken over the direction of one of the brigades, led it into action “and under the setting sun, he snatched up his corps flag, shouted to his men – “Now, boys, follow me, this will be the last fight of the war!” – and rode straight toward the rebel line. His horse was shot and killed, and Colonel Hollon Richardson of the Seventh Wisconsin was wounded as he tried to shield his corps commander when he toppled to the ground….” [83] Not long after this “official orders relieved Warren of his command.” [84] Sadly, had Warren died that day he might have been eulogized as a hero; instead he suffered terribly at the hands of the leaders of the army that he had served so well.

The relief was brutal, Sheridan wrote that “General Warren did not exert himself to get up his corps as rapidly as he might have done, and his manner gave me the impression that he wished the sun to go down before dispositions for the attack could be completed.” [85] This ruined Warren’s career and even hinted at a possible lack of courage on the part of Warren. This Sheridan refused to reconsider, something that “Chamberlain and the officers and men of the Fifth Corps ever forgave him for what they considered an unjust act made cruel by his refusal to reconsider it.” [86] Many, including men who had little love for Warren and who were often critical of him were appalled at the relief. Colonel Charles Wainwright, the commander of Warren’s corps artillery who once wrote to his wife that Warren was “a very loathsome, profane ungentlemanly & disgusting puppy in power” [87] felt that Warren’s “removal at this time, and after the victory had been won, appears to be wrong and cruel.” [88] Porter Alexander wrote after the war of Warren that “no Federal corps commander had a higher personal reputation for courage, enterprise and good judgment.” [89]

Warren was a professional soldier, but he was not perfect. He “possessed all the attributes of a capable, if not excellent corps commander- intelligence, executive ability, training, and personal bravery. But he was a difficult subordinate, whose arrogance and bouts with depression fueled his temper.” [90] Warren took the relief hard. Unfortunately as a topographic engineer he was an outsider to many in the army and not fully appreciated by Grant or Sheridan, who in their haste at Five Forks not only destroyed his career but did nothing to rectify their decision even after others protested. Despite the problems in their relationship Meade “on two occasions suggested to Grant that he reinstate Warren as commander of the V Corps, Grant did not respond.” [91]

William Henry Powell wrote in his history of Fifth Corps:

“With the flush of victory on his brow, with the end of the struggle so near, with the faint Rays of the dawn of peace already gleaming in the sanguinary sky, this noble warrior was brushed aside like a fly from a map and sent into what was an undeniable, if not apparently dishonorable, seclusion.” [92]

After the war Warren resigned his commission as a Major General of Volunteers and returned to his permanent rank as a Major of Engineers. He served another 17 years doing engineering duty and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879, but his past always haunted him, even his sleep. The previously noted letter to his wife Emily where Warren stated that “I wish I did not dream so much…” and described symptoms that we might now attribute to some sort of combat stress injury was written during that assignment.

Warren sought a Court of Inquiry to exonerate himself but this was refused until President Grant left office. The Court eventually exonerated him but Warren died three months before the results were published. He reportedly told his wife Emily as he lay dying “Convey me to my grave without pageant or show…I die a disgraced soldier.” [93] His last words reportedly were “The Flag! The Flag!” [94] Embittered by the treatment he had received by the army that he had served so well, Warren was buried “as he directed in his will, in civilian clothes and without military ceremony.” [95] In 1888, veterans of the 5th New York, Duryee Zouaves; Warren’s first command placed a bronze statue of Warren standing on the boulder on Little Round Top, where Warren reportedly stood during the battle.

Warren’s funeral was attended by his friends Winfield Scott Hancock and Samuel Crawford, his oldest army friend and mentor Andrew Humphreys was called away before the service due to the sudden illness of his son. [96] The Washington Post noted that Warren “had gone “where neither the malevolence nor the justice of this world can reach him. He had enough of the former; and denial of the latter not only embittered his closing months of his life, but undoubtedly hastened his end.” [97]

Despite the later events which ended up in his relief by Sheridan, Warren’s actions on that hot and muggy July 2nd 1863 exemplified the leadership qualities that we as an institution strive to achieve. From a leadership perspective Warren’s actions at Little Round Top demonstrate how the Chairman’s Desired Leader Attributes and the principles of Mission Command: “the ability to operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding” should work in a relationship between seniors and subordinates.

However with that being said, during the 1864 campaign in Virginia, Warren was often disconnected from his senior commanders. During the campaign acted in a manner that did not always contribute to successful mission command, even when events proved him to be correct. During the campaign there were times that his temper, angry outbursts and depression severely hampered his ability to operate on intent, through trust, empowerment and understanding.

In a way the harsh actions of Grant and Sheridan at Five Forks to send a message to the senior leaders of the Army of the Potomac was correct. Unfortunately they directed that action at the wrong man at the wrong time. What Grant and Sheridan did to Warren was without doubt as grave injustice as ever done to any American commander during the prosecution of any war. However, though they were wrong in what they did to Warren “had the same fate been visited upon one or two of the Army of the Potomac’s less-than-stellar corps commanders back in 1862 or 1863, to serve as an indelible lesson to that army’s high command…” [98] much good might have been accomplished and the war in the East brought to an end sooner. But through their unjust actions General Gouverneur K. Warren “became a martyr to no cause at all.” [99]

Warren’s life also serves to remind us of the ethics of our profession, that it is possible for good officers, even excellent officers and leaders to do things that hinder or even hurt the ability to maintain the sense of trust required by their command or staff position. The conflicting personalities of Warren and Sheridan demonstrate this lack of trust which culminated in Warren’s relief.

Warren was a tragic hero, brilliant, courageous and caring. He was also was likely suffering from psychological wounds of war. It was probably these unseen wounds that caused him to be misunderstood in the moment of perceived crisis by men that neither knew him nor appreciated him. Loomis Langdon, who served as the official recorder for the board of inquiry which exonerated Warren after his death wrote:

“I had never met General Warren till he came before his Court of Inquiry…I learned to value his good opinion – and while I admired him for his great patience, his wonderful energy, habit of concentration, his vast learning and untiring application, I loved him for his tenderness, gentleness and charity, even to those whom he believed had combined to do him a cruel wrong; and I admired him for his nobleness of character and his courage and unselfish patriotism.” [100]

It is easy for military professionals to become totally focused in our profession, especially the details of planning and process to forget the humanity of those that we serve alongside. Warren is one of those complex figures who are not easy to categorize. His biographer Jordan wrote that:

“Warren was a man with fine intellect, widely read, and of keen sensibilities. He was also an excellent engineer, mapmaker, and scientist. He was a soldier who cared much for the safety and welfare of the men under him, and he was sickened by the appalling carnage of the war in which he took such a prominent part. He was arrogant and proud, and he hesitated hardly at all in putting down those of his colleagues he regarded as inferiors. His mind’s eye took in much beyond what was his immediate concern, but this gift worked against him in the hierarchical realm of military life. Warren was prone to long sieges of depression, and he himself agreed that others found him morose and unsmiling…” [101]

In reading military history is far too easy to isolate and analyze a commander’s actions in battle and ignore the rest of their lives. In the case of Warren where there is so much controversy, this is particularly important. We have to honestly evaluate his strengths and weaknesses and not fall into the trap that many do by isolating a particular event or personality trait, be it good or bad, and using and then using it to turn the person into an icon, or to destroy the subject of our work.

Those that commit this error render a great disservice to the men themselves. In time of war nearly everyone who serves in combat, gives up something of themselves and sometimes the effects last long after the war is over. Sadly there are times when the lives and reputations of heroes like Gouverneur Warren can be destroyed, not only by their personality failings or weaknesses; by the affliction of Combat Stress injuries as well as the actions of people in the institutions that they serve.

This is the challenge for current military leaders, for within the ranks of our military, including those of the officer corps there are men and women who are very much like the troubled hero of Little Round Top, Brigadier General Gouverneur Kemble Warren.

