FORT TICONDEROGA, 1758 — Peter Hart lived with the trauma of seeing around 2,000 of his military brothers slaughtered on the battlefield.
More than two centuries before the American Psychiatric Association recognized post-traumatic stress disorder, Hart, a private in the New York Provincial Regiment who fought at the Battle of Carillon in 1758 as part of the French and Indian War, carried the psychological scars of armed conflict.
He carved his memories onto his powder horn, a crucial accessory for an 18th-century soldier.
“July 8 A Bloody Day we found, When we left some thousands Dead upon ye ground.”
The artifact, one of several powder horns on display at Fort Ticonderoga, memorializes the gravity of the battle.
“Powder horns are rather unique objects,” said Christopher D. Fox, curator of collections at the fort. “Virtually all have names and dates inscribed on them, which makes them a more personal object.”
Like diary entries etched for posterity, several horns in the collection bear first-hand accounts of the gruesome siege, when a French army of fewer than 4,000 defended the fort against an invasion of more than 16,000 British regulars and colonial militia.
For the British, the bloody defeat was an unimaginable loss.
“Timothy Ludington His Horn Made Att Lake Gorg july the 8 ano 1758 The Fite begun july the 6 ay And Wee Lorst 1947 Men The Rose is Red the Gras is green Such days is Past Which we Have Seen,” a private from Connecticut carved into his horn.
Edward Tick, founding director of Soldier’s Heart — a program designed to address the emotional, moral and spiritual wounds of veterans, their families and communities — sees signs of what is now called PTSD in the French and Indian War soldiers’ battle memorials.
“Violent trauma causes profound changes to the body, mind, heart and spirit,” said Tick, a Troy-based psychotherapist who has specialized in working with veterans since the 1970s.
In his book “War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder” and in the upcoming “Warrior’s Return: Restoring the Soul After the War,” Tick writes about the history of PTSD, which dates back long before the Vietnam War era.
“You read accounts of people fighting for disabled veterans’ benefits even after the American Revolution,” he said. “This problem was with us right from the beginning.”
Horrors of war
The 1758 Battle of Carillon, the original French name for Fort Ticonderoga, was a bloodbath.
“This was one of the bloodiest battles in America up until probably the Civil War,” said Russell Bellico, professor emeritus at Westfield State College in Massachusetts.
Bellico documents the many errors made by British leaders in his book, “Empire in the Mountains: French and Indian War Campaigns and Forts in the Lake Champlain, Lake George and Hudson River Corridor.”
As British troops marched toward the French stronghold the day before the actual battle, the popular Lord George Augustus Howe, named brigadier general in America a few months before, was killed. Major General James Abercromby, the commander in chief of British forces in North America, was left to make strategic calls.
According to Bellico, exhaustion and bad decisions led to poor direction.
Wooden barriers built by General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm’s French troops to protect the fort proved to be a bigger impediment than Abercromby had predicted.
Although originally confident of a swift victory, the British forces soon learned they had underestimated their opponent. As the British advanced, the battleground became a killing field.
Waves of British and colonial soldiers were struck by an onslaught of French fire.
“You have to wonder why they would keep attacking this breastwork,” Bellico said. “They were really fighting for their comrades. They didn’t want to let them down.”
In a memoir published in 1822, Captain David Perry, who was a young soldier during the battle, recounted the horrific scene.
“Our orders were to ‘run to the breast-work, and get in if we could.’ But their lines were full, and they killed our men so fast, that we could not gain it,” Perry wrote. “We got behind trees, logs and stumps, and covered ourselves as we could from the enemy’s fire. The ground was strewed with the dead and dying.”
Perry managed to position himself with several other soldiers behind a large fallen tree.
“One of the men raised his head a little above the log, and a ball struck him in the centre of the forehead, and tore up his scalp clear back to the crown. He darted back, and the blood ran merrily; and rubbing his face, said it was a bad blow, and no one was disposed to deny it, for he looked bad enough,” he wrote.
Perry was surrounded by carnage.
“We lay there till near sunset; and, not receiving orders from any officer, the men crept off, leaving all the dead, and most of the wounded,” he wrote.
More than six decades later, Perry remained traumatized.
“We got away the wounded of our company; but left a great many crying for help, which we were unable to afford them,” he wrote.
According to Fox, who has done exhaustive research on the fort’s history, the defeat at Carillon stuck with the soldiers.
“The battle affected people in a way I have never seen before for any other battle in the 18th century,” he said.
Fox points to a petition for aid he uncovered at the Massachusetts State Archive. The paper, filed in December 1758, seeks funds for Richard Trusdel, who was injured during the fight.
