Lykens Civil War veteran’s death in 1869 illustrates post-war alcohol crisis

“The real epidemic… was alcoholism. Despite the earnest efforts of teetotal officers, Union soldiers binged on untold gallons of whiskey during the war – mitigating tedium in camp, cowardice on the battlefield, and anguish in the field hospital. Such pervasive imbibing had posed significant challenges to the discipline, cohesion, and fighting effectiveness of individual regiments. 

Now the ‘deadly’ drink habit stalked veterans staggering their way back home…” 

– Brian Jordan, Marching Home: Union Veterans and the Unending Civil War

When the Civil War was over and the soldiers returned home, life was not always easy. Men often had difficulty reintegrating into society; something we still witness today with our own era’s combat veterans.

The Lykens Valley was not immune to the difficulties of soldiers returning home.

From the Harrisburg Telegraph, October 2, 1869:

Found Dead. 

On Monday morning about 11 o’clock, Mr. John Orndorff, an employee of the Railroad Company, while engaged in oiling a car on the west end of the trustle bridge across Wiconisco Creek at this place, discovered in the stream below something that looked like man’s clothing, which, upon further examination proved to be the dead body of a German named Anton Haake.

Assistance was at once summoned and the body taken out of the water, when ‘Squire Ferree, of this place, was notified, and empanneled a jury of inquest to inquire into the cause of death of the deceased. After an examination of the body by Dr. Mauer, and mature deliberation of the circumstances in the case, the jury rendered a verdict “that the said Anton Haake came to his death between six o’clock on Saturday evening, September 25, and 12 o’clock M., on Monday, September 27, by accidentally falling through he bridge, a distance of about thirty feet, into Wiconisco Creek, upon a stony bottom, while under the influence of alcohol.”  

The deceased had been a resident in this township for upwards of twenty years, and was known as a man of very dissipated habits. upon his person were found two bottles, one full of whisky and the other empty, and it is probable that in attempting to cross the bridge on Saturday night, in a state of intoxication, he made a misstep and fell through head foremost, breaking his neck. 

Haake was a native of Arensberg, Prussia, about 37-years-old, and served in the late rebellion in Co. D, 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, from which he received an honorable discharge… His remains were taken in charge by the township, and deposited on Tuesday in the Catholic Cemetery. He was employed at the time of his death at the new operation of the Lykens Valley Coal Company, and was unmarried. 

Private Anton Haake joined the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry in October 1864 and served until the unit was mustered out in 1865. In the short time he was with the unit, his regiment particpated in General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” and his Carolina Campaign in early 1865.

His untimely death would not be the last to befall a local Civil War veteran, and it is important to revisit the experiences of these men as we examine the plight of many veterans of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

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2 thoughts on “Lykens Civil War veteran’s death in 1869 illustrates post-war alcohol crisis

  1. Well, maybe I should not admit it, but the stress of war causes these same types of problems in today’s world. Shamefully I experienced the problem of excessive alcohol use during my time in the war,but fortunately did not turn into a permanent alcoholic addition. The stress of being far away from home and the love of family are more easily forgotten after a few drinks of booze.
    And then, once you get home to reality, what is real and what is not get confusing. The easy way out was to join your friends at the pub.
    Not sure why I write this, except the writer of this story kind of put into the shoes of the man who drank himself to death, and how there but by the grace of god go I.


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