A strict disciplinarian who served during the Mexican-American War and as drillmaster for the Utica, New York, city militia, William Henry Christian certainly had the credentials of an officer. A surveyor and engineer by trade, Christian sought to make his mark in the military and got off to a promising start. As events proved, however, Christian was never cut out for battlefield command. As colonel of the 26th New York Infantry, he stayed out of the action at Second Bull Run, claiming illness. Then as a brigade commander at the battle of Antietam, he became unnerved and fled in the face of the enemy. He grew increasingly despondent afterwards and ultimately slipped into a state of insanity, dying an inmate of a New York asylum. His story is truly a sad one.
A sad tale indeed. Shell shock, or soldier’s heart, as it was known in that war, must have affected far more men that we ever got to hear about. Sherman’s depression seems negligible compared to Christian’s meltdown.