This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

by Drew Gilpin Faust


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More than 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the American Civil War. An equivalent proportion of today's population would be six million. In This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust reveals the ways that death on such a scale changed not only individual lives but the life of the nation, describing how the survivors managed on a practical level and how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the unprecedented carnage with its belief in a benevolent God. Throughout, the voices of soldiers and their families, of statesmen, generals, preachers, poets, surgeons, nurses, northerners and southerners come together to give us a vivid understanding of the Civil War's most fundamental and widely shared reality.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375703836
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/06/2009
Series: Vintage Civil War Library
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 174,280
Product dimensions: 7.94(w) x 5.14(h) x 0.74(d)

About the Author

Drew Gilpin Faust is president of Harvard University, where she also holds the Lincoln Professorship in History. Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study from 2001 to 2007, she came to Harvard after twenty-five years on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of five previous books, including Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, which won the Francis Parkman Prize and the Avery Craven Prize. She and her husband live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

Preface: The work of deathMortality defines the human condition. “We all have our dead–we all have our Graves,” a Confederate Episcopal bishop observed in an 1862 sermon. Every era, he explained, must confront “like miseries”; every age must search for “like consolation.” Yet death has its discontinuities as well. Men and women approach death in ways shaped by history, by culture, by conditions that vary over time and across space. Even though “we all have our dead,” and even though we all die, we do so differently from generation to generation and from place to place.[1]In the middle of the nineteenth century, the United States embarked on a new relationship with death, entering into a civil war that proved bloodier than any other conflict in American history, a war that would presage the slaughter of World War I’s Western Front and the global carnage of the twentieth century. The number of soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865, an estimated 620,000, is approximately equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined. The Civil War’s rate of death, its incidence in comparison with the size of the American population, was six times that of World War II. A similar rate, about 2 percent, in the United States today would mean six million fatalities. As the new southern nation struggled for survival against a wealthier and more populous enemy, its death toll reflected the disproportionate strains on its human capital. Confederate men died at a rate three times that of their Yankee counterparts; one in five white southern men of military age did not survive the Civil War.[2]But these military statistics tell only a part of the story. The war killed civilians as well, as battles raged across farm and field, as encampments of troops spread epidemic disease, as guerrillas ensnared women and even children in violence and reprisals, as draft rioters targeted innocent citizens, as shortages of food in parts of the South brought starvation. No one sought to document these deaths systematically, and no one has devised a method of undertaking a retrospective count. The distinguished Civil War historian James McPherson has estimated that there were fifty thousand civilian deaths during the war, and he has concluded that the overall mortality rate for the South exceeded that of any country in World War I and that of all but the region between the Rhine and the Volga in World War II. The American Civil War produced carnage that has often been thought reserved for the combination of technological proficiency and inhumanity characteristic of a later time.[3]The impact and meaning of the war’s death toll went beyond the sheer numbers who died. Death’s significance for the Civil War generation arose as well from its violation of prevailing assumptions about life’s proper end–about who should die, when and where, and under what circumstances. Death was hardly unfamiliar to mid-nineteenth-century Americans. By the beginning of the 1860s the rate of death in the United States had begun to decline, although dramatic improvements in longevity would not appear until late in the century. Americans of the immediate prewar era continued to be more closely acquainted with death than are their twenty-first century counterparts. But the patterns to which they were accustomed were in significant ways different from those the war would introduce. The Civil War represented a dramatic shift in both incidence and experience. Mid-nineteenth-century Americans endured a high rate of infant mortality but expected that most individuals who reached young adulthood would survive at least into middle age. The war took young, healthy men and rapidly, often instantly, destroyed them with disease or injury. This marked a sharp and alarming departure from existing preconceptions about who should die. As Francis W. Palfrey wrote in an 1864 memorial for Union soldier Henry L. Abbott, “the blow seems heaviest when it strikes down those who are in the morning of life.” A soldier was five times more likely to die than he would have been if he had not entered the army. As a chaplain explained to his Connecticut regiment in the middle of the war, “neither he nor they had ever lived and faced death in such a time, with its peculiar conditions and necessities.” Civil War soldiers and civilians alike distinguished what many referred to as “ordinary death,” as it had occurred in prewar years, from the manner and frequency of death in Civil War battlefields, hospitals, and camps, and from the war’s interruptions of civilian lives.[4]In the Civil War the United States, North and South, reaped what many participants described as a “harvest of death.” By the midpoint of the conflict, it seemed that in the South, “nearly every household mourns some loved one lost.” Loss became commonplace; death was no longer encountered individually; death’s threat, its proximity, and its actuality became the most widely shared of the war’s experiences. As a Confederate soldier observed, death “reigned with universal sway,” ruling homes and lives, demanding attention and response. The Civil War matters to us today because it ended slavery and helped to define the meanings of freedom, citizenship, and equality. It established a newly centralized nation-state and launched it on a trajectory of economic expansion and world influence. But for those Americans who lived in and through the Civil War, the texture of the experience, its warp and woof, was the presence of death. At war’s end this shared suffering would override persisting differences about the meanings of race, citizenship, and nationhood to establish sacrifice and its memorialization as the ground on which North and South would ultimately reunite. Even in our own time this fundamentally elegiac understanding of the Civil War retains a powerful hold.