HOLIDAY SALE! Save 40% on ALL UNC Press print books with Discount Code 01HOLIDAY. See details.

Save 40%! Holiday savings on ALL UNC Press print books with Discount Code 01HOLIDAY! (Details)

Aberration of Mind

Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War–Era South

By Diane Miller Sommerville

448 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4330-4
    Published: October 2018
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4356-4
    Published: October 2018
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4357-1
    Published: September 2018

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

Awards & distinctions

Finalist, 2019 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize

More than 150 years after its end, we still struggle to understand the full extent of the human toll of the Civil War and the psychological crisis it created. In Aberration of Mind, Diane Miller Sommerville offers the first book-length treatment of suicide in the South during the Civil War era, giving us insight into both white and black communities, Confederate soldiers and their families, as well as the enslaved and newly freed. With a thorough examination of the dynamics of both racial and gendered dimensions of psychological distress, Sommerville reveals how the suffering experienced by Southerners living in a war zone generated trauma that, in extreme cases, led some Southerners to contemplate or act on suicidal thoughts.

Sommerville recovers previously hidden stories of individuals exhibiting suicidal activity or aberrant psychological behavior she links to the war and its aftermath. This work adds crucial nuance to our understanding of how personal suffering shaped the way southerners viewed themselves in the Civil War era and underscores the full human costs of war.

About the Author

Diane Miller Sommerville is associate professor of history at Binghamton University and author of Rape and Race in the Nineteenth-Century South.
For more information about Diane Miller Sommerville, visit the Author Page.


“Sommerville gives a well-researched, powerful monograph that paves the way for other historians doing research in this field. She presents the experience of suicide from many angles and grounds that examination in the words and experiences of southerners themselves. The resulting analysis is a valuable contribution to our understanding of nineteenth-century American society, the impact of the Civil War on the South, and the understanding and treatment of mental illness in the Civil War era.”--H-Net Reviews

“A worthy contribution to the scholarship on the experiences of ordinary citizens during the Civil War era and to the literature on the trauma of war.”--Journal of Southern History

"In recent years, the suicide rate among American soldiers in Afghanistan surpassed the rate of combat deaths, making work like Aberration of Mind enormously timely and important. War, we are learning, is not just destructive but self-destructive work. In combining the lenses of history, psychology, and medicine, this book takes us to the root of how and why war has, apparently for centuries, left deep mental scars in the minds of the people who waged it and the populations who experienced it. This incredibly arresting and richly researched book will remain significant for a long time to come."--Stephen Berry, University of Georgia

"Sommerville's research is robust, her evidence formidable, and her analysis insightful, probing the complex intersections of gender and race. This book is full of fresh interpretations--a timely and welcome addition to the scholarship."--David Silkenat, University of Edinburgh

"The wages of war in the South of the 1860s and after went beyond the casualties of conflict and ravages of disease, beyond even the loss of wealth and resources. As Diane Sommerville demonstrates in this work of originality and sensitivity, the despair produced by catastrophic defeat and destruction caused many Southerners to take their own lives to escape the trials of a hopeless future. This book is an important contribution to our understanding of a dark result of the Civil War."--James M. McPherson, Princeton University