 

[1] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

[2] Note: My use of the terms myth, mythology or mythos should not be considered negative, and the use of the terms does not mean that there is not some degree of fact or truth in them. The definitions of the term mythos are important to understanding my use of the term here, first it denotes a traditional or recurrent narrative theme or plot structure of a story, and secondly a set of beliefs or assumptions about something. (See the Oxford American Dictionary.)

[3] I mention the term a hermeneutic of suspicion. Hermeneutics is the theory of understanding and interpreting language and non-linguistic expression. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines it this way: “The term hermeneutics covers both the first order art and the second order theory of understanding and interpretation of linguistic and non-linguistic expressions. As a theory of interpretation, the hermeneutic tradition stretches all the way back to ancient Greek philosophy. In the course of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, hermeneutics emerges as a crucial branch of Biblical studies. Later on, it comes to include the study of ancient and classic cultures.”

[4] Fischer, David Hackett Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought Harper and Row, New York 1970 p.xv

[5] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare, Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN. 1992 p.96

[6] Whelan, Joseph Bloody Spring: Forty Days that Sealed the Confederacy’s Fate Da Capo Press, Boston 2014 p.65

[7] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.x

[8] Happiness is Not My Companion The Life of G.K. Warren p. x

[9] Wallace, Willard M. The Soul of the Lion: A Biography of Joshua L. Chamberlain Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.173

[10] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 pp.37-38.

[11] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.199

[12] Ibid. Huntington. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations p.213

[13] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion The Life of G.K. Warren p.6

[14] LaFantasie, Glenn W. Twilight at Little Round Top: July 2, 1863 The Tide Turns at Gettysburg Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2005 p.73

[15] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.30

[16] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.33

[17] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster New York 2005 p.104-105

[18] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.46

[19] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.46

[20] Ibid. Jordan Happiness Is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.56

[21] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.56

[22] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.64

[23] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.372

[24] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.91

[25] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 7007

[26] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.224

[27] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.332

[28] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg pp.129-130

[29] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.332

[30] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.262

[31] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.319

[32] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.319

[33] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

[34] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.90

[35] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

[36] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[37] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.260

[38] Hunt, Henry. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p. 307

[39] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[40] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[41] Ibid. Hunt The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. p. 307

[42] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.206

[43] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.503

[44] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[45] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.261

[46] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.88

[47] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[48] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man Combined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.127

[49] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.395

[50] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1957 p.214

[51] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[52] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[53] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.504

[54] Ibid. LaFantasie, Twilight at Little Round Top p.153

[55] Ibid. LaFantasie, Twilight at Little Round Top p.132

[56] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.281

[57] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren pp. 93-94

[58] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[59] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.396

[60] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.95

[61] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.281

[62] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.315

[63] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: the Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg Stackpole Books Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.305

[64] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.73

[65] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.104

[66] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.106

[67] Herman, Judith Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror Basic Books, a member of Perseus Books Group. New York 1992 and 1997 p.51

[68] Shay, Jonathan Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming Scribner, New York and London 2002 p.160

[69] Grossman, Dave On Killing Back Bay Books Little, Brown and Company New York, Boston and London 1995 and 1996 p.48 An epileptoid personality pattern is one that includes irritability, selfishness, aggressiveness and being uncooperative. All of these are demonstrated in the changes that Warren exhibits between 1862 and 1865

[70] Ibid. Shay Odysseus in America pp.160-161

[71] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: the Life of G.K Warren p.249

[72] ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.305

[73] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p176

[74] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 pp.278

[75] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.316

[76] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.257

[77] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.317

[78] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.262

[79] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders pp.275-276

[80] Inid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.328

[81] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.272

[82] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.255

[83] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.232

[84] Nesbitt, Mark Through Blood and Fire: Selected Civil War Paper of Major General Joshua Chamberlain Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 1996 Amazon Kindle edition location 2113 of 2800

[85] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.278

[86] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.175

[87] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York 2005 p.374

[88] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.236

[89] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.514

[90] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.402

[91] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.330

[92] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.330

[93] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.307

[94] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.244

[95] Foote Shelby The Civil War, a Narrative, Volume Three: Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.874

[96] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[97] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.308

[98] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.284

[99] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.284

[100] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[101] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren preface pp.x-xi

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Volunteers for Freedom: Strong Vincent and Joshua Chamberlain at Gettysburg

dont give an inch

Colonel Strong Vincent directing the Defense of Little Round Top

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is an excerpt from one of the chapters of my Gettysburg text. It deals with two men, volunteer “Citizen Soldiers” whose actions that day were instrumental in the Union victory at Gettysburg. But their story, despite being one of great courage and exceptional leadership is a story of tragedy and sacrifice, which in the case of Chamberlain went long after the battle. Their struggles also affected their families, leaving one wife a widow, and the other marriage one that was tumultuous and very similar to those of many combat veterans who return from war forever changed.

Peace

Padre Steve+

July 2nd 1863 was to be a pivotal day in the history of the United States, a day of valor, courage and carnage. A day where nearly 20,000 Americans were killed, wounded or missing. It was a day where the fate of the Union and the Confederacy were in the balance. On the afternoon of that day, two volunteers rose to the challenge.

Yes, there were many more heroes on Little Round Top that day, but these two men, along with Gouverneur Warren were instrumental in securing the Union victory. They were unlikely heroes, neither was a professional soldier, but both took to soldiering and leading soldiers as if it were second nature. They were men who along with others “who stepped out of themselves for a moment and turned a corner at some inexpressibly right instant.” 1

Colonel Strong Vincent was a 26 year old Harvard graduate and lawyer from Erie Pennsylvania. He was born in Waterford and attended school in Erie. Growing up he worked in his father’s iron foundry, where the work helped make him a man of great physical strength. He studied at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut and transferred to Harvard from which he graduated in 1859. However, he was not an outstanding student and “earned admonishments on his record for missing chapel and smoking in Harvard Yard.” 2

When war came and the call went out for volunteers, Vincent enlisted in a 30 Day regiment, the Wayne Guards as a private and then was appointed as a 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant of the regiment because of his academic and administrative acumen. He married his wife Elizabeth the same day. Vincent like many young northerners believed in the cause of the Union undivided, and he wrote his wife shortly after after the regiment went to war on the Peninsula:

“Surely the right will prevail. If I live we will rejoice in our country’s success. If I fall, remember you have given your husband to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman.” 3

vincent

 

Colonel Strong Vincent

When the Wayne Guards were disbanded at the end of their enlistment, Vincent helped to raise the 83rd Pennsylvania and was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in it on September 14th 1861. The young officer learned his trade well and was considered a “strict disciplinarian and master of drill.” 4 That being said one enlisted man remarked that “no officer in the army was more thoughtful and considerate of the health and comfort of his men.” 5 He assumed command of the regiment when the commander was killed during the Seven Days in June of 1862 where he learned lessons that he would help impart to his fellow officers as well as subordinates, including Chamberlain. At Fredericksburg any doubters about the young officer’s courage and leadership ability were converted where they observed his poise “with sword in hand” he “stood erect in full view of the enemy’s artillery, and though the shot fell fast on all sides, he never wavered or once changed his position.” 6

By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 26 year old Vincent was the youngest brigade commander in the army. He was noted for his intelligence, leadership, military acumen and maturity. One friend wrote “As a general thing his companions were older than himself;….Among his associates were men of the highest rank. He could adapt himself to all,- could talk with the politician on questions of history, with a general officer on military evolutions, or with a sporting man on the relative merits of horses,-and all respected his opinion.” 7

His promotion was well earned, following a bout with a combination of Malaria and Typhoid, the “Chickahominy Fever” which almost killed him, Vincent took command of the regiment after its commander was killed at Gaines Mill. He commanded the regiment at Fredericksburg and was promoted to command the 3rd Brigade after the Battle of Chancellorsville following the resignation of its commander, Colonel T.W.B. Stockton on May 18th 1863.