[5]Death transformed the American nation as well as the hundreds of thousands of individuals directly affected by loss. The war created a veritable “republic of suffering,” in the words that Frederick Law Olmsted chose to describe the wounded and dying arriving at Union hospital ships on the Virginia Peninsula. Sacrifice and the state became inextricably intertwined. Citizen soldiers snatched from the midst of life generated obligations for a nation defining its purposes and polity through military struggle. A war about union, citizenship, freedom, and human dignity required that the government attend to the needs of those who had died in its service. Execution of these newly recognized responsibilities would prove an important vehicle for the expansion of federal power that characterized the transformed postwar nation. The establishment of national cemeteries and the emergence of the Civil War pension system to care for both the dead and their survivors yielded programs of a scale and reach unimaginable before the war. Death created the modern American union–not just by ensuring national survival, but by shaping enduring national structures and commitments.[6]Civil War Americans often wrote about what they called “the work of death,” meaning the duties of soldiers to fight, kill, and die, but at the same time invoking battle’s consequences: its slaughter, suffering, and devastation. “Work” in this usage incorporated both effort and impact–and the important connection between the two. Death in war does not simply happen; it requires action and agents. It must, first of all, be inflicted; and several million soldiers of the 1860s dedicated themselves to that purpose. But death also usually requires participation and response; it must be experienced and handled. It is work to die, to know how to approach and endure life’s last moments. Of all living things, only humans consciously anticipate death; the consequent need to choose how to behave in its face–to worry about how to die–distinguishes us from other animals. The need to manage death is the particular lot of humanity.[7]It is work to deal with the dead as well, to remove them in the literal sense of disposing of their bodies, and it is also work to remove them in a more figurative sense. The bereaved struggle to separate themselves from the dead through ritual and mourning. Families and communities must repair the rent in the domestic and social fabric, and societies, nations, and cultures must work to understand and explain unfathomable loss.This is a book about the work of death in the American CivilWar. It seeks to describe how between 1861 and 1865–and into the decades that followed–Americans undertook a kind of work that history has not adequately understood or recognized. Human beings are rarely simply passive victims of death. They are actors even if they are the diers; they prepare for death, imagine it, risk it, endure it, seek to understand it. And if they are survivors, they must assume new identities established by their persistence in face of others’ annihilation. The presence and fear of death touched Civil War Americans’ most fundamental sense of who they were, for in its threat of termination and transformation, death inevitably inspired self-scrutiny and self-definition. Beginning with individuals’ confrontation with dying and killing, the book explores how those experiences transformed society, culture, and politics in what became a broader republic of shared suffering. Some of the changes death brought were social, as wives turned into widows, children into orphans; some were political, as African American soldiers hoped to win citizenship and equality through their willingness both to die and to kill; some were philosophical and spiritual, as the carnage compelled Americans to seek meaning and explanation for war’s destruction.Every death involved “the great change” captured in the language and discourse of nineteenth-century Christianity, the shift from this life to whatever might come next. A subject of age-old concern for believers and nonbelievers alike, the existence and nature of an afterlife took on new urgency both for soldiers anxious about their own deaths and for bereaved kin speculating on the fate of the departed. And even if spirits and souls proved indeed immortal, there still remained the vexing question of bodies. The traditional notion that corporeal resurrection and restoration would accompany the Day of Judgment seemed increasingly implausible to many Americans who had seen the maiming and disfigurement inflicted by this war. Witnesses at field hospitals almost invariably commented with horror on the piles of limbs lying near the surgeon’s table, dissociated from the bodies to which they had belonged, transformed into objects of revulsion instead of essential parts of people. These arms and legs seemed as unidentifiable–and unrestorable–as the tens of thousands of missing men who had been separated from their names. The integral relationship between the body and the human self it housed was as shattered as the wounded men.[8]Bodies were in important ways the measure of the war–of its achievements and its impact; and indeed, bodies became highly visible in Civil War America. Commanders compared their own and enemy casualties as evidence of military success or failure. Soldiers struggled for the words to describe mangled corpses strewn across battlefields; families contemplated the significance of newspaper lists of wounds: “slightly, in the shoulder,” “severely, in the groin,” “mortally, in the breast.” They nursed the dying and buried their remains. Letters and reports from the front rendered the physicality of injuries and death all but unavoidable. For the first time civilians directly confronted the reality of battlefield death rendered by the new art of photography. They found themselves transfixed by the paradoxically lifelike renderings of the slain of Antietam that Mathew Brady exhibited in his studio on Broadway. If Brady “has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it,” wrote the New York Times.[9]This new prominence of bodies overwhelmingly depicted their destruction and deformation, inevitably raising the question of how they related to the persons who had once inhabited them. In the aftermath of battle survivors often shoveled corpses into pits as they would dispose of animals–“in bunches, just like dead chickens,” one observer noted–dehumanizing both the living and the dead through their disregard. In Civil War death the distinction between men and animals threatened to disappear, just as it was simultaneously eroding in the doctrines of nineteenth-century science.