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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 Republic of Suffering explores the impact of this enormous death toll from e 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 Republic of Suffering explores the impact of this enormous death toll from every angle: material, political, intellectual, and spiritual. The eminent historian Drew Gilpin 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, pondered who should die and under what circumstances, and reconceived its understanding of life after death. Faust details the logistical challenges involved when thousands were left dead, many with their identities unknown, on the fields of places like Bull Run, Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg. She chronicles the efforts to identify, reclaim, preserve, and bury battlefield dead, the resulting rise of undertaking as a profession, the first widespread use of embalming, the gradual emergence of military graves registration procedures, the development of a federal system of national cemeteries for Union dead, and the creation of private cemeteries in the South that contributed to the cult of the Lost Cause. She shows, too, how the war victimized civilians through violence that extended beyond battlefields-from disease, displacement, hardships, shortages, emotional wounds, and conflicts connected to the disintegration of slavery.


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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 Republic of Suffering explores the impact of this enormous death toll from e 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 Republic of Suffering explores the impact of this enormous death toll from every angle: material, political, intellectual, and spiritual. The eminent historian Drew Gilpin 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, pondered who should die and under what circumstances, and reconceived its understanding of life after death. Faust details the logistical challenges involved when thousands were left dead, many with their identities unknown, on the fields of places like Bull Run, Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg. She chronicles the efforts to identify, reclaim, preserve, and bury battlefield dead, the resulting rise of undertaking as a profession, the first widespread use of embalming, the gradual emergence of military graves registration procedures, the development of a federal system of national cemeteries for Union dead, and the creation of private cemeteries in the South that contributed to the cult of the Lost Cause. She shows, too, how the war victimized civilians through violence that extended beyond battlefields-from disease, displacement, hardships, shortages, emotional wounds, and conflicts connected to the disintegration of slavery.