Vincent was offered the chance to serve as the Judge Advocate General of the Army of the Potomac by Joseph Hooker in the spring of 1863 after spending three months on court-martial duty. But Vincent refused the offer in so that he might remain in the fight commanding troops. 8  He told his friends “I enlisted to fight.” 9

Vincent, like Chamberlain who admired him greatly had “become a kind of model of the citizen soldier.” 10 As a result of his experience in battle and the tenacity of the Confederate army he became an advocate of the tactics that William Tecumseh Sherman would later employ during his march to the sea in 1864. He wrote his wife before Chancellorsville:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.” 11

Unlike most other brigade commanders, Vincent was still a Colonel, and he, like many others would in his place hoping for a General’s star. He remarked that his move to save Sickles’ command “will either bring me my stars, or finish my career as a soldier.” 12 On July first, Vincent, a native Pennsylvanian came to Hanover and learning that battle had been joined, ordered “the pipes and drums of the 83rd Pennsylvania to play his brigade through the town and ordered the regiments to uncover their flags again….” 13 As the brigade marched through the town Vincent “reverently bared his head” and announced to his adjutant, “What death more glorious can any man desire than to die on the soil of old Pennsylvania fighting for that flag?” 14

Vincent was known for his personal courage and a soldier of the 83rd Pennsylvania observed “Vincent had a particular penchant for being in the lead….Whenever or wherever his brigade might be in a position to get ahead…, he was sure to be ahead.” 15 That courage and acumen to be in the right place at the right time was in evidence when he led his brigade into battle on July second.

On July 2nd Barnes’ division of V Corps, which Vincent’s brigade was a part was being deployed to the threat posed by the Confederate attack of McLaws’ division on the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field to reinforce Sickles’ III Corps. While that division marched toward the Peach Orchard, Vincent’s 3rd Brigade was the trail unit. When Gouverneur Warren’s aide, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie 16 came toward the unit in search of Barnes he came across Vincent and his brigade near the George Weikert house on Cemetery Ridge awaiting further orders. 17

Vincent intercepted him and demanded what his orders were. Upon being told that Sykes’ orders to Barnes were to “send one of his brigades to occupy that hill yonder,” 18 Vincent, defied normal protocol assuming that Barnes was drunk 19 and told Mackenzie “I will take responsibility of taking my brigade there.” 20 Vincent immediately went into action and ordered Colonel James Rice of the 44th New York “to bring the brigade to the hill as quickly as possible,” and then turned on his horse and galloped off toward Little Round Top.” 21

It was a fortunate thing for the Union that he did. His quick action to get his brigade, clear orders to his subordinate commanders and skilled analysis of the ground were a decisive factor in the Union forces holding Little Round Top. After ordering Colonel Rice to lead the brigade up to the hill, he and his aide went forward to scout positions accompanied by the brigade standards. Rice brought the brigade forward at the double quick “across the field to the road leading up the north shoulder of the hill” with Chamberlain’s 20th Maine in the lead. 22

Vincent and his orderly made a reconnaissance of the south and east slope of the hill which adjoined a small valley and a rocky outcrop called Devil’s Den, which was occupied by the 124th New York and which was the end of Sickles’ line. Near the summit of the southern aspect of the hill, they came under Confederate artillery fire and told his aid “They are firing at the flag, go behind the rocks with it.” 23

Vincent dismounted, leaving is sword secured on his horse, carrying only his riding crop. He continued and “with the skill and precision of a professional had reconnoitered and decided how to best place his slim brigade of 1350 muskets.” 24 He chose a position along a spur of the hill, which now bears his name, running from the northwest to the southeast to place his regiments where they could intercept the Confederate troops of Hood’s division which he could see advancing toward the hill.

What Vincent saw when he arrived was a scene of disaster. Confederate troops had overwhelmed the 124th New York and were moving on Little Round Top, “Devil’s Den was a smoking crater,” and the ravine which separated Devil’s Den from Little Round Top “was a whirling maelstrom.” 25 Seeing the threat Vincent began to deploy his brigade but also sent at messenger back to Barnes telling him “Go tell General Barnes to send reinforcements at once, the enemy are coming against us with an overwhelming force” 26

The 16th Michigan, the smallest regiment with barely 150 soldiers in line 27 was placed on the right of the brigade. As it moved forward, its adjutant, Rufus W. Jacklin’s horse was hit by a canon ball which decapitated that unfortunate animal and left it “a mass of quivering flesh.” 28 The Confederate artillery fell among the advancing Union troops and splintered trees, causing some concern among the soldiers. The 20th Maine’s Chaplain, Luther French, saw the “beheading of Jacklin’s horse and and ran to Captain Atherton W. Clark, commanding the 20th’s Company E, babbling about what he had seen. Clark interrupted French abruptly and shouted: “For Christ sake Chaplain, if you have any business attend to it.” 29

That section of the line was located on massive boulders that placed it high above the valley below, making it nearly impregnable to frontal attack. On the summit Vincent deployed the 83rd Pennsylvania and 44th New York to their left at the request of Rice who told him “In every battle that we have engaged the Eighty-third and Forty-fourth have fought side by side. I wish that it might be so today.” 30 The story is probably apocryphal but the regiments remained side by side with the 16th Michigan on the right and the 20th Maine on the left. The two  regiments  were deployed below the crest among the large number of boulders; the 83rd was about two-thirds of the way down the way down the slope where it joined the right of the 44th, whose line angled back up the slope to the southeast. A historian of the 83rd Pennsylvania noted that “Each rock”… “was a fortress behind which the soldier[s] instantly took shelter.” 31 The soldiers were determined to do their duty as they now were fighting on home ground.

Vincent deployed the 20th Maine on his extreme left of his line, and in fact the extreme end of the Union line. Vincent knew that if this flank was turned and Chamberlain overrun that it would imperil the entire Union position. Vincent came up to Chamberlain who remembered that Vincent said “in an awed, faraway voice. “I place you here….This is the left of the Union line. You understand. You are to hold this ground at all costs.” 32 Chamberlain acknowledged his understanding of the order and since the regiment lacked field grade officers, Chamberlain “assigned Captain Atherton Clark of company E to command the right wing, and acting Major Ellis Spear the left.” 33

While Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s story is much more well known than his brigade commander, Strong Vincent, he was another one of the citizen soldiers whose performance and leadership on Little Round Top saved the Union line that hot July evening. Chamberlain was a graduate of Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. Fluent in nine languages other than English he remained at Bowdoin as Professor of Rhetoric before seeking an appointment in a newly raised Maine Regiment without consulting either the college or his wife Fannie. He actually deceived the college by requesting a “scholarly sabbatical when in fact he had applied to the governor of Maine in the new 20th Maine Infantry in the late summer of 1862.” 34

The letter that Chamberlain wrote to Governor Israel Washburn details Chamberlain’s desire to serve:

“For seven years past I have been Professor in Bowdoin College. I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line I know how to learn.

Having been lately elected to a new department here, I am expecting to have leave, at the approaching Commencement, to spend a year or more in Europe, in the service of the College. I am entirely unwilling, however, to accept this offer, if my Country needs my service or example here.

Your Excellency presides over the Educational as well as the military affairs of our State, and, I am well aware, appreciates the importance of sustaining our Institutions of Learning. You will therefore be able to decide where my influence is most needed.

But, I fear, this war, so costly of blood and treasure, will not cease until the men of the North are willing to leave good positions, and sacrifice the dearest personal interests, to rescue our Country from Desolation, and defend the National Existence against treachery at home and jeopardy abroad. This war must be ended, with a swift and strong hand; and every man ought to come forward and ask to be placed at his proper post.