[10]The Civil War confronted Americans with an enormous task, one quite different from saving or dividing the nation, ending or maintaining slavery, or winning the military conflict–the demands we customarily understand to have been made of the Civil War generation. Americans North and South would be compelled to confront–and resist–the war’s assault on their conceptions of how life should end, an assault that challenged their most fundamental assumptions about life’s value and meaning. As they faced horrors that forced them to question their ability to cope, their commitment to the war, even their faith in a righteous God, soldiers and civilians alike struggled to retain their most cherished beliefs, to make them work in the dramatically altered world that war had introduced. Americans had to identify–find, invent, create–the means and mechanisms to manage more than half a million dead: their deaths, their bodies, their loss. How they accomplished this task reshaped their individual lives–and deaths–at the same time that it redefined their nation and their culture. The work of death was Civil War America’s most fundamental and most demanding undertaking.NOTES[1] [Stephen Elliott], Obsequies of the Reverend Edward E. Ford, D.D., and Sermon by the Bishop of the Diocese . . . (Augusta, Ga.: Augusta Chronicle and Sentinel, 1863), p. 8.[2] James David Hacker, “The Human Cost of War: White Population in the United States, 1850—1880,” Ph.D. diss. (University of Minnesota, 1999), pp. 1, 14. Hacker believes that Civil War death totals may be seriously understated because of inadequate estimates of the number of Confederate deaths from disease. Civil War casualty and mortality statistics are problematic overall, and the incompleteness of Confederate records makes them especially unreliable. See Chapter 8 of this book. Maris A. Vinovskis concludes that about 6 percent of northern white males between ages thirteen and forty-five died in the war, whereas 18 percent of white men of similar age in the South perished. But because of much higher levels of military mobilization in the white South, mortality rates for southern soldiers were twice, not three times, as great as those for northern soldiers. James McPherson cites these soldiers’ death rates as 31 percent for Confederate soldiers, 16 percent for Union soldiers. Gary Gallagher believes Vinovskis’s overall death rate for the South is too low; he estimates that closer to one in four rather than one in five white southern men of military age died in the conflict. I have cited the more conservative total. See Vinovskis, “Have Social Historians Lost the Civil War?” in Maris A. Vinovskis, ed., Toward a Social History of the American Civil War: Exploratory Essays (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 3—7; James M. McPherson, personal communication to author, December 27, 2006; Gary Gallagher, personal communication to author, December 16, 2006.[3] James M. McPherson, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 3, 177, n. 56.[4] [Francis W. Palfrey], In Memoriam: H.L.A. (Boston: Printed for private distribution, 1864), p. 5; Richard Shryock, “A Medical Perspective on the Civil War,” American Quarterly 14 (Summer 1962): 164; H. Clay Trumbull, War Memories of an Army Chaplain (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1898), p. 67. Vital statistics for this period are very scarce, and the most complete cover only Massachusetts. I am grateful to historical demographer Gretchen Condran of Temple University for discussing these matters with me. See U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Part I (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1975), pp. 62—63. On the “untimely death of an adult child” as “particularly painful” in mid-nineteenth-century England, see Patricia Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 39.[5] One notable appearance of the image of a harvest of death is in the title given Timothy O’Sullivan’s photograph of a field of bodies at Gettysburg in Alexander Gardner, Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the War (1866; rpt. New York: Dover, 1959), plate 36; Kate Stone, Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone, 1861—1868, ed. John Q. Anderson (Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 1955), p. 264; C. W. Greene to John McLees, August 15, 1862, McLees Family Papers, SCL.[6] [Frederick Law Olmsted], Hospital Transports: A Memoir of the Embarkation of the Sick and Wounded from the Peninsula of Virginia in the Summer of 1862 (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1863), p. 115.[7] The general literature on death is immense and rich. A few key texts not cited elsewhere in this volume include Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997); Thomas Lynch, Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000); Sandra Gilbert, Death’s Door: Modern Dying and the Way We Grieve (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006); Paul Monette, Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir (San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988); Paul Monette, Last Watch of the Night (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994); Jessica Mitford, The American Way of Death (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1963); Sherwin B. Nuland, How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994); Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry, eds., Death and the Regeneration of Life (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982); Peter Metcalf and Richard Huntington, Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).[8] Mrs. Carson to R. F. Taylor, September 14, 1864, Carson Family Papers, SCL. On changing notions of the self, see Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), and Jerrold Seigel, The Idea of the Self: Thought and Experience in Western Europe Since the Seventeenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).[9] New York Times, October 20, 1862. See William A. Frassanito, Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978); Franny Nudelman, John Brown’s Body: Slavery, Violence and the Culture of War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), pp. 103—31; and Alan Trachtenberg, Reading American Photographs: Images as History, Mathew Brady to Walker Evans (New York: Hill & Wang, 1989). Even as we acknowledge the impact of Civil War photography, it is important to recognize how few Americans would actually have seen Brady’s or other photographs of the dead. Newspapers and periodicals could not yet reproduce photographs but could publish only engravings derived from them, like the many Harper’s Weekly illustrations included in this book.[10] Maude Morrow Brown Manuscript, z/0907.000/S, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Miss.; on nineteenth-century science and the changed meaning of death, see Adam Phillips, Darwin’s Worms: On Life Stories and Death Stories (New York: Basic Books, 2000).