“That Your Petitioner being Engaged in His Majesty’s Service in the Summer Past, and in the Late Battle at Ticonderoga, was there Wounded by a Ball passing thro’ his Breast and Right Arm, by which the Veins and Tendons were so Torn and Shattered as to Render his Arm Useless and by that Means he is not only Incapable of doing any Labors for the Support of himself & Family, but has thereby been put to Considerable Charge and Difficulty both in his returning Home and Since and Like to be put to More for it’s thought by Chyrurgeons (surgeons) that he will not be Able to do any Labour for Some Months, if Ever,” the document states.
Trusdel signed the plea with an “x,” followed by a brief explanation.
“By the wound above I can’t write my name.”
After decades of helping veterans cope with the residual trauma they experienced even years after battle, Tick became interested in the history of war’s long-term effects on the mind and body.
“I’ve studied PTSD from ancient times to the present. Even before it was called PTSD, there are many accounts of severe psychological breakdowns. There is evidence that even George Washington had some of the symptoms we associated with PTSD,” he said.
In “War and the Soul,” Tick documents some previous monikers for the syndrome.
“The affliction has had many names over the centuries, demonstrating that it is a condition accompanying not just modern wars but all wars,” Tick wrote. “Its cluster of symptoms was first diagnosed as ‘nostalgia’ among Swiss soldiers in 1678. German doctors at that time called the condition Heimweh, and the French called it maladie du pays; both mean homesickness. The Spanish called it estar roto, ‘to be broken.’ Civil War Americans called it soldier’s heart, irritable heart or nostalgia. In World War I, it was called shell shock; in World War II and Korea, combat fatigue.”
The soldiers that fought at Ticonderoga suffered from the affliction, whatever it was called.
“This was a colossal event for them. It was the biggest thing in their lives,” Bellico said.
Fox thinks the wounds received that day were more than physical. Although people in the 21st century might view musket fire as primitive, the rapid artillery shots took many of the soldiers by surprise.
“I have to believe some of these people did suffer longer-term mental effects,” he said. “I think it is very difficult for a lot of people to visualize. The muskets were not as slow and limited as they are often portrayed. In the day, they were state-of-the-art military weapons. It was a different technology, but that time was just as terrible as today.”
The increasing use of guns in war has added to the trauma soldiers face, according to Tick. “The degree of PTSD has increased throughout history with the development of firearms and the increasing deadly technology of warfare. This has been documented from the Civil War to the present. The more deadly, more casualties, more civilian and infrastructure destruction, the more severe and extensive the trauma to soldiers,” he said.
Road to recovery
Even before the restoration of Fort Ticonderoga began in 1909, the decaying structure on the site was a popular travel destination.
“This stayed in the minds of Americans. The events were important in American history, and people could come up to see the ruins. It was part of the early tourist trade,” Bellico said.
The French and Indian War relic, which also played a role in the American Revolution, serves as a memorial to the men who fought there.
“In battle, all politics disappear and soldiers live and die for each other. In battle, the greatest bond and commitment is not the great causes, but to the brotherhood in arms,” Tick said.
When working with veterans suffering from PTSD, Tick emphasizes the value in storytelling.
“Violent warfare is always more traumatic than anyone can imagine, and the stories need to be told,” he said.
Sharing accounts of difficult events is a crucial part of Tick’s therapy process through a Soldier’s Heart.
“The public platform is necessary for the story to get passed on and become part of the community’s collective wisdom and mythic history,” he wrote in “War and the Soul.”
For the soldiers who survived the Battle of Carillon, inscribing their memories on a powder horn was a way to start telling their tales.
“Soldiers have used expressive arts to help heal their wounds related to warfare since ancient times,” said Tick, noting historical examples like the Psalms of David, Aeschylus’ Greek tragedies and American Indian songs, dances and paintings on teepees and shields. By displaying those artifacts in Ticonderoga, the fort is acknowledging the soldiers’ sacrifices to subsequent generations of Americans.
“We would honor the soldiers at the Battle of Carillon by educating the public and adding their engravings to the history of soldiering and the ways survivors have carried and documented their war traumas through the arts and through the ages,” Tick said.
The details are gory, but Fox wants the story of the Battle of Carillon to continue to be told.
“We try to paint a realistic picture of this fort’s history. We try to present the story of what happened to the people,” he said. “We don’t seek to romanticize the past in any way. This was real life, and these were real people.”
Fort Ticonderoga, originally called Fort Carillon by the French, is at 30 Fort Ti Road in Ticonderoga. For more information, go to www.fortticonderoga.org or call 585-2821.
For more information on Soldier’s Heart, go to www.soldiersheart.net or call 274-0501.
What is PTSD?
The American Psychiatric Association added post-traumatic stress disorder to the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980. According to the professional organization, PTSD is an anxiety problem that develops in some people after extremely traumatic events, such as combat, crime, an accident or natural disaster.
People with PTSD may relive the event via intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares; avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma; and have anxious feelings they didn’t have before that are so intense their lives are disrupted.