Nearly a hundred of those who have been my pupils, are now officers in our army; but there are many more all over our State, who, I believe, would respond with enthusiasm, if summoned by me, and who would bring forward men enough to fill up a Regiment at once. I can not free myself from my obligations here until the first week in August, but I do not want to be the last in the field, if it can possibly be helped.” 35

Chamberlain’s pre-war experiences gave no indication that he would emerge as a military hero. His father had named him after Captain James Lawrence, the commanding officer of the frigate  USS Chesapeake in the War of 1812 who uttered the famous words “Don’t give up the ship” as he lay mortally wounded. His mother added the name Joshua as his first name in the town’s books. His father hoped that the young Chamberlain who pursue a military career, his mother wished that he pursue the ministry. He did become a minister but had no desire to become a pastor, and instead took up his academic career at Bowdoin and his tumultuous marriage to his wife Fannie, a musician and the child of a minister. “During most of his life, Chamberlain struggled with bouts of deep depression and melancholy. But not during the war years. It was as if the war and soldiering had made a new man out of him.” 36

Chamberlain was offered command of the 20th Maine but asked the governor that be appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel, which he was in August 1862. He fought with the regiment at Fredericksburg and was named commander of the when Colonel Adelbert Ames, his commander was promoted to brigade command in Oliver Howard’s XI Corps following the debacle at Chancellorsville.

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Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (while serving as a Brigadier General)

Like Vincent, Chamberlain was also a quick student and rapidly adapted to being a soldier, officer and commander of troops in combat. On the march up to Gettysburg Chamberlain was ordered to take a number of veterans of the 2nd Maine, who had signed three year, rather than two year enlistment contracts and were angry at remaining in the army when the regiment was mustered out. The soldiers were bitter but Chamberlain treated them graciously and “almost all of them agreed to take up their muskets again the the service of the 20th Maine.” 37

On receiving his orders Chamberlain deployed his small regiment halfway down the southern slope facing the small valley between Little Round Top and Big Round Top. By the time he arrived at Gettysburg had become “a great infantry officer, and among his valuable qualities was where an attack would come….” 38

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Since Chamberlain’s account is so important I will forgo a discussion of his tactics and instead quote the sections of his after action report that explains his actions. Chamberlain wrote:

“On reaching the field at about 4 p.m. July 2d, Col. Vincent commanding the Brigade, placing me on the left of the Brigade and consequently on the extreme left of our entire line of battle, instructed me that the enemy were expected shortly to make a desperate attempt to turn our left flank, and that the position assigned to me must be held at every hazard.

I established my line on the crest of a small spur of a rocky and wooded hill, and sent out at once a company of skirmishers on my left to guard against surprise on that unprotected flank.

These dispositions were scarcely made when the attack commenced, and the right of the Regt. found itself at once hotly engaged. Almost at the same moment, from a high rock which gave me a full view of the enemy, I perceived a heavy force in rear of their principal line, moving rapidly but stealthily toward our left, with the intention, as I judged, of gaining our rear unperceived. Without betraying our peril to any but one or two officers, I had the right wing move by the left flank, taking intervals of a pace or two, according to the shelter afforded by rocks or trees, extending so as to cover the whole front then engaged; and at the same time moved the left wing to the left and rear, making a large angle at the color, which was now brought to the front where our left had first rested.

This hazardous maneuvre was so admirably executed by my men that our fire was not materially slackened in front, and the enemy gained no advantage there, while the left wing in the meantime had formed a solid and steady line in a direction to meet the expected assault. We were not a moment too soon; for the enemy having gained their desired point of attack came to a front, and rushed forward with an impetuosity which showed their sanguine expectations.

Their astonishment however was evident, when emerging from their cover, they met instead of an unsuspecting flank, a firm and ready front. A strong fire opened at once from both sides, and with great effect, the enemy still advancing until they came within ten pacesof our line, where our steady and telling volleys brought them to a stand. From that moment began a struggle fierce and bloody beyond any that I have witnessed, and which lasted in all its fury, a full hour. The two lines met, and broke and mingled in the shock. At times I saw around me more of the enemy than of my own men. The edge of conflict swayed to and fro -now one and now the other party holding the contested ground. Three times our line was forced back, but only to rally and repulse the enemy. As often as the enemy’s line was broken and routed, a new line was unmasked, which advanced with fresh vigor. Our “sixty rounds” were rapidly reduced; I sent several messengers to the rear for ammunition, and also for reinforcements. In the mean time we seized the opportunity of a momentary lull to gather ammunition and more serviceable arms, from the dead and dying on the field. With these we met the enemy’s last and fiercest assault. Their own rifles and their own bullets were turned against them. In the midst of this struggle, our ammunition utterly failed. The enemy were close upon us with a fresh line, pouring on us a terrible fire. Half the left wing already lay on the field. Although I had brought two companies from the right to its support, it was now scarcely more than a skirmish line. The heroic energy of my officers could avail no more. Our gallant line withered and shrunk before the fire it could not repel. It was too evident that we could maintain the defensive no longer. As a last desperate resort, I ordered a charge. The word “fix bayonets” flew from man to man. The click of the steel seemed to give new zeal to all. The men dashed forward with a shout. The two wings came into one line again, and extending to the left, and at the same time wheeling to the right, the whole Regiment described nearly a half circle, the left passing over the space of half a mile, while the right kept within the support of the 83d Penna. thus leaving no chance of escape to the enemy except to climb the steep side of the mountain or to pass by the whole front of the 83d Penna. The enemy’s first line scarcely tried to run-they stood amazed, threw down their loaded arms and surrendered in whole companies. Those in their rear had more time and gave us more trouble. My skirmishing company threw itself upon the enemy’s flank behind a stone wall, and their effective fire added to the enemy’s confusion. In this charge we captured three hundred and sixty eight prisoners, many of them officers, and took three hundred stand of arms. The prisoners were from four different regiments, and admitted that they had attacked with a Brigade.” 39

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama gave Chamberlain and his regiment the credit for stopping his attack. Oates wrote: “There have never been harder fighters than the Twentieth Maine and their gallant Colonel. His skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top and the Army of the Potomac from defeat.” 40

As with any firsthand account, aspects of Chamberlain’s accounts are contested by others at the scene. Oates notes that he ordered the retreat and that there were not as many prisoners taken, one of Chamberlain’s company commanders disputes the account of the order of the bayonet charge however the fact is that Chamberlain who was outnumbered nearly two to one by the, 4th 15th and 47th Alabama regiments “offset this superiority with strength of position, iron determination and better tactics.” 41 Also a factor was the fatigue of the Confederates, these regiments and their parent unit, Law’s brigade of Hood’s division had conducted a grueling 28 mile march to get to the battlefield and were exhausted and dehydrated by the time that they arrived, something that their commander, Colonel Oates believed “contributed largely to our failure at Little Round Top.” 42

Vincent was mortally wounded while leading the defense of the hill. As the men of Robertson’s Texas brigade rushed the hill and threatened to crack “the stout 16th Michigan defense….” 43 Vincent rushed to bolster the defenders. He was standing on a large boulder with a riding crop as the men of the 16th Michigan were beginning to waiver. Fully exposed to enemy fire he attempted to drive the retreating men back into the fight. Brandishing the riding which he cried out “Don’t yield an inch now men or all is lost,” 44 and moments later was struck by a “minie ball which passed through his left groin and lodged in his left thigh. He fell to the ground and as he was being carried from the field, “This is the fourth or fifth time they have shot at me…and they have hit me at last.” 45 He was taken to a field hospital where he suffered for five days and died on July 7th. Meade recommended Vincent for posthumous promotion to Brigadier General, but the request was lost. Ten weeks after his death his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The baby would not live a year and was buried next to him.

