We often read of the effect the scenes of battle had on the mental well being of the soldiers who fought in the Civil War, but we rarely stop to consider the mental state of those same soldiers before they ever entered the service. The following letter was written by 19 year-old Pembroke S. Scott (1842-1864), the son of Charles Carruthers Scott (1803-1854) and Jane Patterson (1830-1893) of Taylor Creek, Hardin county, Ohio. He wrote the letter from the Lunatic Asylum of Ohio in Columbus in February 1862 and though his diagnosis is not revealed, his words suggest he suffered from severe depression at the time he was admitted. “I have been a kind of listless dreamer ruminating over past events and from the kind of misanthropy it produced, I was utterly incompetent to do any good for myself or anybody else,” he wrote his widowed mother.
It appears that Pembroke was well on the road to recovery in February 1862 and that sometime not long after, he was discharged from the asylum. In his annual report to the State, superintendent Dr. Richard Hills proclaimed that of the 262 patients treated at the asylum during the previous year, a remarkable 107 of them were discharged as “recovered” and 14 more as “improved.” This is an incredible cure rate indeed.
Not long after Pembroke returned home, he enlisted in Co. B, 118th Ohio Volunteers Infantry (OVI). His service entry date was 11 August 1862 and he remained with the regiment until he was killed on 14 May 1864 at the Battle of Resaca, Georgia—the first major battle in the Campaign for Atlanta. In the fighting on 14 May in which approximately three hundred members of the 118th OVI were engaged, Confederates killed or wounded 116 of them in approximately ten minutes.
A year ago I transcribed a letter by Pembroke written on Christmas Day 1862 from Kimbrough’s Bridge near Cynthiana, Kentucky. In that letter, Pembroke spoke of how he had spent Christmas under “very different circumstances” a year ago. I did not have a clue what he was referring to until I transcribed this letter. That paragraph reads in part: “I felt pretty well then. I am quite well now. I had nothing to do then. I have much to do now. Yet I am better satisfied. This is the reason. I was protected by the good old constitution. Now perhaps I can do a little something to save it from destruction & to vindicate our birthright to be free. ‘Protect the right’ is the swinging limb to hang to in my philosophy.” [See—1862: Pembroke S. Scott to Jane (Patterson) Scott.]
[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Co. L, Asylum
February 12th 1862
My Dear Mother,
I much regret that I haven’t written to you sooner when I promised to do so. Duty to yourself & family demands that I should have done this frequently. I done very wrong in neglecting it. I pray your forgiveness. I have been frequently importuned to write but I have resisted their persuasion to so so until now. I have determined to write to you. Indeed, I don’t know that I could have written any satisfaction had I tried from the first. I have been a kind of listless dreamer ruminating over past events and from the kind of misanthropy it produced, I was utterly incompetent to do any good for myself or anybody else.
I have lost those feelings to a great degree and have an intention and feel an alacrity to do everything in my power to ameliorate my condition. I haven’t the least doubt if I perform my part with any skill at all, I shall come home well sometime in the spring. The Doctor really encourages me to think this and I believe it is so. Why should I not use every effort to get well to do something for myself & friends. I believe I will try & do some of these things. When we consider the importance—the great value of a human being, even if he is part lunatic—what an effort ought one to make. How ought he to be encouraged to do good, I feel greatly encouraged to do better. I shall try and do my best.
Shall we look for a moment at the unrolled scroll of the year that is past? True, the record cannot be changed—what is written is written. The past is irrevocable. But its review may suggest lessons for the future and furnish motives to a better life. We take no note of time; but from its loss, to give them a tongue is wise in man. Alas! how many blanks—how many unimproved hours! How much good that might have been done, not done! How many things done that should not have been done! But if the past cannot be changed, why this review? For instruction and information. It teaches us to improve the present. This if time alone is ours. Now or never is a universal rule of human action. The present must be improved or its appropriate work remain forever undone. How imperceptibly it steals from us! While we wait to think, it is gone.
Our little clock is ticking in the hall. I think of time as a probation for eternity. I am startled! How it literally rushes past! How rapid the pendulum swings, marking off the passing seconds! That ceaseless tick, tick, each proclaiming a portion of probation gone! How many such have passed while I have been thus listlessly dreaming. It is a little strange that I have not profited more while here but it has all been my own fault. Indeed, I had almost resolved never to try to do right any more and I don’t know but I have kept my resolution more firmly than I resolved. But it won’t do to do wrong always. My conduct would lead to the conclusion that I had not the least confidence in my physicians here [and] such is not the case. I have had the greatest confidence in them from the first. I know them to be true physicians of the first order and while I comprehended their sympathy and sagacity to the full extent, I had a kind of impulse to treat them—to say the least—ungentlemanly. I have done so [but] I wish to do so no longer.
I confess my great fault and promise to do better for the future. I profess my willingness to sign a second pledge to obey every rule and regulations nearly as possible relative to my future improvement and well being. If we have done wrong, let us do right now. I could almost sigh for a return of the year just past that I might spend it more profitably—but that my philosophy forbids. While I daily recall the past and its un[ ed] blessings, I shall be content & try and profit in the present, that we may have pleasant memories of it when the future has become the now; that its scenes may be fair to look upon as the glowing sunset from which our steps are turned.
[Sister Ra]hama promised to write. I haven’t received any word yet. Hope to receive word from home soon! Tell Mort to write again and I will write to him next time. I should like to see John extremely well. Tell him to come without fail. It would do me much good as well as benefit himself greatly. I shall try and be able to work like a man with him next summer. You think perhaps I have forgotten you all by not writing. I think of you all every day. Your kindness I can never forget. You can’t imagine how I would like to see Thornton & Jennie and in fact everybody out there. Write one & all and let me know all about Old Hardin [county]. I want to get seven letters next week. I guess I shall have to stop. So farewell and if you do well, you will fare well. Hope you are all enjoying good health. Write soon.
Yours most affectionately, — Pembroke S. Scott
To Mrs. Jane Scott, Rushsylvania, Logan county, Ohio