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface: The Work of Death

1. Dying: “To Lay Down My Life”

2. Killing: “The Harder Courage”

3. Burying: “New Lessons Caring for the Dead”

4. Naming: “The Significant Word UNKNOWN”

5. Realizing: Civilians and the Work of Mourning

6. Believing and Doubting: “What Means this Carnage?”

7. Accounting: “Our Obligations to the Dead”

8. Numbering: “How Many? How Many?”

Epilogue: Surviving


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This Republic of Suffering 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 62 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A newspaper review of this book made me sure I wanted to read it. I certainly wasn't disappointed. A textbook it isn't 'I was afraid it was going to read like one!' That is why it is so very readable. Each chapter covers a different part of how our country and our citizens acted, reacted and changed as they faced the terrible carnage of the Civil War. The chapters are illustrated not with statistics but with the words of those who lived during that time. The book is not a book about a war it is a book of how the war affected people -- the living, the dying, the dead, civilians and citizenry alike. I am recommending it to members of the genealogical society to which I belong. I would hope that the somewhat gloomy title of this book would not cause anyone to avoid reading it.
Melissa_W More than 1 year ago
Dr. Faust has provided a book with a different perspective on the Civil War - not just battles, numbers, and letters home about the carnage, it details how the huge death toll of the Civil War actually altered how the American consciousness processed death, burial, and memorialization. Many of the procedures we take for granted to identify and bury our soldiers originated in practices developed during and after the Civil War, in particular the National Cemeteries system (Faust also makes the point that the Union dead were honored by Congress with the system, leaving Confederate dead to honored solely by private societies - a sticking point for decades and centuries). Fausts use of soldiers' and families' letters to detail the process of identification and burial humanizes a number of the dead men, many of whom weren't famous but ordinary. A particularly heart-wrenching section of the book details Walt Whitman's visits to soldiers in hospital, attempting to bring comfort and friendship to dying men. Several battlefield photographs included in the book are not for the queasy but are well-placed to illustrate how gruesome and arduous a task it was to give the war dead proper identification and burial. The style of the book is academic but very easy to read and I very much recommend Dr. Faust's work in this this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am reading this book now and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys learning about the Civil War. This book sheds light on the toll that the Civil War took on our country and our people.
mryoda More than 1 year ago
I agree with other reviewers that the book is a bit repetitive, but I do think that it flows nicely and transitions well from chapter to chapter. The work is very informative and I enjoyed reading the information filled with tons of quotes and primary sources. Having walked several civil war battlefields in the last year, the book really brought home the magnitude of the suffering that the war brought on and how soldier and civilian alike attempted to cope with the devastation. I found myself thinking about the wars we are in today and relating some of the stories to present time. I very much enjoyed it.
dmgESQ More than 1 year ago
This was an interesting take on the Civil War. Written by a well educated Harvard President, the story of death and destruction and how the Civil War changes the way we conceive of War death and mourning is intriguing. A war that cost over 600,000 lives, all Americans continues to stir many books, but unlike those, this work of history hits everyone in the same spot -- their humanity.
redsoxTW More than 1 year ago
The civil war changed everything. This documents in depth, several life altering changes made during this war by people who cared about people. Sadly there are too few people who extend themselves like these did. But much of what these few did has saved countless lives in conflicts around the world redsox
Marek More than 1 year ago
All too often the casualty figures of a particular war assume an impersonal, sterile,and statistical element because of the shear magnitude of the numbers. Not many more so than the American Civil War. Because nearly all casualties were American ,fought on American soil, and was the first large scale modern industrial war, does this conflict have specific impact on us in the United States. Ms. Faust examines several aspects of the conflict relating to death on a more personal level than just the numbers of specific battles. She guides us through such topics as the embalming, burying, record keeping(or lack of), identifing of the dead as well as the suffering of the living surviving family members and the effect it had on survivors. Ms. Faust also touches on several subjects involving the development of the national cemetery system and record keeping, as well as the various womens memorial associations in the South. My only complaint is that, perhaps, Ms.Faust should have expanded several of her chapters which I felt were almost too brief and were worthy of-dare I say-individual books. Maybe in the future.