Colonel Rice who led the 44th New York up the hill and took command of the brigade on Vincent’s death memorialized his fallen commander in his general order to the brigade on July 12th:

“The colonel commanding hereby announces to the brigade the death of Brig. Gen. Strong Vincent. He died near Gettysburg, Pa., July 7, 1863, from the effects of a wound received on the 2d instant, and within sight of that field which his bravery had so greatly assisted to win. A day hallowed with all the glory of success is thus sombered by the sorrow of our loss. Wreaths of victory give way to chaplets of mourning, hearts exultant to feelings of grief. A soldier, a scholar, a friend, has fallen. For his country, struggling for its life, he willingly gave his own. Grateful for his services, the State which proudly claims him as her own will give him an honored grave and a costly monument, but he ever will remain buried in our hearts, and our love for his memory will outlast the stone which shall bear the inscription of his bravery, his virtues, and his patriotism.

While we deplore his death, and remember with sorrow our loss, let us emulate the example of his fidelity and patriotism, feeling that e lives but in vain who lives not for his God and his country.

After the battle, as the army looked to replace the casualties in the ranks of senior leadership and “when Colonel Rice, in charge of 3rd Brigade after Vincent fell, was promoted to brigadier general and given another command” the new division commander Major General Charles Griffin, “insisted on having Chamberlain, for the 3rd Brigade.” 46 Chamberlain survived the war to great acclaim being wounded three times, being promoted to Major General and awarded the Medal of Honor. He received the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9th 1865 and ordered his men to present arms in honor of their defeated foe as those haggard soldiers passed his division. After the war like most citizen soldiers, he returned to civilian life, serving as a four term Governor of Maine and President of Bowdoin College. He became a champion of national reconciliation admired by friend and former foe alike.

Chamberlain’s accolades were certainly earned but others on that hill have been all too often overlooked by most people. This list includes Gouverneur Warren who was humiliated by Phillip Sheridan at Five Forks, Strong Vincent who died on the Hill and Paddy O’Rorke, the commander of the 140th New York of Weed’s Brigade on Vincent’s right who was mortally wounded that day. Despite this, after the end war, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war suffered immensely. His wounds never fully healed and he was forced to wear what would be considered an early form of a catheter and bag. Chamberlain struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate.

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Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain (Dale Gallon Painting) 

He wrote to Fannie in 1867 about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” 47 Chamberlain’s inability to readjust to civilian life following the war and Fanny’s inability to understand what he had gone through during it, caused great troubles in their marriage. By 1868 the issues were so deep that Fannie was accusing Joshua of domestic abuse a charge which he contested even offering her a divorce which were very similar to what many combat veterans and their families experience today. After he received news of the allegations Chamberlain wrote to her:

“If it is true (as Mr. Johnson seems to think there is a chance of its being) that you are preparing for an action against me, you need not give yourself all this trouble. I should think we had skill enough to adjust the terms of a separation without the wretchedness to all our family which these low people to whom it would seem that you confide your grievances + plans will certainly bring about.

You never take my advice, I am aware.

But if you do not stop this at once it will end in hell.” 48

The marriage endured a separation which lasted until 1871 when they reconciled, and it did survive, for nearly forty more years. Fannie died in 1905 and Chamberlain , who despite all of their conflicts loved her, wrote after her death:

“You in my soul I see, faithful watcher, by my cot-side long days and nights together, through the delirium of mortal anguish – steadfast, calm, and sweet as eternal love. We pass now quickly from each other’s sight, but I know full well that where beyond these passing scenes you shall be, there will be heaven!”

Chamberlain died on February 24th 1914 of complications from complications of the ghastly wound that he received at Petersburg in 1864. Sadly, their marriage is typical of many relationships where a spouse returns home from war, something that we need to remember when we encounter those changed by war and the struggles of their families.

Notes

1 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.462

2 LaFantasie, Glenn W. Twilight at Little Round Top: July 2, 1863 The Tide Turns at Gettysburg Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2005 p.105

3 ________. Erie County Historical Society http://www.eriecountyhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/strongvincent.pdf retrieved 9 June 2014

4 Golay, Michael. To Gettysburg and Beyond: The Parallel Lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Edward Porter Alexander Crown Publishers Inc. New York 1994 p.129

5 Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearney NJ 1997 p.29

6 Ibid Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.262

7 Ibid. Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious p.548 Leonardi, Ron Strong Vincent at Gettysburg Barringer-Erie Times News retrieved June 9th 2014 from http://history.goerie.com/2013/06/30/strong-vincent-at-gettysburg/

9 Ibid. Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious p.55

10 Wallace, Willard. The Soul of the Lion: A Biography of Joshua L. Chamberlain Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1960 p.91

11 Ibid. Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious p.57

12 Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.264

13 Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.51

14 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.159

15 Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.305

16 Some such as Guelzo believe this may have been Captain William Jay of Sykes staff.

17 Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

18 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262 19 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

20 Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.32721 Ibid. LeFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.108

22 Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.389

23 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

24 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.390

25 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.270

26 Ibid. Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious p.75

27 Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.292

28 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

29 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

30 Ibid. Pfanz, Gettysburg: The Second Day. p.213

31 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.111

32 Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond p.157

33 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.111

34 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top pp.44-45

35 Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence Letter From Joshua L. Chamberlain to Governor [Israel] Washburn, Brunswick, July 14, 1862 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1862-07-14.html 8 November 2014

36 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.45

37 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.45

38 Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.94

39 Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Official Narrative of Joshua Chamberlain of July 6th 1863, Maine Military Historical Society, Inc., Augusta, Maine, copyright 1989 U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute Reprint, retrieved from http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/chamberlain.pdf June 15th 2014

40 Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.98

41 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.393

42 Ibid. Oates and Haskell Gettysburg p.87

43 Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.95

44 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.272

45 Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.361

46 Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.115

47 Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man Combined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.259

48 Chamberlain, Joshua L. Letter Joshua L. Chamberlain to “Dear Fanny” [Fanny Chamberlain], Augusta, November 20, 1868 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1868-11-20.html 8 November 2014

 

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Filed under civil war, History, leadership, Loose thoughts and musings, marriage and relationships, mental health, Military

The Opportunity to Act Upon a Dream

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“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” T E Lawrence

This week I will be part of a panel discussion entitled “Paths for Achieving Readiness Tomorrow” at the Military Officer’s Association of America “Warrior Family Symposium” in Washington DC. The opportunity came about through the Department of Defense’s Real Warriors campaign which I have been working with since 2011 when they did a video feature on my struggle with PTSD. The panel will be moderated by WUSA Channel 9’s news anchor Derek McGinty and will include a number of mental health care providers or program directors; I will be the only chaplain speaking at the symposium. The panel will discuss available and developing programs designed to provide insight, skills and assistance for veterans, service members, their children and families – to aid them through handling reintegration, combat/operational stress, and mental health concerns; and provide them and the community, the understanding of the art of being present.

I am a bit nervous about presenting despite having been very open and transparent about my struggles with PTSD since beginning this website back in 2009. That is not so much because I don’t know my material, or what to say, but rather because I am an introvert and find writing to be less stressful than talking about my experiences in front of a big group of people. Part of this is also related by my need for safety as I am often very anxious in big groups of people that I don’t know, and because I have so much emotional investment in the subject of getting those who deal with the trauma of war and their families the help that they need.

After some of my experiences in attempting to get help myself in the military mental health care system, some of which have been more damaging than helpful, especially recently I know how scary attempting to get help can be. Likewise, I fully understand the profound stigma that many military members, especially those of more senior ranks who have invested their lives in military service, feel when they admit to dealing with these issues.

While the military has attempted to get rid of the stigma of seeking mental health treatment, even for PTSD the fact of the matter is that the stigma still exists. A very senior enlisted leader in an elite community told me following the suicide of a true naval hero who suffered from untreated PTSD and probably TBI as well who we both served with: “it’s hard when they say if you have issues and they are known that you can still have a successful career, but you will never be promoted or selected to a critical position, again.” The ironic thing was that the leader that committed suicide asked me when he took command of the unit I was in “where does a chaplain go to get help?” He obviously knew the reality of the stigma, even for chaplains. Sadly, I have to confess that as a Chaplain, Priest and clergyman there is a huge stigma to being a broken or flawed clergyperson, especially in the institutions of the church and chaplaincy. We clergy tend to take better care of our other parishioners than we do of each other and most clergy, be they in parish work, denominational structures or institutional ministry report a sense of isolation and lack of care from men and women who should be their colleagues.

