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This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 8, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Battle is the dramatic centerpiece of Civil War history; this penetrating study looks instead at the somber aftermath. Historian Faust (Mothers of Invention) notes that the Civil War introduced America to death on an unprecedented scale and of an unnatural kind—grisly, random and often ending in an unmarked grave far from home. She surveys the many ways the Civil War generation coped with the trauma: the concept of the Good Death—conscious, composed and at peace with God; the rise of the embalming industry; the sad attempts of the bereaved to get confirmation of a soldier's death, sometimes years after war's end; the swelling national movement to recover soldiers' remains and give them decent burials; the intellectual quest to find meaning—or its absence—in the war's carnage. In the process, she contends, the nation invented the modern culture of reverence for military death and used the fallen to elaborate its new concern for individual rights. Faust exhumes a wealth of material—condolence letters, funeral sermons, ads for mourning dresses, poems and stories from Civil War–era writers—to flesh out her lucid account. The result is an insightful, often moving portrait of a people torn by grief. Photos. (Jan. 10)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Those who fret over the state of American universities will embrace this history by Drew Gilpin Faust. Academics appreciate how Faust explains so many social and cultural changes by recentering the story of the war on its massive toll in lives: the estimated 2 percent who died, or 620,000, would be equivalent to 6 million today. She also breaks new ground by reexamining the relationship of the war to modern institutions like the welfare state. Yet Faust constructs This Republic of Suffering in a way that will appeal to every readerâ"from the Civil War buff to the casual nonfiction reader. Some critics were a little queasy about the bookâs level of detail, both in describing death and the lives of its victims. But as more than one reviewer pointed out, for a nation at war, such writing and such reading are a duty.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
Gilpin Faust covers a number of issues related to how Americans dealt with death. There was the issue of whether the relative had a "good" death, meaning essentially they were ready to face their maker. There was identification and burial of war dead. Many were lucky to be able to identify dead loved ones. Many others were not so lucky, and so had to take solace that their loved ones were buried with comrades. Gilpin Faust discusses the different ways each side dealt with war dead. The north had the advantage in being able to identify and transport back war dead because of resources. The south was stretched thin.
All round this was a fantastic book, touching on a little discussed or studied aspect of our great civil war. I highly recommend this book.
This is a very thorough and well documented review of all of the concepts involved in dealing with this issue in a national consciousness. Many different sides are presented fairly and it is easy to see how they have shaped our national views and still do.
When we see the over-reaction of government and society to more recent small attacks (such as 9/11 and the political farce over Benghazi), it makes me wonder how this society would sustain huge losses such as those seen at Shiloh or Gettysburg.
Faust focuses on how these deaths were perceived and rationalized at the time, how they challenged most folks’ Christian ideals of the “good death” and how families north and south endured the mounting toll of dead in a war that dragged on for years. She discusses how telegraphy, newspapers and the new medium of photography conveyed for the first time reports and graphic images from the battlefields to soldiers’ hometowns. She discusses mourning rituals and the desperate efforts of families to locate the remains of their fallen loved ones and transport them back to their hometowns for proper burial. These tasks were exceedingly difficult because soldiers at that time carried no standard identification. In some cases, soldiers buried their buddies with some form of ID in the grave or on a marker above the site. But most bodies were buried haphazardly or in mass graves. Due to intense shelling and gunfire, there were sometimes few remains to be found. Thousands of soldiers remain unnamed or unaccounted for.
Along the way on this morbid but fascinating journey, the author examines what it was like for soldiers to kill others and, alternately, to lay down their lives for cause and country; the development of embalming, refrigeration and funeral services; the influence the slaughter had on writers such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Ambrose Bierce; and, finally, the establishment of reburial commissions, federally funded veteran cemeteries (initially just for Union soldiers) and annual Memorial Day events. Faust has an excellent writing style so, although the subject is mournful, the text is beautifully written. It is filled with personal anecdotes, profound insights and is very moving at times. This is a haunting read on an important aspect of the Civil War and American character.