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Book review: This republic of suffering: Death and the American Civil War

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Adjunct Professor, Education
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Christopher L.
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documents in English
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book reviews
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  1. Introduction
  2. Distress of Civil War America
  3. The gruesome reality of death in war
  4. Different aspects of death and suffering in Civil War America
  5. Conclusion

Death is one of the most pervasive images of the American Civil War. Although a civil war creates a higher number of deaths due to its internal nature, American Civil War deaths far exceeded common expectations. As an example of the sheer magnitude of deaths, Faust writes, "The number of soldiers that 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." However, Faust is more interested in what she calls "the work of death" and how death is dealt with in Civil War America than the actual number of deaths.

As a meditation on death and dying in Civil War America, Faust's study is a major success. Many cultural, religious, and political historical processes of the era can be gleaned from the study. Through countless examples of first-hand experience with death from soldiers, chaplains, civilians, poets, and preachers, the reader is able to imagine how death totally inhabited everyday life.

[...] Book review: This republic of suffering: Death and the American Civil War First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, January 2009, xviii + 346 pp. Death is one of the most pervasive images of the American Civil War. Although a civil war creates a higher number of deaths due to its internal nature, American Civil War deaths far exceeded common expectations. As an example of the sheer magnitude of deaths, Faust writes, "The number of soldiers that 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 World War II, and the Korean War combined." However, Faust is more interested in what she calls "the work of death" and how death is dealt with in Civil War America than the actual number of deaths. [...]


[...] Faust quotes a trustee of the Antietam National Cemetery who stated in 1869, "One of the striking indications of civilization and refinement among a people is the tenderness and care manifested by them toward their dead."(p.61) American Civil War soldiers were worried about what would happen to their remains if they fell in battle. Their trepidation was legitimate and is demonstrated by the responsibility for the war dead falling to the victors of each battle. (p.69) At times, practical realities forced victors to also abandon the battlefield dead and continue their wartime strategy. [...]

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