spounds on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This Republic of Suffering has been on my to-read list for awhile and I finally got around to reading it. I¿m sorry I put it off so long. This is a really well-written and engaging book.With as many books as there are about the Civil War, you would think someone would have written about the associated deaths before, but most authors only mention death as a postscript to their descriptions of battles or of the war itself. Others might conclude that there is only so much you can write about death and dying, but Drew Gilpin Faust has penned a fascinating treatise on all aspects of death and the Civil War.The book is broken into eight chapters, each named with a gerund. In the first chapter, Dying, Faust explains the concept of the ars moriendi, or good death, that people before the Civil War hoped to experience and how soldiers struggled to come as close as possible to this ideal even in wartime conditions. In the chapter on Burying she explains how the sheer numbers of battlefield dead overwhelmed most efforts to bury the dead carefully, and most were buried with no casket and often without any form of identification. In Accounting she describes the post-war efforts to find and identify all those who had been hastily buried in the wake of battles and reinter them in national cemeteries. Faust¿s writing style is very accessible which kept my interest throughout. I had never thought about what it might be like for Union soldiers given the task of gathering the Union dead from Southern battlefields in an increasingly hostile land after the war, and the description of the competing efforts of the northerners and southerners in honoring their own dead and ignoring the former enemy¿s.I listened to this book on Audible. The reader took a little getting used to. Her tone seemed a little ¿strident,¿ and I found myself wanting her to tone it down a bit, but it¿s not the worst I¿ve ever heard. All in all I found this a very enjoyable read and I highly recommend it.
cyderry on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is about the carnage that was the result of the Civil War.The reader is told of the total of casualties - dead, missing in action, and injured. We are also told of the indignity of the bodies that are left on the battlefields, unburied. We hear this through diary excerpts, journals and first hand accounts from Union as well as Confederate soldiers. It is sad to think that this time of literal carnage on the battlefields that there were no contingencies for aiding the injured so that many were just left on the field where they fell.This book also relates the improvements that were made to embalming processes and to the federal cemetery system so that families were able to accept the bodies of their loved ones or visit their final resting places.I didn't like this book because it just seemed to have no direction and to continually run on from one topic of death to another with no purpose. It didn't seem to have any continuity or justification for what it was stating, it stated it. Information - yes, purpose - No.
MarthaHuntley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is excellently researched and written, and would be invaluable to any novelist or historian writing about the Civil War and its aftermath, but is pretty grueling to read (or hear). It is such a long book totally about death, a dissection of the trauma surrounding the casualties of the war, how such a bloodletting affected the men, the survivors, the country, literature,faith and more. Talk about "Stomping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored." Or to change metaphors, chickens coming home to roost. As in present day, people who choose to start a war seem to take very little responsibility for the consequences -- as if it were some horrible surprise that just happened to us.
lateinnings on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A highly readable book on the cultural perceptions of death and how they were forever changed by the Civil War.
corinneblackmer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent, original, informative, and, I believe, important work about the American Civil War and the culture of nineteenth century America. Before the Civil War, it was commonplace to the point of being naturally expected that human beings would die in or near their homes, on familiar land, and within the bosoms of their families and religious institutions. The Civil War transformed these expectations in horrid fashion, causing major convulsions over belief, identity, and the sense of belonging. Because bodies were often not recovered from the battlefield, and because their were so many MIAs, people had to do without the physical bodies of their departed, which transformed settled ideas about the human body, the human soul, and the place of human kind within a larger providential scheme. Essentially, all these notions came under question.
jcbrunner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"This republic of suffering" suffers from the author's lack of familiarity with military and world history. She thus misinforms her readers, relying on the flawed book On Killing by Dave Grossman which in turn in part is based on false data. Her American readers are not given an international context to the casualties of the American Civil War. The carnage of the Napoleonic Wars was much larger. The Russia campaign of 1812 caused as many losses as the four years of war in America. Paraguay suffered a much higher proportional loss during the Paraguayan War. While Faust at the beginning mentions that most Civil War casualties died from sickness, she later reverts to a false battlefield hero narrative. She also fails to critically examine her sources, taking the written accounts of a soldier's death for the grieving families at face value. Neither the last words nor their sweet deaths are what happens in reality. These letters follow social conventions to ease the pain, especially as most of the dead passed away, in vain, from sickness, often after having to endure misery and pain for a long time.The first few chapters thus are of questionable value which Faust redeems with a strong finish. One novelty and consequence of the American Civil War was the creation of national cemeteries. Up to then, common soldiers' graves went unmarked. Disposing of the bodies was solved by mass graves. Relatives were highly unlikely to ever visit the battlefield and even if they did, most would have been unable to read the name of the fallen. The American Civil War changed this. A literate, relative wealthy society started to care for their war dead. Not at the beginning but already during the war - laying the basis for Arlington cemetery. After the war, the North started to collect and rebury properly the hastily buried bodies in national cemeteries. The fallen Confederates were not accorded similar honors and had to wait for private efforts to match the government's lead. The large cemeteries of the First World War can be traced back to those efforts, to a change on how Americans regarded their dead soldiers: Citizens to be respected and cared for and worthy of an eternal hallowed ground.