I did not expect this invitation and I do hope and pray that what I say will be of help to the attendees and to those that struggle with PTSD, TBI, Moral Injury and other combat trauma or stress related issues. I dream that when I retire from the Navy, whenever that happens to be that I will be able to be an advocate and spokesman for those who suffer from these injuries. Maybe this opportunity will provide me a network of sorts to prepare for that dream.

As T.E. Lawrence said that dreamers that dream with their eyes open are dangerous, because they may act with open eyes to make those dreams possible, and I am one who does that. I have ideas and experiences that I think can be of help to others walking this path and their families. Likewise, I have a passion for trying to get people the help they need and even more importantly provide a safe place where they know that they can be honest. Admiral James Stavridis said: “overall, I think that’s an obligation to share your ideas.”

My experience is a bit more diverse than your average clergyman, mental health provider or military member. I combine my theological, philosophical, ethical and pastoral care insights, with being a caregiver to those that suffer, while struggling with the effects of PTSD, sometimes more effectively than other times. All of this is tempered by the realism that comes from 33 year military career and my academic training as a historian; both of which enable me to place these things in a broader context.

So anyway I will follow up with something tomorrow night and hopefully report out on my experience at the symposium on Thursday, as I expect to be on the road late Wednesday night returning from D.C.

I do appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under mental health, Military, PTSD

Moral Injury: Betrayal, Isolation, Suicidality, & Meaninglessness; the War after the War

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“Great Odysseus woke from sleep on native ground at last- he’d been away for years- but failed to know the land.” Homer, The Odyssey 

War changes the men and women that fight them. This is a truth that dates to antiquity. It does not matter the age or era, where the war was fought or what weapons were used, the pathology is similar, the scars of war, physical, The trauma of war, as Jonathan Shay notes in his book Odysseus in America, “shows ugly deformities of character that trauma can cause, but these deformities are fully human such as might happen to ourselves….” The fact is that the does happen is normal, but how we deal with it is not.

One of the most difficult things that many returning combat veterans face is being re traumatized upon returning home. As the Odyssey shows, for many returning combat veterans it is as if they are returning to an alien planet, which looks familiar, but feels like an alternate universe. It looks the same, but it is profoundly different. Erich Maria Remarque in his classic All Quite on the Western Front wrote:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.”

Shortly before his death in a motorcycle crash T.E. Lawrence, the great Lawrence of Arabia wrote a friend. Lawrence certainly suffered from PTSD and other afflictions that lingered long after the war. The words are haunting and they so describe how many veterans feel, even long after they left the combat zone. For Lawrence and so many others the war after the war never ended.

Lawrence wrote:

“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”

This has been a facet of life for American military personnel ever since the Vietnam War. Much of the trauma comes from the unnatural and ahistorical manner of how we send men and women to war and bring them home. Now generally we prepare people for war fairly well. However, we send many to war as individual augments, away from their units and people they know, place them in units or organizations where they are relatively isolated and sometimes face great danger, then we bring them back alone, with barely any time to decompress, tell their story and face the consequences of war with those that they know.

Guy Sager, writer of the classic The Forgotten Soldier wrote of his return from war:

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.”

The result is that most don’t get the help that they need to make the adjustment. The fact is that the best help is usually found among our comrades who have shared our experience. Before trans-ocean air travel, soldiers came home on troopships, with those that they served and the voyage home lasted anywhere from two weeks to a month. That gave these soldiers the opportunity to process what they had been through, and while they might not have had much in the way of “professional” mental health care, they did have each other. Likewise, they returned to a country where many if not most of the citizenry had shared at least some of the sacrifice of war, and many of whom had family members who had served at war, or who had lost people they knew.

A survivor of World War I’s “Lost Battalion” wrote after the war:

“We just do not have the control we should have. I went through without a visible wound, but have spent many months in hospitals and dollars for medical treatment as a result of those terrible experiences.”

Today soldiers are sent from the United States or United States military bases in Europe or Asia into harms way, and when their tour of duty is done, are sent home in a process that seldom takes more than a week, usually less. Apart from a few airport greeters and their family, if they have a family, their return goes almost unnoticed. They return to a world where there has been no shared experience and people go about their business untouched by war. The return is often overwhelming, and many times disorienting and frightening to the combat veteran who no longer feels connected to the country or people that sent him or her to war. The normal issues faced by redeploying soldiers, especially with their families are often even more pronounced, they and their families struggle.

The general feeling of social isolation is often made worse when they return to their home bases, stations or units and discover that instead of being welcomed home, that they are treated as if they made the life of those who did not deploy harder. “Welcome back, now you can get back to real work, now you can be back on the duty roster.” Within weeks they are submerged in routine, often mind numbing tasks among people who have not shared their experience. Alone they try to cope, quite often not very successfully. For those suffering from combat trauma, especially the unseen injuries of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury the experience is magnified. There is a sense of isolation and meaninglessness as they attempt to put their lives back together. For those that seek help, on the active duty side of the house there is a stigma to getting mental health care, which is so pronounced that many either avoid treatment or stop shortly after starting, instead self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. The same is often true for those who seek help in the Veterans Administration system, except they, having finished their active service do not have to endure the shame of being called or considered “broken” by their superiors or their peers. For those that have not served, to be labeled as “broken” is one of the worst things that can happen to you in the military, it is to say that you have no intrinsic value, no matter what you have accomplished to that point or what you have suffered in the line of duty.

Those that do decide to take the risk in going to get mental health care are often then traumatized by the very system that supposedly is there to help them. While there are many gifted, caring and skillful psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists working for the military and the VA, the process of getting care can be brutal and dehumanizing. The intake process is often impersonal and quite often the ordeal dissolutions those going through it. As a personal note, when I transferred back to the area that I previously had been treated it was like I had never been in the system. It was starting from scratch, and while I had gone back to the system seeking basic follow up care, the process broke me and made me worse. Due to the intervention of so very caring people including a former commanding officer who is being promoted to Admiral, I am getting some help and may even be able to contribute to a solution. But it should not be so hard, the system in overwhelmed, undermanned, underfunded and broken, despite the best efforts of some in leadership. The result is that combat veterans are further traumatized and marginalized.

The combination of new trauma, that of no longer feeling a part of society, that of being disconnected from friends and family; that of being isolated at work and treated as a number by those in the medical and mental health system. All of those things add further injury and contributes to the sense of betrayal, the sense of betrayal that goes to the heart of Moral Injury.

Moral Injury involves the breaking of trust, confidence and core beliefs. That can encompass everything from what a person believes about God, the idealism about one’s country, the military that one serves and even the society and family. Moral Injury is an abiding sense of loss of faith and confidence in the things, the beliefs and ideals that one held dear. It is a layer of trauma that adds to what one has experienced in combat, it is another layer of trauma on top of PTSD, TBI and other Combat Stress related issues. It increases the severity of other psychological conditions including depression, anxiety and the risk of suicidal, or other risk taking behaviors.

But it doesn’t seem to me that anyone gets this, and those that do are not in a position to influence policy. Neither are they in a position to ensure that mental health providers are trained to recognize, care for and not increase the chance of further traumatizing those in their care. Instead those coming home from war seem to be condemned to a sort of hell where they do not feel they matter, are treated as numbers or even worse, feel that they no longer can contribute, because they are “broken.”