30 review for This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    "Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a ma "Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his command is to bring to his work a mighty heart." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Memorial Day Speech, 1884 When I first opened this slim addition to the mountain of books on the American Civil War, I worried that perhaps it would try to prove too much; that it had some sort of precedent-shaking hypothesis that it'd try to prove. I'm not simply being crotchety, though I'm sure that plays a role. But it seems to me that in order to get a history book published these days, you have to take conventional wisdom and turn it on its end, whether or not the conventional wisdom is wrong. The formula, as far as I can tell, is nearly full-proof. Simply find a well-known event, or person, and then write a book that tries to prove the opposite of whatever it is that we know about that event/person. At first blush, I thought This Republic of Suffering was going down that road. I was cued to this possibilty due to its anecdotal nature, with much of its empirical support culled from the letters, diaries, and other writings of American Civil War contemporaries. Turns out, though, that I was wrong (and not for the first time), and my fears never materialized. This Republic of Suffering isn't trying to change Civil War scholarship, reinterpret past events, or attempt to prove that Robert E. Lee's success came from a warlike leprechaun that lived in his impeccably-groomed beard. Rather, it asks you to look at known events with a fresh eye and a new angle. This angle - one that is lacking in most history texts - is empathy. Some 620,000 Americans, both Union and Confederacy, lost their lives in the Civil War. Though battle deaths get the most attention, author Drew Gilpin Faust (President of Harvard University) points out that the majority of fatalities were caused by disease and the cruely assorted vagaries of life (falling trees, lightning strikes, suicide, ACME rockets, and the accidental imbibing of poison, which should be a lesson to anyone drinking from unmarked bottles in abandoned farmhouses). All those deaths worked out to 2% of the mid-19th century American population. Today, that would equal roughly 6 million fatalities. Put in perspective, more men died in the Civil War than in the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II combined. Those are just numbers though. As Joseph Stalin so aptly noted, "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths a statistic." Stalin makes a good point. (This is not a phrase I use often, I assure you). When we start dealing solely with numbers, with percentages and numerical comparisons, we lose sight of something fundamental. Numbers, for all their supposed-precision, are abstract concepts. After all, what do you picture when you imagine the number "two" or "two thousand"? There are times when numbers are meaningless, or misleading, or proferred as a stand-in for a deeper truth. A good example of this is the grossly inflated casualty figures for any number of battles fought throughout history. This isn't the result of some inability to count; rather, a battlefield death is so psychologically shattering that it multiplies in the mind. War is so terrible, so frightening, so much at the edge of human endurance, that the human mind is unable to accurately recall it. A soldier in battle sees ten enemy soldiers and remembers a thousand; he sees one dead man and remembers ten. A battle simply allows for no frame of reference; this leaves the participants, and the chroniclers, casting about blindly in an attempt to convey the truth. Faust's work is an attempts to provide a context for all the fallen soldiers. This Republic of Suffering is a broad-ranging survey of death and dying. It begins at the micro level, with the motivations of individual soldiers and their concept of "the good death." This engenders a discussion of religion and war, and the importance to 19th century soldiers to die in God's good grace. She also explores the psychological aspects of killing, especially in an era in which military training consisted of hay-foot-straw-foot. Her discussion touches on research (some of it controversial) by Dave Grossman and SLA Marshall about the human aversion to taking human life. (In the Civil War, overshooting was a notorious problem; in particularly hot firefights, entire regiments would shoot off their entire allotment of sixty or so rounds. With the number of bullets flying around, its hard to believe anyone survived. The question is, are these men intentionally mis-shooting, or are they just poorly trained?) Faust does not neglect the special circumstances of black troops, many of them former slaves, who had a special motivation to go to war: Cordelia Harvey, sent south by the governor of Wisconsin to provide aid to the State's wounded, wrote from Mississippi late in April 1864 to describe the anger and determination of back soldiers. "Since the Fort Pillow tragedy," she explained, "our colored troops & their officers are awaiting in breathless anxiety the action of Government...Our officers of negro regiments declare they will take no more prisoners - & there is death to the rebel in every black mans [sic:] eyes. They are still but terrible. They will fight... The larger portion of the book deals with the aftermath of battle. (It should be mentioned that this is in no way a military or political history of the Civil War). This is the ugly stuff you usually don't hear about, the following grimness upon which most movies and novels do not dwell: the removal of bodies; the collection of personal artifacts; the identification and burial; notification of families; internments; disinternments; and finally, the creation of national cemeteries and registries of the lost. These details are often ignored or excised because they are not comfortable places to dwell. It's easier, as a reader, to focus on the noble clash of arms and ideals, and the socio-historical reverberations of long-ago events, rather than the bloody, bloated, stinking silence that followed the thunder of the cannons. The fact was, however, that thousands of bodies were scattered across hundreds of fields all around America. And it was a monumental task to find them and bury them. In This Republic of Suffering, Faust explains how in the immediate aftermath of battle, the bodies of soldiers were typically placed into mass graves (officers were always treated better, unless those officers commanded black troops). Efforts were made to identify the men by their belongings (in the age before dog tags were mandated), but these were ad hoc attempts, and there was no systematic graves and registration system (though one would be created in the aftermath of war). Frantic families received unreliable, unofficial notices, and often made somber pilgrimages in an attempt to locate their loved ones. (The father of Union officer Oliver Wendell Holmes - later to be among the great Supreme Court jurists - made just such a journey). Of course, capitalism was alive even in the 19th century, and war was great for business. The armies trailed a phalanx of embalmers and coffin salesmen, and on the homefront, store owners kept a ready supply of black crepe and other mourning-wear. Faust's book relies heavily on the writings of others, and it is studded with excerpts and block quotations. To her credit, she does a splendid job of integrating these words with her own. She has taken care placing these snippets so that the overall flow is smooth. Just as important, she has a good eye for finding extracts that are evocative and interesting (the literary qualities of many Civil War soldiers, despite a laissez-faire approach to spelling and grammar, is astounding). Here, Faust quotes from a soldier named Ambrose Bierce, who went on to have some success in the world of letters: Men? There were men enough; all dead, apparently, except one, who lay near where I had halted my platoon...a Federal sergeant, variously hurt, who had been a fine giant in his time. He lay face upward, taking his breath in convulsive, rattling snorts, and blowing it out in sputters of froth which crawled creamily down his cheeks, piling itself alongside his neck and ears. A bullet had clipped a groove in his skull, above the temple; from this the brain protruded in bosses, dropping off in flakes and strings. I had not previously known one could get on, even in this unsatisfactory fashion, with so little brain. One of my men, whom I knew for a womanish fellow, asked if he should put his bayonet through him. Inexpressibly shocked by the cold-blooded proposal, I told him I thought not; it was unusual, and too many men were looking. I mentioned this previously, but This Republic of Suffering has a different focus than most Civil War histories. It is interested in the results of battles, not the battles themselves. Accordingly, I came across a lot of subjects that I hadn't read about (or read much about) in the works of Foote, Catton, McPherson or Sears. For instance, there is a relatively long chapter devoted to the role religion played in the war: how it provided rationalization for the conflict and solace to the bereaved. (It also provided fertile ground for charlatans, who conducted seances and conversed with the dead. Faust tells of one published book in which dead men told their stories of heaven; unknown to readers, all the dead men were fictional). The section in the book describing how the US Burial Corps tried to find bodies in the South managed to infuriate me. Southern states not only refused to help recover bodies, but they actively desecrated Union graves. This ignoble reality helped lead to the creation of national cemeteries. When I read this, I couldn't help wondering whether the South's "reimagining" of the war as a "lost cause" was just them being poor losers, or rooted in something more. Frankly, I have my suspicions. To Frederick Douglass's despair, the reasons for which men had died had been all but subsumed by the fact of their deaths. "Death has no power to change moral qualities," he insisted in a Decoration Day speech in 1883. "Whatever else I may forget," the aging abolitionist declared, "I shall never forget the difference between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery." Back to Stalin's quote, for a moment (and then I promise, no more Stalin!). The great value in this book is that it starts to give depth, resonance, and meaning to the numbers. When you read, for example, that 3,000 men died at Antietam, you might think of the times you've counted to 3,000, or seen 3,000 of anyting, and you make a judgment as to whether that number is small or large. And then you pass on. This Republic of Suffering makes you stop and imagine what 3,000 corpses would look like on a grassy meadow, or a sunken dirt lane, or a field of wheat. It asks you imagine the infinite capacities for thought, love, ingenuity, and passion contained within each human brain and soul, and how the loss of each man reverberated outwards like the concentric rings of a rock thrown in a lake, and it requests that you multiply those capacities by 3,000, and eventually, 620,000. It is only a thought-exercise, of course. You soon arrive at the realization that the imagination cannot go to those places. Every death ended a story that couldn't have been told in a 100,000 page book. It is not in gross numbers, but in individuals, that you reckon the cost of war.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Max