tjwilliams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Drew Gilpin Faust¿s This Republic of Suffering is an ambitious work that attempts to explain how death and dying affected solders and citizens both during the Civil War and in its aftermath. The devastating death toll was entirely unexpected by both Union sympathizers and their Confederate counterparts given that each side had vastly underestimated the ultimate length of the war. With more than a half million American lives lost, survivors coped with the tragedy by analyzing and interpreting death in a way that would bring meaning not only to the individual death, but to the final number as well. Faust argues that it was the need for closure and the struggle of the survivors to understand the purpose behind death on such a massive scale that ultimately gave meaning to the Civil War and allowed the two opposing sides to reconcile.This Republic of Suffering is divided thematically, with each chapter devoted to a different aspect of death. The first three chapters¿Dying, Killing, and Burying¿are principally concerned with the soldiers and their interpretations of death. Faust continually stresses of the notion of the Good Death and its importance to both soldiers and civilians. During the time of the Civil War it was believed that moving on to the afterlife required a Good Death. These deaths typically required an acceptance of death and a willingness to move on to the next life. Soldiers writing letters to their fallen comrades¿ families would emphasize these points, comforting the grieving survivors that their lost father, brother, son, or husband had understood his fate, accepted it, and asked once more for salvation.The middle three chapters¿Naming, Realizing, and Believing and Doubting¿deal with the roles civilians played in interpreting the death of individual soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of men died on the battlefields of the Civil War, many of whom were never identified. It was this unknowing that brought the most despair to survivors. Families often placed newspaper advertisements pleading for any information on lost loved ones. Several charitable organizations, most notably the Christian Commission and the Sanitary Commission, were created for the purpose of identifying dead or missing soldiers and informing their families of their whereabouts and the manner in which they died. The Civil War had a tremendous impact on American society, forcing nearly every person in the country to come to grips with the death of a family member or friend. This impact required the deaths and the war itself be given meaning, so that those men would not have died in vain.The final three chapters¿Accounting, Numbering, and Surviving¿provide the crux of Faust¿s argument, in which death and dying in the Civil War came to define how the event was interpreted in the years following. With so many soldiers still unaccounted for at war¿s end, the federal government began an aggressive project to find, identify, and reinter every Union soldier lost on southern soil. This process, and the creation of dozens of national cemeteries, gave meaning to the Union cause. These soldiers had died protecting their nation from those who would have rent it asunder, and it was the newly reunited government¿s responsibility to ensure that those bled and died for it would be able to rest in peace. The federal government gave no such honor to Confederate soldiers, so the southern people took it upon themselves to return their lost brethren from the North and give them their own honorable death. Confederate soldiers, though they may have lost the war, nevertheless fought bravely for their cause and the cause of all southerners. In this way, ¿the Dead became what their survivors chose to make them (p. 269).¿ For a time, this meant that North and South continued their battle. But ultimately, with the United States government¿s acknowledgement of Confederate losses as American losses, ¿the Dead became the focus of an imagined national community
TheBentley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting and not as Union-biased as I expected (if more so than I might have hoped). Some chapters are more captivating and readable than others and work more toward coherent meaning. Overall, it could have made good use of footnotes to build up scholarly credibility without interrupting the narrative flow with repetitive examples. Faust has clearly done outstanding research with a lot of challenging primary sources, but she shows it off a little too much in the main text.
esigel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil WarBy Drew Gilpin FaustThis Republic of Suffering is a very different Civil War book. I'm used to Civil War books that tell the story of battles, campaigns and leaders. This is a book about how an entire society, North and South, dealt with the most pervasive aspect of the war: its indiscriminate slaughter. Six hundred thousand people died in the Civil War, 2% of the population, by far the bloodiest war ever fought by Americans.In a series of chapters most of whose names consist of just a single word¿Dying, Killing, Burying, Naming, Believing and Doubting, Numbering¿Faust examines death from every point of view: the soldiers who fought and died, the families that mourned them, their fellow comrades who struggled to bury them, the civic and religious leaders, writers, poets and ordinary citizens who sought to make sense of the war and its awful toll.Throughout the book it is the voices of ordinary citizens that we hear, mostly through their letters or diaries, and already in a chapter or two we are already aware of the trauma that this war inflicted on everyone. It changed the way war was waged; it changed the way the army and the society treated the memory those who had fallen. One of the scandalous aspects of the war was how many dead soldiers could not be identified or counted or buried properly. After the war ended the army and the society at large undertook an enormous effort to rebury and identify them. This led to a permanent change in the way the U.S. military operated; identifying the dead and protecting and preserving their remains became a core value of military service. Honoring the memory of those dead, through holidays like Memorial Day, was a lasting legacy of the Civil War.This is a work of immense scholarship, precise and eloquent prose, and lasting impact.
