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Did this Civil War Medal of Honor recipient suffer from PTSD?


York, Pa.’s, own John Henry Denig was not only a hero, but a bit of a post-war rascal. Some evaluating his conduct after the war wonder if he was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Also of interest: We must have long memories of wars that shaped York County’s and America’s history and Here are two other York countians who received Medals of Honors in later wars.

John Henry Denig was a hero and honored as such by the Marine Corps League recently in his York, Pa., hometown.

But he had problems getting along after the Civil War. Was he a victim of PTSD? That disorder was not understand 150 years ago.

The York Daily Record/Sunday News looked into Denig’s post-war life in a story headlined: “York County soldier followed gallantry with controversy/John Henry Denig received a Medal of Honor for actions during the Civil War, but later was sued for libel.

That YDR story:

John Henry Denig received the Medal of Honor for fighting “with skill and courage” in the Battle of Mobile Bay on Aug. 5, 1864, and the Civil War veteran reminded a jury of that honor during a trial he faced in later years.

After the war, Denig, of York, printed a newspaper with various names, including “Jack Shepherd’s’ Daily” or “Jack Shepherd’s’ Trumpet.” It cost 5 cents if you could afford it, but if not, it was free.

He used the publication to share his political and religious views, but he also lampooned people in the community, according to Jonathan Stayer, who wrote a college research paper on Denig that is available at the York County Heritage Trust.

“I think he had a bone to pick with everybody,” said Stayer, who now works for the Pennsylvania State Archives.

In the early 1870s, Denig was accused of libeling five community leaders – mainly ministers – in the newspaper, Stayer wrote. At trial, a jury found him not guilty of one indictment, and the court quashed the rest.

Denig was quite a character, local historical researcher June Lloyd said.

In “Jack Shepherd’s’ Daily,” it is announced that “Jack Shepherd” – alias John Henry Denig – would deliver a lecture at Washington Hall.

“Go hear him,” it says. “Rich, rare and spicy. Ladies will please await till my next.”

Denig attracted attention outside the war – especially with his libel case – but nobody talks about the other aspects of Denig’s life, Stayer said.

Denig published “Jack Shepherd’s’ Trial,” which covered his case involving the charge of libeling a pastor. Denig alleged the congregation had “taken to themselves a false teacher; a wolf in sheep’s clothing; a deceiver and a hypocrite,” according to the paper.

Dr. N. H. Shearer, a physician and druggist, testified that he thought Denig was “crazy,” the report states.

“And you admitted to the accused and stated upon your oath, that perhaps you were about half beside yourself?” Denig asked Shearer, prompting laughter in the court, according to “Jack Shepherd’s’ Trial.”

Records indicate that Denig spent time in the “Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital” as well as prisons, poor houses and other places, Stayer wrote.

Stayer said he always wondered if Denig had been injured during the war or if his service in the military had affected his mind.

Lloyd said she needs to do more research on Denig, but she, too, has questions about his mental health.

“It makes you wonder if it’s post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said.

Denig asked for justice at his trial, according to “Jack Shepherd’s’ Trial.”

That’s when he referred to his military service.

Sgt. Denig was on the U.S.S. Brooklyn during the Battle of Mobile Bay on Aug. 5, 1864. The Marine continued to fight despite the severe damage to his ship and the death of comrades. The Union captured control of the southern port.

“It brought the end of the Civil War closer,” said Dave Brady, senior vice commandant with the First Capitol Detachment of the Marine Corps League.

Here’s what Denig said to the jury:

“Your honors, and gentlemen of the jury, you perceive here upon my left breast a medal of honor, awarded to me by a vote of Congress, for personal valor at that terrible engagement with the enemies to our country at Mobile Bay …” according to ” ‘Jack Shepherd’s’ Trial.”

“There is no other man in the court house wearing such honors, not even the distinguished and valorious gentlemen who have seen fit to bring this suit to – “Court.”

Also of interest

Other Civil War-era York County natives have received the Medal of Honor as well.

They are:

–Sgt. Charles H. Ilgenfritz, a member of Company E, 207th Pennsylvania Infantry, for his actions at Fort Sedgwick, Va. on April 2, 1865.

–Col. Matthew S. Quay, in the 134th Pennsylvania Infantry, for his actions at Fredericksburg, Va. on Dec. 13, 1862.

–First Sgt. John Kirk with Company L, 6th U.S. Cavalry, for his actions at Wichita River, Texas on July 12, 1870, during the Indian War Campaigns.

–Army Pvt. George Springer, Company G, 1st U.S. Cavalry, for his actions at Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona on Oct. 20, 1869 during the Indian War Campaigns.


From the York Daily Record/Sunday News story:

Marine Sgt. John Henry Denig is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery.

His name, however, has not been added to the Prospect Hill Court of Valor because a family member must apply for it, said Dave Brady, senior vice commandant with the First Capitol Detachment of the Marine Corps League.

The Marines would like to find family members so that his name might be added to the monument.


medal-honor-01_500This wreath was later placed on the burial site of Medal of Honor recipient John Henry Denig of York, Pa., at Prospect Hill Cemetery. For more information on the Medal of Honor convention this weekend in Gettysburg, check out: Congressional Medal of Honor.