    Faust examines all aspects of death in the American Civil War in this unique, insightful topical history. Foregoing the usual discussions of battles and tactics she focuses on personal values and culture taking us into the minds of 1860s Americans. This book is replete with personal experiences and observations of soldiers and their families. The war’s impact ends quickly for soldiers killed in action but lingers for lifetimes for surviving loved ones. Their faith in religion and country is chal Faust examines all aspects of death in the American Civil War in this unique, insightful topical history. Foregoing the usual discussions of battles and tactics she focuses on personal values and culture taking us into the minds of 1860s Americans. This book is replete with personal experiences and observations of soldiers and their families. The war’s impact ends quickly for soldiers killed in action but lingers for lifetimes for surviving loved ones. Their faith in religion and country is challenged and for many reinforced. Slavery as an institution is not explored but the treatment of black soldiers in life and death is. About 620,000 soldiers died in the conflict, equivalent to 6 million deaths given today’s population, but this is not a book of statistics. This is a book about death and grief on a massive scale that had a deep and broad impact on society. Mid nineteenth century people were much closer to dying and death than we are today. People usually died at home surrounded by family. Children often succumbed to disease, but not young adults. In the war mostly young men died and they died away from home adding greatly to the emotional distress of their families. Americans were predominantly Protestant and deeply religious. Forty per cent were evangelical Christians. They believed in the resurrection of the body. Families expected to meet after death in their perfect bodies in heaven. One way they could tell who was going to heaven was the way a person died. They looked to see if a dying person was confident and resolute in their faith as the end approached. Letters written to families about the deceased took great care to address the dying person’s composure and faith often evidenced by last words. If death was sudden or not witnessed the writer would seek and include any indication of virtue. It was very important to assure a family that their loved one died in God’s grace. Death was not the end of life but the beginning of eternity. Many soldiers found it difficult to kill another man. The attitude of Lincoln’s general in chief, Winfield Scott would serve us well today, “No Christian nation can be justified in waging war in such a way as shall destroy five hundred and one lives, when the object of the war can be attained at a cost of five hundred. Every man killed beyond the number absolutely required is murdered.” But as the war progressed many consciences gave way to retribution. African American soldiers and their white officers served at great risk, rarely taken prisoner. Massacred by Confederate troops after they surrendered at Fort Pillow, black soldiers fought with a vengeance. In battle soldiers witnessed carnage unimaginable when the war started. Many attested to scenes similar to Grant’s after Shiloh, “I saw an open field….so covered with the dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping only on dead bodies without a foot touching the ground.” Such experiences were common; dehumanizing, disorienting, and devaluing human life. What we call PTSD today afflicted many. What to do with the dead became a huge problem. Fighting could continue for days with the dead accumulating on the ground. A description of the Gettysburg battlefield provides a good illustration. After three days of fighting, “By July 4 an estimated six million pounds of human and animal carcasses lay strewn across the field in the summer heat, and a town of 2,400 grappled with 22,000 wounded who remained alive but in desperate condition.” “Residents of the surrounding area complained of a ‘stench’ that persisted from the time of the battle in July to the coming of frost in October.” A society used to honoring each individual death soon turned to mass graves often with no identification. Officers were given individual graves whenever possible while common soldiers were frequently laid end to end in shallow trenches. Dehumanizing burial practices appalled those assigned the task of burying their comrades. Enemy dead, usually left behind when an army retreated, would be piled into pits one atop the other. Those with means could employ independent agents to find and even disinter loved ones. But very few could afford the costs of transporting bodies home including metal coffins and embalming. Neither government considered identifying the dead its responsibility and neither had a system of individual identification. Dog tags were instituted in WWI. Those desperate to know if their loved one was alive or to locate his remains were often unable to do so. Volunteer and state sponsored organizations tried to help with limited success. Over 40% of Union soldiers and even a higher percentage of Confederate soldiers died “unknown.” Various lists of the dead would be compiled by independent sources after battles and published in newspapers. These were typically unreliable. Claims for death benefits and back pay required proof of death, often not available. Desperate families crowded battlefields in search of their missing loved ones. Some lucky families received personal letters from friends of the deceased, which invariably assured them that the soldier died a “Good Death.” About 50,000 civilian deaths were attributed to the war. Civilians near army camps or hospitals often came down with diseases such as measles and mumps that were endemic wherever soldiers congregated. Children were particularly vulnerable. In parts of the South food and basic supplies became scarce. The massive death rate from the war (18% of all men of military age in the South) and the increased civilian death rate meant women in mourning were ever present, particularly in the Confederacy. Widows were supposed to stay in mourning two and one-half years, widowers six months. Mourning had set stages, heavy followed by full followed by half, with special clothes for each stage. The prescribed clothing was beyond the means of many. Four times as many Americans attended church every Sunday as voted in the contentious and consequential presidential election in 1860 (An interesting fact, lest we think that Americans not voting is something new). But even in this nation of devout believers, the staggering death toll caused people to question their faith and conceptions of God. Science, such as Lyell’s work on the age of the earth and discussions of Darwinism which preceded publication of his theory, were already challenging established beliefs. How could God allow such carnage? How could Southerners use the Bible to support slavery and Northerners the same book to condemn it? Many answered doubts by simply doubling down on their religious fervor. Immortality was needed more than ever. New ideas of heaven as a continuation of one’s earthly identity and relationships gained steam. Spiritualists held their first convention in 1864 as their movement emerged and grew. Both sides adjusted religion to their needs, particularly difficult for the South in its defeat, but Southerners responded by filling their churches laying the foundation for the Bible Belt. Following the war, independent groups began accounting for the dead, identifying them and getting them into proper cemeteries. Congress responded establishing national cemeteries, which had separate sections for African Americans and excluded Confederates. Southern volunteer groups created their own. It waited for President McKinley trying to unite the country in 1896 to call for honoring all Civil War dead. But this effort to let bygones be bygones could not convince everyone. As Frederick Douglas said on Decoration (Memorial) Day in 1883, “Whatever else I may forget, I shall never forget the difference between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Montzalee Wittmann

