James Gilpatrick Blunt was one of the most aggressive Union generals in the trans-Mississippi, and it’s nearly impossible to read a book about that region without coming across a reference to him. And, yet, there is a mystery about him that concerns the cause of his mental breakdown. Sadly, Blunt died in an insane asylum on July 27, 1881.
Robert Collins explored this mystery in his biography, General James G. Blunt: Tarnished Glory (2005). In 1878, friends noticed “that Blunt’s mental state was deteriorating,” and he was placed in an asylum (p. 221). The diagnosis was a “’softening of the brain,’” which Collins writes is a reference to damage caused by the venereal disease, syphilis. Collins referred to Blunt’s “reputation for dalliances with women, [and] it seems clear that he was consorting with prostitutes during the war” (p. 221). These are claims that I’ve read in other sources, but the sourcing for these alleged “dalliances” always seems nonexistent or based on secondary sources. Regrettably, Collins’ book has no citations. So, what is the basis for the claims that Blunt “was consorting with prostitutes”? When did the rumors make their way into print? Who made the claims?
Blunt may have indeed contracted syphilis, but I think it’s fair to question the sources for that information as well as consider other possibilities for his mental breakdown. A couple of other explanations for his mental breakdown will be explored in my next posting.