You’ll Be Scared. Sure--you’ll be scared.
Fear, Stress and Coping in the Civil War

By Philip M. Cole
(September 2010 Civil War News - Web Exclusive )

Bookmark and Share

Illustrated, notes, appendices, bibliography, index, 188 pp., 2010, Colecraft Industries,, $16.95.

One of the most common and frequently misunderstood emotions everyone experiences is fear. Even though it is a sensory warning of potential injury or threat, fear causes different responses in different people.

This work, likely to become quite popular, provides descriptions of every facet of fear soldiers involved in any major conflict might experience.

Philip Cole dissects fear with an expertise that is hard to match. He takes an intangible emotion and breathes life into it.

Fear influences our thoughts and actions frequently without our knowledge. Using this premise, he explores factors influencing fear. Additionally he describes the cause-and-effect relationship between fear and stress.

Understanding these factors is extremely important in order for commanders to be effective. Weather, fatigue and lack of food, sleep and clothing all play an important part in how a soldier reacts during battle.

Reactions during conflict are almost as different as the individuals fighting. Preparations made prior to battle may or may not alleviate certain fears. Actual combat almost always causes different fears. These not only include the fear of dying but also of being surrounded by death, isolation and loneliness.

The Civil War is the first major conflict where American soldiers were geographically dispersed over great distances. As a result, communication of information from leaders to their subordinates had a direct impact on the trust between the soldier and his leaders. This trust or lack thereof also causes fear and anxiety.

Civil War strategy and tactics did not keep up with the technology and weaponry available at that time. Many historians struggle to understand why Civil War soldiers were willing to make frontal assaults like Longstreet’s Gettysburg attack, better known as “Pickett’s Charge,” where certain death appeared imminent.

Cole provides a very good answer: the close-knit community among soldiers and good communication between leaders and subordinates.

Unlike in most later wars, Civil War soldiers frequently joined units of men directly from their own communities. The result was unique situations in which public shame or humiliation could be used to cause soldiers to overcome fears.

Another interesting observation is that Civil War soldiers suffered many of the same emotional and mental traumas that soldiers face in modern combat zones.

Mid-19th century doctors did not call it post- traumatic stress disorder, but rest assured Civil War soldiers suffered from attacks of nightmares, visions of death, feelings of guilt and remorse, while at the same time experiencing relief that they had survived.

This book appeals to a wide audience. It is reasonably priced, well written and extensively researched.

The author makes learning how soldiers in combat overcome their fears a more enjoyable experience. A minor editing flaw in the bibliography does not keep this reviewer from giving this book a strong recommendation.

Reviewer: Richard J. Blumberg

Richard J. Blumberg has a master’s degree with honors in Civil War studies. He is past president of the Houston Civil War Round Table and is a speaker for that group and the Society of Women in the Civil War. He also reviews books for the Blue and Gray Education Society.