    This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust is an eye-opening, informative, and sober look at life up close and personal. When I thought of the Civil War I had never really thought of all the details of what it would be like other than tv shows. This book takes you down and dirty on the death and suffering of the dead and dying but those around those men. There are problems I would have never thought of. Heartbreaking, informative, and I cried at times for t This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust is an eye-opening, informative, and sober look at life up close and personal. When I thought of the Civil War I had never really thought of all the details of what it would be like other than tv shows. This book takes you down and dirty on the death and suffering of the dead and dying but those around those men. There are problems I would have never thought of. Heartbreaking, informative, and I cried at times for the terrible injustices that transpires. I read about the worst in some people but I saw the best in others. In some ways the feelings are a lot like today.

  4. 5 out of 5

    robin friedman

    The Civil War And The Harvest Of Death Most books on the American Civil War can be grouped into one of two categories. The first category consists of studies of the military history of the conflict, frequently focusing on individual battles or campaigns. The second category focuses on the political aspects of the conflict with much recent literature centered upon Emancipation and with the long delay following the Civil War in securing civil rights for the former slaves. Drew Gilpin Faust's "This R The Civil War And The Harvest Of Death Most books on the American Civil War can be grouped into one of two categories. The first category consists of studies of the military history of the conflict, frequently focusing on individual battles or campaigns. The second category focuses on the political aspects of the conflict with much recent literature centered upon Emancipation and with the long delay following the Civil War in securing civil rights for the former slaves. Drew Gilpin Faust's "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War" cuts across these two categories by studying in detail the extent of the death and suffering resulting from America's greatest conflict. Most studies of the Civil War, of the first or second category, do pay attention to Civil War death but in the context of other themes. There are relatively few studies which take death as the primary theme for a study of the entire War. (Faust has good precedent for her theme in Gregory Coco's "A Strange and Blighted Land" and other works by Coco, among other writers, of the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg). Faust emphasizes the strongly religious and evangelical character of mid-19th Century United States and of the familiarity that society, in contrast to how many people view contemporary America, felt with death. She emphasizes the concept of the "good death" after a full life and in the presence of family, with the deceased having the opportunity to turn his thoughts towards repentance and religion. The Civil War and its carnage ran squarely into the concept of the good death as soldiers in the hundreds of thousands died from disease or bullets far from home in a manner that was depersonalizing, painful, and bleak. Casualty rates in the Civil War were extraordinarily high and difficult even today to measure precisely, especially for the South. Faust describes how, at the outset of the war, neither the North nor the South expected a lengthy conflict and thus made no provision for handling the massive casualties that occurred. Ambulance service -- the retrieval of the dead and wounded -- medical care, identification of the dead, proper burial, and the notification of kin were all seriously deficient. Faust describes these and many other aspects of death and of the brutality of the conflict and of the efforts made, as the War dragged on, to improve the care given to the dead and dying. Faust is insightful on the efforts of non-government groups, such as the U.S. Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission, and of individuals such as Clara Barton, to relieve suffering during the war and to treat each soldier as a treasured individual rather than as a cog in the military effort. Similar efforts were made on a smaller scale in the South. She also describes well the efforts made after the war by persons such as Edward Whitman, by the Federal government, and by women's groups in the former Confederacy to find the dead, frequently buried in hastily-constructed graves, and to identify and inter them with respect and honor. This effort, Faust argues, presaged an expansive role for the government in the theretofore private affairs of individuals and marked a change in the way the culture viewed and responded to death. The most impressive part of the book is the use Faust makes of contemporaneous literary accounts of the Civil War. Her book is replete with references to Civil War poetry which, whatever its shortcomings may be as literature, is a precious guide to how people living through the war responded to it. In addition to the popular literature of the day, she draws upon the works of Lincoln (the Second Inaugural Address)Whitman, Melville, Ambrose Bierce, Emily Dickinson, John DeForest (author of the 1867 novel "Miss Ravenel's Conversion"), and Oliver Wendell Holmes to show how the destruction wrought by the Civil War was viewed by contemporaries. In a recent article in the New York Review, James McPherson has pointed out that Faust's book gives insufficient weight to other important results of the Civil War over and beyond the appalling casualties. Thus she does not address the preservation of the Union and the expansion of democracy, the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, and the eventual, although delayed, extension of rights of citizenship to the former slaves. She also gives insufficient weight to the manner in which the war ultimately came to reunite the North and the South which had been bitter enemies during the conflict and in the immediate years thereafter. But there will be few readers who will be tempted to romanticize the Civil War after reading Faust's account. Her study reminded me of the terrible price Americans have had to pay to secure the government and the liberties we hold dear and all too frequently take for granted. Robin Friedman

