The Abraham Man: 
 Madness, Malingering and the Development of Medical Testimony


R. Gregory Lande

The mere mention of the insanity defense guarantees a lively debate. Opponents of the defense cite the loss of criminal culpability while proponents argue just as passionately that the insanity defense is the ultimate act of compassion. The protagonists would probably be quite surprised to learn that the same basic concerns consumed Americans in the nineteenth century. One factor – The Abraham Man – sowed the seeds of confusion and controversy that united the past with the present.


Some of the most celebrated civil and criminal trials in American history were argued under the shadow of the Abraham Man. The detailed stories of long forgotten legal cases bring the antics of the Abraham Man to life. Through the process, readers will follow the careers of notable Civil War era surgeons whose post-war professional development shaped the future of modern mental health care.




R. Gregory Lande, DO is a physician and retired US Army Medical Corps Officer. Dr. Lande completed his medical education at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Lande was commissioned an officer in the US Army. During his career in the military, Dr. Lande was active in a wide variety of clinical, academic and administrative positions. Upon leaving the US Army as a full colonel, Dr. Lande was awarded the Legion of Merit recognizing his career contributions. The next phase of his career involved administrative positions in hospital management, research, and teaching at various civilian facilities. Dr. Lande is the author of numerous medical and historical works. He lectures widely on both subjects. A sampling of historical publications and presentations include:

  • Lande, RG:  “History of Military Psychiatry”, book chapter, Principles and Practice of Military Forensic Psychiatry.  Springfield, IL: C. Thomas, 1997
  • Lande RG:  The Invalid Corp. Military Medicine, June 2008; 173(6):525-528
  • Lande, RG: Felo De Se: Soldier suicides in America’s Civil War. Military Medicine. 2011; 176(5):531-536
  • Lande, RG:  The court-martial of Sergeant George W. McDonald. Maryland Historical Magazine. 2011; Spring 106(1): 125-33
  • Lande, RG:  Madness, Malingering & Malfeasance:  The Transformation of Psychiatry and the Law in the Civil War Era. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s Inc., 2003
  • Lande RG   The Abraham Man: Growth and Development of Forensic Psychiatry. New York, NY, Algora Publisher, 2012
  • Speaker – 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine, Rochester, NY
  • Subject:  Dummy Chucker
  • Speaker – Great Lakes History Conference, Grand Rapids, MI,
  • Subject:  The Court-Marshall of Sgt. George McDonald
  • Speaker – Missouri Conference on History, Columbia MO
  • Subject: Civil War Execution of Private William E. Ormsby
  • Speaker – Florida Historical Society, Tampa, FL
  • Subject: PVT Lewis Payne: Madness, Malingering, or Malfeasance?



 Reader review . . . 

For centuries, the Abraham Man was a well-known name for a malingerer, or someone who faked illness or injury for personal benefit.  This term left common usage around a century ago, but in the 1800′s it was the symbol of the burgeoning use of the insanity defense in the American judicial system.  With little understanding of psychiatric illness at that time, many accused criminals used the insanity plea with varying degrees of success.

The Abraham Man was also used by many young men who did not wish to serve in the Civil War.  When faced with the battlefield and all of its dangers, it was not uncommon for soldiers to fake illness or injury in hopes of being sent home, or to avoid enlistment altogether.  

The Abraham Man is a clear, concise study of the history of the insanity plea and the faking of illnesses such as epilepsy and paralysis.  Dr. Lande has presented an unbiased and in-depth analysis of the legal system of the nineteenth century and the psychiatric and legal experts of that time.  His work is well-documented throughout with footnotes.  There is also an extensive bibliography at the end of the book for further studies.

Each chapter contains several case studies to show the evolution of the insanity defense and the usage of chicanery in the military by those who sought early discharge.  As this is non-fiction and not a novelization of the story, it could be thought by some to be somewhat of a dry read.  However, for those who enjoy serious historical studies, this is an excellent literary work.  

4.5 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Pump Up Your Book book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”