mikewick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This would have been better as a very long essay or as a shorter book, but regardless it was a great read. at the end you'll know all about how americans approached suffering and death during the civil war (a time when it couldn't be ignored). would also be a good starting place to learn about researching documents of the civil war--but maybe that's the librarian in me catching those bits.
piemouth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
About America's national PTSD in the wake of the Civil War. More than 600,000 soldiers died - an equivalent proportion of today's population would be six million. That doesn't include the wounded, and civilian casualties. Americans had to realize the enormity of what had happened to their country, to every family, to do the work of burying, naming, accounting, and numbering.Both sides assumed the conflict would last a couple of months. Neither planned for care of the wounded, housing prisoners, identification of the missing and the dead. The military had no formal muster rolls, no organized way of identifying the dead and wounded. To find what had happened, family members traveled to battle sites to try to find missing soldiers. Can you imagine knowing your son or father had fought in a battle you read about in the paper, and then no word from him? For months? Sometimes the missing one turned up in a hospital or prison camp; sometimes a letter describing his death and burial would come from a commander or fellow soldier; sometimes they never knew. Families wanted to know if their dear one had had a "good death". Was he a believer, was he willing to die? Letters sent from the front have descriptions like "the calm repose of his countenance indicated the departure of one at peace with God."The numbers were staggering, unimaginable. At the same time, a story lay behind every death. Every individual's loss was a heartbreak. Both sides realized they must name and count the dead and wounded, find every body and identify and bring home as many as possible. Vast cemeteries must be created. By the last year of the war the Army sent special units to search for and retrieve the bodies of Union soldiers, which were being desecrated in the South. African-American Southerners helped protect and identify some of these graves. Confederate women formed their own burial associations to care for their dead.Before the war most Americans weren't embalmed. Why would they be? They died and were buried close to home. Before the war, Americans pictured Heaven and the afterlife as a place where disembodied souls spent eternity in the presence of God. In the wake of the war came books that pictured lost sons and fathers in a Heaven like their earthly homes, where bodies were made whole again, amputated limbs restored. Some believers looked forward to being reunited with their lost ones after death; others lost their faith. What kind of God could allow such suffering? Spiritualism, table tapping, communing with the dead all became popular, as they do in the wake of every war.This is a terrific, detailed, moving book.
flourishing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating read, and one that kept me glued from start to finish, despite not being fictional. That's rare: I often pick up and put down non fiction books, however interested I am. But this book - intense.
whjensen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"This Republic of Suffering" is a strange book. A book on of the Civil War, it does not deal with battles but rather their aftermath - the death of over 600,000 soliders (and countless more civilians) as a direct result of the Civil War. A book that has garnered much attention on the awards front, it reads closer to the text book you would expect from the President of Harvard.Faust puts out the theory that as a result of the Civil War, how our country viewed death changed dramatically. Each chapter of the book identifies a separate element from the killing to the burial to how people chose to die to the anonymity of the new type of war presaged by the Civil War. Taking each chapter individually feels like a tough slog. Her thesis is incredibly well documented with letters and documents, many of which become repetitious the fourth or fifth time you see a similar quote. It is only in reading the book as a whole and letting its threads come together that you start to see the bigger picture - that the Civil War created the underpinnings for our social welfare system (small though it may be compared to Europe) today, that the destruction of the Civil War created a search for meaning - accelerated in Europe by WW I - that did not include a God that would allow such terrible, terrible things to happen, that the Civil War did not finish in 1865 but still reverberates today.In a Victorian culture used to a person dying at home, surrounding by family members, the Civil War was a jarring event. Faust captures the disconnect it caused quite vividly. The book, as I stated, is not an easy read. The writing style is academic in nature rather than narrative. Yet for those who are willing to invest the time, the energy, they will come out the other side with a better understanding of our society today.