  5. 4 out of 5

    brian

    you know that very un-scientific statistic about how the average male thinks about sex once every two minutes? well, triple that and replace 'sex' with 'death' and that's me. at the age of twelve, i'm certain woody allen used me as the basis for his character in Hannah and her Sisters. and ol' leo prolly based levin on me, as well! while other kids were stroking it to penthouse, i was rocking back and forth in fetal position from too many re-readings of the Grand Inquisitor section of The Brothe you know that very un-scientific statistic about how the average male thinks about sex once every two minutes? well, triple that and replace 'sex' with 'death' and that's me. at the age of twelve, i'm certain woody allen used me as the basis for his character in Hannah and her Sisters. and ol' leo prolly based levin on me, as well! while other kids were stroking it to penthouse, i was rocking back and forth in fetal position from too many re-readings of the Grand Inquisitor section of The Brothers Karamazov and multiple viewings of The Seventh Seal. so when i discovered this book i was pretty certain i was gonna love it about as much as any book i've ever read. nope. & here's why: the 'fact' chapters (on aspects of death: burying, naming, numbering, etc...) start with a big premise and then kinda narrow in on dozens of tiny examples to bolster the point; repetition without going deep enough to truly illustrate a point or establish a connection -- i found myself skimming example after example after example... and those other chapters, those that assess the spiritual and existential changes that occurred as a result of the Civil War just aren't probing and/or interesting enough. faust does a good job of examining Bierce, Melville, Whitman and Dickinson in an effort to understand the post-war spiritual upheaval through the eyes of writers/poets... but she's far too general when addressing the nation as a whole. the strength of this book is faust's thorough explanation of how the u.s. government, in being forced to act and intervene, forever shaped the nation's relationship to its government. & the final test, i guess, is that this book did not throw me into a severe existential panic; my angst/anguish/fear/trembling levels didn't significantly rise... and that's a major disappointment.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Browne

