An Anecdote of Suicide (?)

Recently at the Society of Civil War Historians conference I was asked if any Civil War soldiers committed “suicide” by purposely placing themselves in harm’s way. Besides the question of whether the deaths of Confederate generals Hill and Garnett were such suicides, I recently found this interesting anecdote in Gregory A. Coco’s The Civil War Infantryman.

Brothers Judson and Carey Smith both served in the 21st Mississippi and Carey (who was the younger brother) was mortally wounded at the Battle of Savage's Station. Robert Stiles recorded Judson’s reaction to his brother’s death:

“Judson Smith went almost deranged; Yes, I think altogether deranged. He bore his dead brother out of the woods [where he had died]…He kept the body folded to his bosom, and all through the night his comrades heard Judson kissing Carey and talking to him and petting him, and then sobbing as if his heart would break. Next morning he consented to have his brother’s body sent to Richmond…When the regiment moved he kissed Carey again and again, and then left him, following the column all day alone, allowing no one to comfort him or even speak to him. So that night he lay down alone, not accepting the proffered sympathy and ministrations of his friends, and resumed his solitary march in the morning.

That was [the Battle of] Malvern Hill day, and when the regiment, on its first charge, stopped ascending that fearful slope of death and turned back, Jud. Smith did not stop. He went right on, never returned and was never heard of again.”

The story continues after the death of Carey and Judson Smith. When their father learned of the death of both his sons he joined the army as a private and at a fight near Iuka, MS he did the same as Judson had done at Malvern Hill.

As with the cases of Hill and Garnett, I will leave it up to the reader to decide whether this falls into the category of suicide, or not.

{Gregory A. Coco, The Civil War Infantryman: In Camp, On the March, and in Battle (Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1996), 118.}

Kathleen Logothetis Thompson graduated from Siena College in May 2010 with a B.A. in History and a Certificate in Revolutionary Era Studies.  She earned her M.A. in History from West Virginia University in May 2012.  Her thesis “A Question of Life or Death: Suicide and Survival in the Union Army” examines wartime suicide among Union soldiers, its causes, and the reasons that army saw a relatively low suicide rate.  She is currently pursuing her PhD at West Virginia University with research on mental trauma in the Civil War.  In addition, Kathleen was a seasonal interpreter at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park from 2010-2014 and has worked on various other publications and projects.