This Republic of Suffering

This Republic of Suffering

Death and the American Civil War

Book - 2008
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An illuminating study of the American struggle to comprehend the meaning and practicalities of death in the face of the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War. During the war, approximately 620,000 soldiers lost their lives. An equivalent proportion of today's population would be six million. This book explores the impact of this enormous death toll from every angle: material, political, intellectual, and spiritual. Historian Faust delineates the ways death changed not only individual lives but the life of the nation and its understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. She describes how survivors mourned and how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the slaughter with its belief in a benevolent God, and reconceived its understanding of life after death.--From publisher description.
Publisher: New York :, Alfred A. Knopf,, 2008.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780375404047
Branch Call Number: 973.71 FA
Characteristics: 346 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm

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Nov 23, 2020

"This Republic of Suffering" by Drew Gilpin Faust, noted American historian and president of Harvard University, is a narrative that encapsulates a new perspective on the American Civil War (1861-1865). The majority of the books about the Civil War on my "completed shelf" are military histories and biographies of officers, Faust's text sticks out as unique because it fews the Civil War from a psychological perspective, namely that of grief. Faust examines the aftermaths of battle, the role of grief and the affect that religious belief, funeral rites, and cultural norms had on grief's process. It is also an examination of the birth of a nation and how the process to reinter and honor the dead governed the memory modern America holds for a war now over 150 years in the past. Faust touches on many interesting facets of Victorian American culture as it came to terms with the enormous carnage caused by, in her words, "the world's first truly modern war." Faust touches on such little known gems of Victorian American religiosity, such as Spiritualism, a pseudo-religious movement that emphasized the role of seances, communication with the dead, and an idealized afterlife. She also brings in the role of the African-American population in their role in the first Decoration Days (Memorial Days). Faust's book also presents the fascinating argument that the dead created their own "silent constituency" in American politics. For the Confederacy the memorials served as an extension of the Confederacy beyond its end in 1865, for the Union it led to an increased presence of the role of the federal government and its relationship to the people, a payment for the use of the nation's sons. The book is utterly fascinating, I would highly recommend it to my fellow chaplains and anyone interested in the American Civil War, religion, or the grief process.

Sep 10, 2018

Some 600,000 combatants died in the American Civil War. Extrapolate that to today's population, and the amount of carnage becomes terrifyingly clear: six million dead, an entire generation of men wiped off the Earth--shot, exploded, cut into pieces. All thrown into oblivion. Which made the catastrophe of death and dying in the Civil War all the more hard to bear. A brilliant and absorbing narrative and cultural history of the evolution of American attitudes toward death from the pastoral Victorian "good death" in pre-war America to the increasingly troubling revelation that killing and dying was often bloody, brutal and without honor, Faust conveys the calamity in concise but beautifully written prose, using the words of soldiers and their families and contemporary observers to illustrate how the idea of death changed as the war progressed, and America's relationship to its war dead. One of the most interesting parts is an exploration of the effect the destruction had on the structure of American poetry during and after the war. After reading this, one gets the sense that the sheer number of casualties instigated a revolution in American culture as violent as the 1960s. Arguably the most important book written on the Civil War since James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom", I highly recommend Ric Burns' companion documentary "Death and the Civil War".

ArapahoeStaff15 Oct 21, 2016

Compelling, well-written study that looks at the devastating human cost of the Civil War. Faust sheds light on the often forgotten work of death, from the logistics of mass burial to the cultural need to mourn on an unprecedented scale.

Though several other histories looking at death in the Civil War have now been published, Faust's work stands as one of the first and best written.

robhoma Aug 23, 2014

'It used to be said that in the old wars fought by the Irish clans that they had an agreement. I don't know if this is true, but I love the idea, that no matter how much they slaughter themselves with broadswords and knives and whatever else those maniacs used, that they should always spare the poets. Don't kill the poets, because the poets had to be left to tell the story.'

The poets especially tried to grapple with the death of 620,000 soldiers during the Civil War. Drew Gilpin Faust described the death culture that weighed heavily on America during the War and the reckoning of death that became a national responsibility after the war. The federal re-interment program of properly burying the Civil War dead in national cemeteries was not finished until 1871. More time elapsed to bury the dead after the Civil War than it took to fight the war itself!

May 16, 2013

Ah yes, Civil War deaths, but think of the vast fortunes made during it! The House of Morgan (JP Morgan et al.) picked up defective muskets (or whatever they were called back then) then re-labeled them and, after bribing the appropriate quartermasters, sold them back to the government; it is estimated that at least one out of every four or five dead Union soldiers was due to those Morgan muskets! Then there's death merchant, Andrew Carnegie, who made his big bucks as the Superintendent of Military Railways and Telegraphs, which he then reinvested into iron and steel companies which he knew were going to receive government contracts. War, ain't it sweet for the psychos and greedheads? (Carnegie received his sweetheart appointment from Thomas Scott, sadly whom Lincoln appointed his Secretary of War - - it was Scott who was the creator behind the holding company, which allowed the robber barons (today referred to as "philanthropists") to hide their ownership of other corporations.)

May 16, 2013

Overlong book on the subject of death in the Civil War. Ever wonder what happened to the hundreds of thousands of bodies? Or how they kept track (or didn't keep track) of who was dead and who was injured? Or how both sides used deaths to glorify their causes? This book will tell you in excruciating detail. With some good editing, this would have merited four stars.

Andrew3084 Apr 28, 2012

I found this an absolutely compelling read. In an age where most people died at home surrounded by their families, to have to face the prospect of a loved one dying alone, far from home, suddenly, and in horrible circumstances, was a task that the American people struggled to deal with. The lengths that they went to and the rituals that developed to deal with this makes for fascinating reading.


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