    I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in American history- or anyone who wants to know how many of our traditions grew out of the Civil War. The book also gives a good summary of how the role of government began to evolve in the latter half of the 19th Century. The enormity of the Civil War is probably the point in our history where the American people began to see the necessity of a strong central government. Previous to the Civil War, there were no national cemetaries, I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in American history- or anyone who wants to know how many of our traditions grew out of the Civil War. The book also gives a good summary of how the role of government began to evolve in the latter half of the 19th Century. The enormity of the Civil War is probably the point in our history where the American people began to see the necessity of a strong central government. Previous to the Civil War, there were no national cemetaries, no "effective" ambulance corps, no real military hospitals, no burial grounds for soldiers, no practical proceedures to care for injured soldiers, no way to identify them, etc., etc. This is a highly interesting and informative book that provides information that heretofore has not been thoroughly researched. (As far as I know) The PBS program, "Death and the Civil War" was based on it and I highly recommend both.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Staggering. An exceptional book of scholarly research on death and the Civil War. Drew Gilpin Faust, the author, won multiple awards following its release in 2008. I found the chapters on burying and accounting to be the most insightful. How I could have read all of the seminal works on the Civil War and not have known any of this detail? I also found the fifteen pages on Ambrose Bierce to be so intriguing. Bierce’s writings, including ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’, began the modern war li Staggering. An exceptional book of scholarly research on death and the Civil War. Drew Gilpin Faust, the author, won multiple awards following its release in 2008. I found the chapters on burying and accounting to be the most insightful. How I could have read all of the seminal works on the Civil War and not have known any of this detail? I also found the fifteen pages on Ambrose Bierce to be so intriguing. Bierce’s writings, including ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’, began the modern war literature movement. 5 stars. This is Drew Gilpin Faust’s magnum opus - in my opinion. I have previously read Mothers of Invention but it is not anywhere near the level of ‘This Republic of Suffering’ nor does it have the popular appeal.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Drew Gilpin Faust’s The Republic of Suffering is a necessary, and long overdue, cultural history of a largely ignored aspect of the Civil War. Basically, it’s a history of Death on a massive scale in what many historians view as the first modern war, and how society (or societies – North and South) dealt with such losses. There were of course differences in how the North and South did deal with such losses, especially when it came to locating bodies for reburial. For the North, location and rebu Drew Gilpin Faust’s The Republic of Suffering is a necessary, and long overdue, cultural history of a largely ignored aspect of the Civil War. Basically, it’s a history of Death on a massive scale in what many historians view as the first modern war, and how society (or societies – North and South) dealt with such losses. There were of course differences in how the North and South did deal with such losses, especially when it came to locating bodies for reburial. For the North, location and reburial in National Cemeteries became a Government effort – which excluded the Confederate dead; for the South, the effort(s) were more of a grassroots nature performed by a number of groups. Nevertheless, both societies believed in the importance of the “Good Death,” a theme that Faust returns to again and again throughout her book. The Civil War did do damage to the Good Death concept for a number of reasons. Essentially a “good death” featured, within the popular imagination of the time, the family gathered around the loved one, while sweet, sad things were said, and Christian resolve mustered before departure to the great beyond. (Personally, I don’t find that concept dated, and can only hope for something similar when my time comes.) On the War front, the problem of bodies being blown apart, not ever found and identified, long periods where the fate of a soldier could not be found out due to the poor flow of information, created an unending sense of anxiety for families in both the North and South. In other areas, and less obvious, but also important, were changing attitudes toward the Bible, Heaven, and Hell. Emily Dickenson, who Faust points out, penned a great number of her poems during the War, also happened to populate her poems with war imagery – and of course, death. On reading this, one particular line from Dickenson came quickly to mind, and I think sums up the great anxiety and fears of the age (and with her typically powerful economy): “Parting is all we know of heaven, and all we need of hell.” Overall, Faust is a sure guide who maintains the even-tone of an academic, but one with a humane touch. This is a book filled with enormous heartache, as anecdote after anecdote drives home. But it is also forward looking, showing that lessons were learned, as the Government and civilians were forced to respond to an avalanche of dead, missing, and wounded, with initially no responsive and supportive structures in place. That would change. There were shortcomings galore, but also many successes, as concrete efforts were made to find and identify the dead, provide a final resting places for their remains, and thus bringing final closure to so many who had lost so much. One of the great paradoxes of the War, with its mass destruction, was the growing appreciation of the individual. Thousands died, but there was a refusal to see that fact as simply numbers and/or disposable cogs in a military machine. And that, for me, was the gleaming, hopeful thread that ran throughout this sad book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Babbs

    “It is hard,” he wrote, “to realize the meaning of the figures…It is easy to imagine one man killed; or ten men killed; or, perhaps, a score of men killed…but even…[the veteran] is unable to comprehend the dire meaning of the one hundred thousand, whose every unit represents a soldier’s bloody grave. The figures are too large.” The way this book is broken down, from Dying versus Killing, to Naming of those lost, sections off different aspects of the war, and the impact it had not only “It is hard,” he wrote, “to realize the meaning of the figures…It is easy to imagine one man killed; or ten men killed; or, perhaps, a score of men killed…but even…[the veteran] is unable to comprehend the dire meaning of the one hundred thousand, whose every unit represents a soldier’s bloody grave. The figures are too large.” The way this book is broken down, from Dying versus Killing, to Naming of those lost, sections off different aspects of the war, and the impact it had not only on the soldiers who fought it, but on their families and the country as a whole. Constructed mostly as a chronological narrative, with quotes from ledgers, newspapers, and personal letters as examples, this is one of the most human accounts of war that I've ever read. I also enjoyed the expansion that included the impact of literary works on the public's perception of the war and the consequences that came from the greatest lost of American life to date. This would be an excellent starting point for anyone interested in reading more about the Civil War and I personally plan on following up on several of the authors of the time, specifically Longfellow and Whitman. "That fatal bullet went speeding forth Till it reached a town in the distant North Till it reached a house in a sunny street Till it reached a heart that ceased to beat Without a murmur, without a cry …….….….…. And the neighbors wondered that she should die."

