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April 20, 2012

Homeward Bound

Home, where my thought's escapin'
Home, where my music's playin'
Home, where my love lies waitin'
Silently for me...

Homesickness in men fighting the War Between the States:

In October 1861 Alfred Lewis Castleman, a surgeon in the Fifth Regiment of the Wisconsin Volunteers, described the first death in his regiment. It was not from battle. “The poor fellow died of Nostalgia (home-sickness), raving to the last breath about wife and children,” he wrote. “Deaths from this cause are very frequent in the army.”

Homesickness was widespread in both the Confederate and Union armies, as thousands of surviving journals and letters testify. Many men came from rural areas and were away from farm and family for the first time. Added to this sense of displacement was the fear that they might be killed in battle and never see their loved ones again.

An 1861 letter from Richard Simpson, a soldier in the Third South Carolina Volunteers, to his aunt was typical. “We are now in the land of danger, far, far from home,” he wrote. Simpson had been away from home before, but, he confided: “I never wished to be back as bad in my life. How memory recalls every little spot, and how vividly every little scene flashes before my mind. Oh! If there is one place dear to me it is home sweet home. How many joys cluster there. To join once more the family circle (I mean you all) and talk of times gone by would be more to me than all else besides.”

While Simpson’s homesickness was intense, it was not debilitating. For thousands of other men, the emotion sapped their strength and left them ill. When it became this serious, doctors deemed it nostalgia. Union records offer a good picture of its consequences: over the course of the war’s first year, the Surgeon General reported, there were 572 cases of nostalgia among troops. Those numbers rose in subsequent years, peaking in the year ending in June 1863, after the draft had begun. That year more than 2,000 men were listed as suffering from nostalgia; 12 succumbed to it. The year with the most fatalities was 1865, when 24 men died of the disease. In all, between 1861 and 1866, 5,537 Union soldiers suffered homesickness acutely enough to come to a doctor’s attention, and 74 died of it.

Given the deadly risks believed to accompany the condition, soldiers of all ranks monitored their own mental health as well as that of their comrades. Union Gen. Joseph Shields wrote in 1862 that soldiers, “if not allowed to go home and see their families … droop and die. … I have watched this.”

This strikes me as almost unbearably sad. It is also odd to read for the one who was left behind.

It never ceased to amaze me how The Unit would pine to be where the action was and then, almost as soon as the wheels touched the tarmac, he longed to be home again.

Posted by Cassandra at April 20, 2012 07:31 AM

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To be honest, if the wife was with me I could have remained deployed indefinitely. I understand how historically you often find families following armies into battle.

Posted by: Pogue at April 20, 2012 10:10 AM

I have a similar quality. I love to go; and I generally love to be there, but I long for my family the whole time I'm away.

Posted by: Grim at April 20, 2012 11:16 AM

In Germany, my wife and I were stationed at different sites the whole time (we did manage to live together our last year and a half as our sites were close together). I still missed her.

Because I was in a deployable unit and she was in a fixed site, though, she actually had the harder time of the two of us: we had a toddler then, and my wife had her at the fixed site. Also, at the fixed site, she had time to think about missing me and that toddler and all the hassles of raising a toddler in a foreign land. On the other hand, I had all those mobility responsibilities, the deployment and tent-living distractions and so on to keep me occupied.

In the Philippines it was different. The International School, where our now grade-school-aged kid would go after I was reassigned from Clark to PAF HQ in Manila, was drug-ridden, so my now civilian wife and daughter went home to the States.

Neither my wife nor I do photographs or other representations of our likenesses (other than the USAF's mandatory Official Photo for our personnel records). But after a short time in my PAF office, I asked her to send me a photo of her and our daughter. It's amazing how much that helped.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 20, 2012 11:47 AM

It never ceased to amaze me how The Unit would pine to be where the action was and then, almost as soon as the wheels touched the tarmac, he longed to be home again.

I loved getting on a ship, an airplane, a truck, and going. Seeing new places. New chances to excel. Liberty in places I've never been - Maryland, Oki, Thailand, Subic, Saint Thomas .. just get out and walk around, see the sights.

I was never really homesick, that I can recall. I think partially this was my fault: I married in haste and I sure did repent at leisure.

Now in my second and final marriage. I'd want to deploy, but I'd want to be home just as bad.

Posted by: Brian Dunbar at April 20, 2012 12:09 PM

I totally understood his desire for adventure/new experiences because when I was a little girl, and later as a young, single woman I loved nothing more than wandering or traveling.