My experience is that it takes far too much effort to get the basic care that one requires, and most people after being beaten down simply give up. A person should not be reduced to tears and seriously consider suicide to get attention. A person should not have to know a doctor who is going to be an Admiral to get someone to listen to them. Honestly most people will neither endure the ignominy or pain of seeking help in such an environment, much less skyline themselves but writing and speaking about I like I do. For most any of that is far too dangerous or risky.

Some, including people that I know and love and respect have lost their families, careers and lives simply because they did not want to have the stigma of being considered “broken” or deal with the impersonal and machine like bureaucracy that is our mental health system. The sad thing is that this encompasses not only the military and VA systems, but the civilian system as well. I have known far too many people who have ended their lives after being further traumatized by the system. These people include senior officers and even chaplains, most who risked their lives in combat multiple times only to return home broken. I know too many of them, men who were real heroes, who died at their own hand, or others who lost their families and careers.

I know PTSD, I live with that reality daily, the depression, anxiety, hyper vigilance, paranoia, nightmares, night terrors, insomnia and fear of of crowds, traffic, and normal relationships. That is life and I do my best to deal with it, sometimes more successfully than others. My marriage has suffered because of my madness, and I have experienced the rejection of many of my peers in the Chaplain Corps. Likewise my former church and bishop, after two knowing that for two years I was for all practical purposes an agnostic and knowing my life was a wreck, kicked me out when my faith, though very fragile and mixed with doubt, returned. I asked hard questions, and when I asked them publicly I was tossed for being “too liberal.” That rejection, the rejection of a faith community also contributes to Moral Injury. Sadly I know too many others who have returned from war to be rejected by faith communities that advertise how the “love, pray for and support the troops.”

In spite of that I continued to seek help, and at Camp LeJeune my commanders and others ensured that I got what I needed. It helped and when I returned to Hampton Roads a year ago I really thought that I was doing better. That changed last month. I went back, seeking follow-up care, which I assumed was just to download my issues with once in a while and manage my medication. Instead that attempt to re-enter the military mental health care system did me considerable harm, hell I considered suicide just last week after this. I no longer think that what I need is simple occasional follow up care, instead my experience shattered me. I had no idea just how fragile that I was, it was as if the floor had been kicked out from under me.

That my friends is what Moral Injury does to someone. Those are the kind of experiences that break a person’s faith and trust in the things, ideals, institutions and people that they grew up trusting and believing in. That loss of faith and trust, combined with the other layers of Combat Stress Injury can be devastating, and it doesn’t seem to matter because most people are neither aware, nor do they care. Not because they are bad people, but because there is such a gulf between the military and society at large that such issues are distant and incomprehensible to most people not in the military.

Yes, my trust in the system and my country is broken and I don’t know if I will ever regain the faith that I have lost. I honestly want to, I want to believe. God I want to believe. Now it does look like I will be getting help, and maybe even a chance to help being a part of the solution, and that will be a good thing.  Today I got a call from the Admiral at the Medical Center, unfortunately it went directly to voice mail, but he did sound like he cared and wanted to listen. For that I am grateful.

Pray for me as I get a chance to speak with leaders who have some influence to make things better, not just for me, but for all of us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under mental health, PTSD, suicide

To Believe and Not to Believe, that is the Challenge

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“Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.” Andrew Greeley “The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St Germain”

When I returned from Iraq in 2008 I was a mess. I had gone to Iraq thinking that I had the answers to about anything and that I was invincible. I felt that with years of experience in the military and in trauma departments of major trauma centers that I was immune to the effects of war and trauma. Likewise I had spent years studying theology, pastoral care and ethics as well as military history, theory and practice. I had studied PTSD and Combat Stress and had worked with Marines that were dealing with it. If there was anyone who could go to Iraq and come back “normal” it had to be me.
Of course as anyone who knows me or reads this website regularly knows I came back from Iraq different. I collapsed in the midst of PTSD induced depression, anxiety and a loss of faith. For nearly two years I was a practical agnostic. What I had believed with absolute certitude before the experience of war was gone.

During that time, particularly when I was working in the ICU and Pediatric ICU at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. I attempted to have enough faith to help others during their crisis, be they patients at the brink of death or families walking through that dark valley and our staff. It was difficult because at the time I did not have any faith to even believe that God existed.

It was during those dark days that the writings of Father Andrew Greeley, mainly his Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries that provided me with one of the few places of spiritual solace and hope that I found. Baseball happened to be the other.
During those dark times when prayer seemed futile and the scriptures seemed dry and dead I found some measure of life and hope in the remarkable lives of the people that inhabited the pages of the Bishop Blackie Ryan novels. Through them I learned that doubt and faith could co-exist and that there was a mystery to faith in Jesus that defied the absolute doctrinal statements as well the as cultural, political and sociological prejudices that I had grown up with.

I did learn something else, something that makes many people uncomfortable and that took me a long time to accept. That was that doubt and faith could co-exist. As I read Greeley’s stories I began to see scripture in a new light. I discovered that the stories of the men and women that we venerate for their faith were more remarkable because of the doubt and unbelief that are documented in scripture. Some even disputed God and are still considered faithful. The Bible is full of these stories.

So when I hear of religious leaders who proclaim all that they say and allegedly believe as absolute truth I know that they are trying too hard. In essence they made their beliefs an idol that keeps them from facing the reality of the world and the reality of their own hearts. It such cases faith becomes fanaticism. It interjects a sense of self righteousness into all relationships and leads to the worst forms of pride, prejudice and hatred of anything that does not fit in their narrow understanding.

Eric Hoffer wrote: “A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

It took losing my faith to rediscover it and life as I anointed a man in our emergency room in December 2009. I call that my Christmas Miracle. Faith returned to to me, much to my surprise and I believe again. But I also doubt, at least a couple of times a day. And for that I’m grateful. It keeps me humble and has broken down the wall that had insulated me. and I am alive again.

That also gives me a certain joy and appreciation in ministry. Greeley wrote in his last Bishop Blackie mystery:

“Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

I guess that is how I approach ministry now, even outside the church or chapel. As a chaplain many of the people I serve may never darken the door of a church, they like me struggle with faith, belief and unbelief.

Greeley wrote that is was possible for a priest to lose their faith “no more often than a couple of times a day.” That describes me pretty well.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, ministry, PTSD

Learning to Live with PTSD and Moral Injury through the Lens of Star Trek

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“So – my brother is a human being after all. This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it. You have a simple choice now: live with it below the sea with Louis – or above the clouds with the Enterprise.” Robert Picard to Jean Luc Picard 

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I am a big fan of the various Star Trek television series for many reasons. Perhaps the biggest reason is how I see the series speak to real issues, including things like PTSD and Moral Injury. That is a wonderful thing about the genre of science fiction, good writers can make a fictionalized future relatable to those that read or watch their creation.  I think this especially valuable because the presentations are realistic, but at the same time because they are science fiction are less threatening.

In Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space Nine there are a number of episodes that deal with the effects of PTSD, moral injury and combat stress injury.  They include some that deal with Captain Jean Luc Picard, Chief Miles O’Brien, Captain Benjamin Sisko and Ensign Nog. The ones dealing with Picard and Sisko deal with senior leaders, which makes them interesting to me.

The one about O’Brien deals with moral injury in a senior enlisted leader, and the episode about Ensign Nog, the effect of physical and emotional trauma on an idealistic junior officer. Today I am focusing on the senior leader aspect, looking at the experience of Picard after his abduction by the Borg and that of Chief O’Brien when he meets former Cardassian enemies that he fought in a desperate battle at an isolated outpost.

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In the episode called The Wounded Chief O’Brien expressed what so many of us know about war, and voices what PTSD and Moral Injury does to us when he says to a Cardassian officer: “It’s not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became, because of you.” It is a sentiment that I have encountered in other veterans, including some that I knew who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

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Senior leaders afflicted with PTSD are among those least likely to seek help for it, even when the effects on them are evident to most.  It is our culture, it is our personality, it is how we do life. Most of us are overachievers who for most of our lives been able to compartmentalize even the worst experiences in order to move ahead in our career and vocation as military leaders.