  10. 5 out of 5

    David

    It's well known that there were huge numbers of casualties during the Civil War. But what lies behind the numbers? Every single death represents a life - a son, a husband, a brother. What were the faces and feelings and experiences behind the numbers? This book considers aspects of death and dying and suffering I would never have thought of: the emotions of the soldiers anticipating possible death as they go into battle; the mental or emotional adjustments involved in learning to kill; the desire It's well known that there were huge numbers of casualties during the Civil War. But what lies behind the numbers? Every single death represents a life - a son, a husband, a brother. What were the faces and feelings and experiences behind the numbers? This book considers aspects of death and dying and suffering I would never have thought of: the emotions of the soldiers anticipating possible death as they go into battle; the mental or emotional adjustments involved in learning to kill; the desire to die "the good death", showing courage, faith, and conviction; the feelings of losing comrades and friends; the struggles to bury the dead and keep records of death and burial; the uncertainty and and agony of families back home, many of which never learned details of the lost soldiers; and so much more. Considerable attention is given to religious feelings and philosophical approaches as they evolved during the years of the war. And then, the aftermath of the war, as the suffering continued in new ways. This was a fascinating and superbly written historical treatise which held my attention like a novel. It portrayed the facts with feeling and insight. The narrative is enlivened by countless personal anecdotes (the author must have read every personal letter, journal, or public record that survives from the era). This is not just a book about the Civil War; it's a reflection on the meaning of war and how a people struggle to create meaning and justification.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    While the sub-title of the book indicates the focus on the Civil War, much of what Faust illustates can be applied to how cheaply we seem to hold life these days. And no, I'm not talking soley about inner city violence, but mass shootings, terrorist attacks. You name it. Because, the book is about how society's view to death changed radically during the Civil War. Faust's book is divided into chapters, each named with a facet of death. She details the original view of death in the society of the While the sub-title of the book indicates the focus on the Civil War, much of what Faust illustates can be applied to how cheaply we seem to hold life these days. And no, I'm not talking soley about inner city violence, but mass shootings, terrorist attacks. You name it. Because, the book is about how society's view to death changed radically during the Civil War. Faust's book is divided into chapters, each named with a facet of death. She details the original view of death in the society of the time, but then how that changed with the war - not only in terms of how the army dealt with the bodies of the wounded, but also how individuals dealt with the missing loved ones. It is an enthralling and distrubing read that is a needed one.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lizzie

    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, 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.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    A good overview of a neglected aspect of the war, this book focuses on the Civil War dead. The author explains the aspects of what was considered a "good death" during the conflict. We also learn of efforts to identify and rebury the dead during and after the fighting. Overall although the book isn't very uplifting, it fills a gap in Civil War literature. While the writing was a bit nuanced, the book was very readable but might only spark the interest of dedicated Civil War buffs. A good overview of a neglected aspect of the war, this book focuses on the Civil War dead. The author explains the aspects of what was considered a "good death" during the conflict. We also learn of efforts to identify and rebury the dead during and after the fighting. Overall although the book isn't very uplifting, it fills a gap in Civil War literature. While the writing was a bit nuanced, the book was very readable but might only spark the interest of dedicated Civil War buffs.

  14. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    This seems to me to be such a necessary history that I wonder why it wasn't written until now. About 620,000 men died during the Civil War from combat and disease. An equivalent proportion to our present population would be about 6 million. How does a society cope with such enormous loss? Faust's fascinating book of military and social history attempts to tell how. Simply put, it's a book about death, what it meant in mid-19th century America, and how those huge numbers of military deaths affect This seems to me to be such a necessary history that I wonder why it wasn't written until now. About 620,000 men died during the Civil War from combat and disease. An equivalent proportion to our present population would be about 6 million. How does a society cope with such enormous loss? Faust's fascinating book of military and social history attempts to tell how. Simply put, it's a book about death, what it meant in mid-19th century America, and how those huge numbers of military deaths affected perceptions. Her chapters bear, as you might expect, titles explaining aspects of Civil War death: "Dying," "Killing," "Burying," "Numbering." I think the most interesting chapter is "Believing and Doubting," concerning the role of 19th century religion in helping to come to terms with the carnage and to justify it. My reading has given me the impression that in that religious age death didn't distance the fallen soldier from the living as much as today. In the 1860s death wasn't annihilation. Faust confirms this thought and explains that only the confidence in immortality provided by religious beliefs made the large Civil War death tolls acceptable. She adds that the Union was guided by Lincoln who emphasized the battle deaths, as at Gettysburg, were a necessary sacrifice in order for a terrestrial, political redemption to become possible. For the Confederacy, in defeat, their losses seemed meaningless and unredeemed, and out of that helplessness, she says, came the idea of the Lost Cause as a celebration of Confederate memory providing some means whereby the terrible loss of life could somehow be affirmed and the deaths not have been in vain. That same chapter is also valuable for its critical look at how such influential writers as Dickinson, Melville, and Ambrose Bierce helped outline the borders between religious belief and unbelief that resulted from the war and prepared western societies for the disillusion attending the losses of WWI. An important chapter in an important book. Much of the book was as I expected--I just needed it to be articulated. But I'd never given thought to death in relation to race. Here she surprised me with her description of the savagery of the combat between Confederates and the black Union units opposing them. Blacks apparently served partly under motivations of vengeance. Southerners often viewed the presence of large units of blacks under arms as a slave rebellion, as, indeed, it's been called in other histories. This is excellent history touching a face of the Civil War not seen before to my knowledge. Faust explains it all wonderfully.