What was harder for me to understand, mostly because my own freedom was so severely curtailed once I had children, was how much he seemed to miss me.

I did miss him during deployments, but I also very much enjoyed having time to myself. When he told me he wanted to go to Afghanistan, I asked him, "Have you ever thought what your reaction would be if I came to you and said, "Honey, for [professional/personal] reasons I think I need to go away for a year. You've got the kids. See ya!"

I can't see that one going over well at all :p

On the other hand, my youngest and his wife just spend most of last year apart bc of her career. It's easier (as Eric indicates) when you don't have kids.

We have friends (couples) who are both in the military and they have kids. I'm constantly amazed at how they manage.

Posted by: Cass at April 20, 2012 12:17 PM

...my youngest and his wife just spend most of last year apart bc of her career.

There are serious lessons to be had here, if they're willing to listen. My wife and I, because of our separate assignments, spent five years living apart out of the first ten of our marriage.

We really learned to communicate during those times. We also had, one year, an advantage not generally available: our duties required us to have AUTOVON in our quarters. In one very useful sense, talk was cheap. Other times, we unhesitatingly practiced the now lost art of writing letters.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 20, 2012 12:25 PM

When I was single I was very much troubled by homesickness any time I tried to relocate. Once I married, I still hated being away from home. I noticed, though, when we got ready to leave our old home behind and move here, that it was no big deal. An acquaintance asked me in some concern whether I was worried about severing so many ties and making such a big change. (She was a sociable woman who didn't know what to make of my more hermit-like habits.) As soon as she asked me, I realized the answer was that my home is wherever my husband is, and it doesn't make that much difference where that is. If we found ourselves someplace intolerable, we'd want to change it, but the problem wouldn't be homesickness.

If I am the survivor as between us, I'll probably be in trouble again.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 20, 2012 01:29 PM

...my home is wherever my husband is....

Amen and Hallelujah, Sister. That goes in the other direction, too. I can handle a whole lot of stuff a whole lot more easily if my wife is nearby.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 20, 2012 01:45 PM

Preach it! For a long time, I said that "home is where I hang my hat", but I've changed. Home is with Spice.

Posted by: htom at April 20, 2012 03:09 PM

Something someone wrote about long-distance cruising in sailboats:

"There are two main pleasures in cruising...going out from a protected place into wider waters, and coming in from wider waters to a protected place."

(approximate quote)

Posted by: david foster at April 20, 2012 03:36 PM

Spot on T99.

Posted by: MikeD at April 20, 2012 03:36 PM

I always thought among deployed military members, the family left behind is virtually forgotten. The wife who suddenly has to be both father and mother and frequently on a lot less money. The wife and children who worry about their husband and father every day, and will he be OK?

I remember being stationed in Germany many years ago and all these guys were just sitting in their barracks longing to be back in "The World".

I have been single all my life and never really affected by homesickness.

I suspect that if I had a family I had left things would be very different.

Posted by: Bill Brandt at April 21, 2012 01:41 AM

The Engineer is the same way. He missed us the second he signed in. On the flip side, he knew we had his back. I think once I made a sarcastic comment about being so torqued at doing without him, that I would find Hussein and get it over with.

I think it means the relationship is a good thing, and both parties know what is at stake. Conversely, when he was gone, I was sort of relieved and terrified at the same time, because the responsibility was scary.

Just so you of the Villainous Cadre know, the Young Man landed his first job. He is doing what he likes to do; take things apart and put them back together. I guess I did something right during the time the Engineer was gone.

Posted by: Carolyn at April 21, 2012 03:04 PM

"the Young Man landed his first job. He is doing what he likes to do; take things apart and put them back together."

Yeah!!!! Although, we already knew the lad was going to turn out alright...apples and trees, yanno.

Posted by: DL Sly at April 22, 2012 11:51 AM

Heh. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I guess homesickness depends more on your family ties than location. We had *planned* to take care of my parents once he retired, but there were some extenuating circumstances. I had always pictured my children finishing off their teen years in my home town. I suppose I could have made that happen, but it didn't. Anywho, the reason it is a big deal to me about the Husband and Son working in another state is because I have never worked in a state other than California. This place is their comfort zone.

What this means to me is that we have been able to establish what home means to them. It isn't perfect, but we are making it work for us. In terms of comfort level, I see this as a positive, because they will be able to cope in different parts of the US and be okay.

Posted by: Carolyn at April 22, 2012 01:42 PM