When we, that is senior leaders experience things that are troubling we seldom have the luxury of dwelling on them. We frequently have to keep things running, take care of our people and move along. So because we are not able to deal with these experiences and the emotions that they engender, we box them up, put them on a shelf and move on. This is important because the mission has to be fulfilled, even if there is a terrible price to be paid later.

Picard tells counselor Troi before going on leave: “Your help has been invaluable during my recovery, but… look, I’m, uh… I’m better! The injuries are healing.” Of course he is not better, he is simply in denial.

Unfortunately the traumatic experiences that we package and put into storage are often quite toxic. I like to use the term radioactive, it just sounds more sinister. They are corrosive, and like radioactive or other toxic waste quite often breach the containment vessels that we construct in our minds to store them.

Likewise since senior leaders have often spent years, or even decades dealing with trauma the effects are cumulative, it may not be a single incident of trauma, but multiple instances or trauma, and experiences that leave scars on our soul, things that cause us to wonder, and doubt the things that we believe in the most.

I have seen this happen all too often. I know, have known or am personally aware of numerous cases where senior leaders afflicted with PTSD, TBI or Moral Injury continue on, even get promoted to high command and then crash and burn. Sometimes it means the end of their upward mobility, for others the end of their career and for some a condition that eventually destroys them. Unfortunately, most don’t get help because of the stigma associated with it and the fear of what it will do to their career aspirations.

The truth of the matter is that these traumatic injuries remain with us. If we deny them, or try to contain them without dealing with them they are like highly toxic waste that eventually escapes containment. When they do breach containment they create devastation in our lives, careers and of the lives that we care about, our families, and those that we lead.

That help begins with us, we have to admit that we need help and seek it out. We also need colleagues, seniors and subordinates to be honest with us.  But even while getting help we have to decide to go on with life, that is a choice that we must make.

We have to know that even as we get help and even get some relief from the symptoms of PTSD, TBI, Combat Stress Injury or Moral Injury that the memories will remain. Feelings and images of trauma that we think we have gotten through are still lodged deep in our psyche, and sometimes it doesn’t take much for them to return, bigger than life. The memories can be triggered by sights or images, smells, music, or something someone says or does. They can be relived when we experience a new trauma that reminds of us of the past.  That is why trauma experienced even decades before can still be as vivid to soldiers as the day that they were first experienced.

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Counselor Deanna Troi told Picard after his encounter with the Borg: “Captain, you do need time. You cannot achieve complete recovery so quickly. And it’s perfectly normal, after what you’ve been through, to spend a great deal of time trying to find yourself again.”

I write in the hopes that all of us who have seen or experienced things in war are able to get the help that we need. But in the words of Robert Picard to his heroic yet traumatized brother; This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it. You have a simple choice now: live with it below the sea with Louis – or above the clouds with the Enterprise.” 

Yes, we do have to learn to live with it, but we can. Maybe not easily, but we can, and in doing so still do great things.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Military, PTSD, star trek

Ending the Stigma: PTSD, TBI and Moral Injury in Senior Leaders

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Yesterday I wrote about the death of my former Commodore at EOD Group Two, Captain Thomas Sitsch who committed suicide on Monday outside a New Hampshire Hospital. Captain Sitsch was another casualty of the longest wars this nation has engaged.

Many senior leaders in the military, officers and senior enlisted of every service have frequently deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan as well as other locations in the war on terror. Since the war has been going over 12 years many have spent over half of their careers preparing for, engaging in, or recovering from wartime deployments. Many have suffered physical injuries as well as the unseen injuries of war, PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and Moral Injury. Unfortunately they are often the last people to seek help.

In the past few years I have personally known or know of a number of senior officers and senior enlisted personnel who have committed or attempted suicide or had their careers destroyed because of their actions. Some like Captain Sitsch were diagnosed with PTSD, others displayed some or all of the indicators but either refused help or put getting help aside in order to “stay in the fight.”

In the past couple of years the Commanding Officer of a deployed SEAL Team committed suicide in Afghanistan, two Marine Expeditionary Unit commanding officers were relieved after incidents that probably have their genus in PTSD, or Moral Injury. I would almost bet that some of the issues that some of our senior leaders have been relieved of their duties for are also the result of untreated PTSD, TBI, Combat Stress Injury or Moral Injury.

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Retired Canadian General Romeo Dallaire still suffers from PTSD following his command of the UN Rwanda force in the middle of that country’s genocide. He attempted suicide in 2000 and still suffers. Last month he was involved in a car accident on his way to work in the Canadian Senate when he fell asleep at the wheel of his car. He had not slept the previous night due to reliving the horrors of that experience. As someone who still suffers chronic insomnia related to my PTSD I understand how this can happen.

The PTSD of T. E. Lawrence’s experience of war in the Middle East in the First World War shows in the pages of his classic Seven Pillars of Wisdom and various letters. Lawrence, who could have risen to high rank in the military or the foreign service basically went underground under an assumed name to serve in the ranks of the Royal Air Force in the 1920s. He wrote to Eric Kennington in 1935 not long before his death in a motorcycle accident:

“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”  

That is a part of our military culture. Leaders are under a great deal of pressure to accomplish often impossible missions and to take care of their troops. Many have been exposed to repeated combat trauma and had to bury more than one of their troops, often after the person commits suicide. Many anguish over the deaths, blame themselves and heap guilt on top of grief on top of traumatic or moral injury.

As I said many do not seek help due to an overwhelming cultural stigma against getting help, or “going to the wizard.” Likewise they know that that the reality is that if they seek help them may never command or be assigned to sensitive career enhancing billets again. As one senior leader told me “its hard when they say if you have issues and they are known that you can still have a successful career, but you will never be promoted or selected to a critical position, again.” 

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A few senior leaders have admitted to suffering from the symptoms of Combat Stress Injury and sought treatment. The most senior was General Carter Ham who began to suffer symptoms following his deployment to Mosul Iraq in 2004. Major General Gary Patton has also sought help for PTSD. Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, now retired has taken up the cause to reduce the stigma seeking to have PTSD renamed Post Traumatic Stress Injury instead of “disorder” because it is an injury.

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I wish I had an answer. For me it took a complete crash to get help as well as the assistance of two fine EOD officers, Admiral Frank Morneau and Captain Sitsch. Even with that initial assistance I still feel a certain stigma. My experience is that senior leaders who admit to this and seek treatment often become radioactive. I feel this most often around other chaplains. I am sure that senior leaders probably feel the same way when they are around others who either do not have the experience or who are trying to bury theirs.

One thing that I do think would be helpful is that instead of promoting stigma would be to stand alongside each other. Relationships are key to this and while professional help is good the only thing that can take away the stigma is to get back to standing beside each other in crisis rather than abandoning those who struggle. We are the willing participants in a zero defect culture which sees struggle as weakness and a mark of failure. The sad thing is that under our current system many of the greatest military leaders in history would not be promoted. It is no wonder the leaders who we have invested so much in developing and have sacrificed so much of themselves do not seek help.

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I like the example of Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. Both had significant problems after they left the Army after the Mexican War and in the early days of the Civil War. Grant struggled with drinking and Sherman suffered terrible depression. Sherman said of their relationship: “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.”

The reality is that in today’s more corporate military culture that neither of these men would have ever been promoted to high command. They would have been shunted aside.

Something has to change if we are to end this terrible scourge. I hope that General Ham and General Chiarelli are working with mental health professionals are able to help change the culture, but then by themselves they cannot. That has to start as we say in the Navy “at the deck plates.” It is up to us to change our culture, to be warriors who look after our fellow warriors in their time of need and who by our actions take away the stigma that keeps our brothers and sisters from getting help.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, News and current events, PTSD