EliseP on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating account of how the tragedy of the American Civil War affected the Victorian American's view toward death.
keely_chace on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
With this book, Drew Gilpin Faust offers a thoroughly fascinating and readable analysis of death, dying and grief during the Civil War. The author considers her subject from so many angles. As a word person, I particularly enjoyed her analyses of how contemporary writers such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville and Ambrose Bierce, responded to the war and its unprecedented carnage. Highly recommended for history enthusiasts who want to keep filling in the depth they never got in school.
bezoar44 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book examines the ways individual Americans and American culture as a whole were shaped by the carnage of the Civil War. The book benefits from impressive research - it's full of details that must have taken great skill and hours of work to find, though they are presented modestly. The writing is clear and smooth. Parts of the book seemed to me to lack synthesis; the facts add up to a picture of how death and mourning happened, but not which aspects or changes over time mattered most. The weakest chapters are the first and second, on the psychology of risking death and of killing. The strongest chapters are the fifth, sixth, and seventh: 'realizing', how individuals processed the knowledge that loved ones were dead; 'believing and doubting', how people made broader sense of loss; and 'accounting', how those senses translated into a national (in the North) or at least social (in the South) commitment to locating and reburying the dead soldiers. Faust argues that the logistical challenge of carrying out the reburial program helped moved the US government towards the modern federalist bureaucratic state - though based on the evidence presented, it seems to me equally plausible that the program was more a marker than a cause of that transformation.
Narboink on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Written with a studied calm, This Republic of Suffering carefully teases out bits of meaning in the rubble created by the American Civil War. Unlike many war chronicles, there is little here to gratify base interest in the macabre ¿ although it is a book whose central subject is the lineaments of corporeal mayhem.In addition to Ms. Faust's laudable ability to write cogently and engagingly, she has also structured her book in an immensely gratifying manner. The first few chapters read like a conventional history of a neglected aspect of the Civil War, but by the end of the book the repercussions of what she has described become clear. Consequently, the reader comes not only to understand some fresh aspect of our contemporary attitudes about death and warfare, but also that those selfsame attitudes are protean, impermanent, and trace their pedigree to very specific individuals and actions. Things we take for granted or chalk up as simple commonsense ideas (i.e., the rightness of recovering and honoring fallen soldiers) turn out to be shockingly modern. This knowledge casts new light on how our current behavior might affect the attitudes and behaviors of future generations; particularly since so much of the post-mortem activity that followed the Civil War was largely undocumented (even ignored) and yet decidedly precedent-setting.This is a meditation on death as well as our attitudes about sacrifice and community. As such, it is a great deal more rewarding than a typical historical account.
crazy4novels on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book explored the social and psychological impact of the unprecedented scale of death and suffering wrought by the Civil War. I found several of Ms. Gilpin's talking points to be particularly thought provoking:1. The tableau of the "good death" (to wit: a dying loved one, lying in his/her own bed, surrounded by extended family members, with time and ability to offer last words of comfort to loved ones, followed by a "faith testimony" and peaceful expiration) was so ubiquitous in the mid-19th century that the thought of a loved one dying alone and away from home was unbearable. Surviving relatives went to frantic lengths to ascertain the particulars of their loved one's death. 2. Up to one half of Civil War deaths were undocumented -- hundreds of thousands of surviving relatives never learned how their loved ones died or where they were buried. (In many cases, survivors spent the rest of their lives wondering whether the missing loved one was indeed dead.)3. The bodies of many Civil War victims were located and reburied multiple times -- it was not uncommon for a body to lay in the field unburied for a year, then be buried in situ, then relocated to a group site, only to be transported later to a national cemetery!4. Embalming and the art of undertaking became well established for the first time during the Civil War. Families were desperate to recover the body of their loved one in a state that would reconfirm the religious notion that it was "just sleeping."5. The magnitude of death was physically overwhelming in its aftermath -- towns of a few thousand people were surrounded by battlefields strewn with many times that number of dead. 6. Mass deaths and senseless suffering contributed to two opposite reactions by survivors: they became religious skeptics, or they fixated upon the idea of heaven with heightened zeal. 7. The Civil War prompted a newly frank, cynical, and unromantic prose and poetry of war. The writings of Ambrose Bierce exemplify this trend. These are only a few of the points covered in this fascinating book. The questions asked by bewildered Civil War survivors -- Was the war worth it? Is death ever meaningful? What is a nation's truest duty? Is a soldier's faith in his mission a laudable attribute, even if his cause is ultimately discredited? -- are still being asked in 2008.