  15. 4 out of 5

    kris

    I've discovered in my advanced years that I'm relatively picky about the non-fiction I read: if I'm going to spend my highly prized free time with a book about real life, it's got to be worth the effort. And This Republic of Suffering was that, for me. The Civil War killed an estimated 620,000 people—more, as Faust points out, than the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II combined. But the thing about that number is that it's I've discovered in my advanced years that I'm relatively picky about the non-fiction I read: if I'm going to spend my highly prized free time with a book about real life, it's got to be worth the effort. And This Republic of Suffering was that, for me. The Civil War killed an estimated 620,000 people—more, as Faust points out, than the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II combined. But the thing about that number is that it's just a concept. It's not real, which is where Faust sticks the first pin. She begins with the individual soldier who made the decision to go to war, who believed in his country or his God or his leadership, and who ultimately had to face the facts of death. And with a careful zooming out, Faust pulls us out a layer at a time, trying to build to an understanding of what 620,000 people really means to a country used to dying at home, surrounded by family, and buried in the family plot. The Civil War undid that narrative and created a world where hundreds of thousands died in fields and ditches and forests thousands of miles from home, unnamed and unmarked. I am no Civil War scholar or mid-Victorian American buff, but This Republic of Suffering made me interested in both these things. And it made me sad, and it made me mad, but most importantly it made me think.

  16. 5 out of 5

    trickgnosis

    If I were being mean, I might say that Faust writes like an administrator--she is the president of Harvard--but instead I'll just say that she seems to prefer details to narrative and is reluctant to use just one or two pertinent examples when she can use a half dozen. Occasionally this is effective at indicating the scope of Civil War carnage but often it drags the book down. The chapter on "accounting" is the longest in the book and really slows down the pace in the latter half of the book. Th If I were being mean, I might say that Faust writes like an administrator--she is the president of Harvard--but instead I'll just say that she seems to prefer details to narrative and is reluctant to use just one or two pertinent examples when she can use a half dozen. Occasionally this is effective at indicating the scope of Civil War carnage but often it drags the book down. The chapter on "accounting" is the longest in the book and really slows down the pace in the latter half of the book. The early chapters are brisk and interesting and there are a number of fascinating tidbits scattered about, even for someone like me who's pretty familiar with a lot of this stuff. There are more engaging books--like Gary Laderman's The Sacred Remains--that cover some of the same ground, but Faust's book will prove serviceable for those interested in the topic.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING: Death and the American Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust [2008] “The sheer number of bodies requiring disposal after a Shiloh, an Antietam, or a Gettysburg defied both administrative imagination and logistical capacity, for each death posed a pressing and grimly pragmatic problem: What should be done with the body?” We read about the engagements, legendary battles – Shiloh, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Bull Run, Gettysburg, the Wilderness – we study the grand strategies, the THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING: Death and the American Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust [2008] “The sheer number of bodies requiring disposal after a Shiloh, an Antietam, or a Gettysburg defied both administrative imagination and logistical capacity, for each death posed a pressing and grimly pragmatic problem: What should be done with the body?” We read about the engagements, legendary battles – Shiloh, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Bull Run, Gettysburg, the Wilderness – we study the grand strategies, the tactics, the bigger than life personalities that moved armies, Lee, Grant, Stonewall Jackson, Longstreet; we marvel at the bravery, and, yes, the madness. Turf soaked in blood acquire names of capitalized Significance -- The Peach Orchard, Devil's Den, The Wheatfield, The Cornfield, The Sunken Road, The Slaughter Pen. And yet we gloss over the casualty figures – a few thousand here, a few thousand there – and while perhaps stunned at the carnage, don't think much about the aftermath. Move on to the next battle with its cold statistics. Statistics that mask the reality. But after the combatants have departed the fields, the woods, the creeks and rivers, what then? These fields of death were someone's front yard, home. A farmer's field. What of the thousands of dead and mortally wounded soldiers left behind, the dead and rotting horses by the hundreds, the thousands? What comes of that? Who is left to account for them? Who takes care of the hundreds of thousands sick and dying from disease, malaria, dysentery, typhoid, rampant in the camps? And how does an entire nation suddenly faced with hundreds of thousands of dead husbands, fathers, and sons come to terms – in the end, 620,000 gone, many never to be named, many never found? This is the subject of author Faust's amazing book, an accounting of battle's aftermath. This book is so dense with fascinating, sobering facts, provides so much history on how the Civil War changed this country – not just in preservation of the Union and its relationship to slavery – but how it challenged our notions of 'the Good Death,' was instrumental in establishing national military cemeteries, questioned our nation's responsibility to those who gave their lives for it, hastened the science of embalming and preserving corpses for transport, and so many more systemic changes that America was a much different country after the Civil War, in so many ways. Before the Civil War there was no military ambulance service, no means of efficiently identifying, burying, reclaiming, preserving, and notifying relatives of the countless dead. Many were buried where they were killed, in fields, yards, woods. Record-keeping was haphazard. Depending on which army retained the field of battle, enemy bodies might be left unburied, food for the wild hogs, left to rot in the sun. Much of battle's aftermath was left for the local inhabitants to deal with. This is an incredible book – perhaps the best nonfiction book I've read so far this year. Highly recommended. A PBS 'American Experience' episode, 'Death and the Civil War' has been made based on this book. It, too, is very good. Done with the work of breathing; done With all the world; the mad race run Through to the end; the golden goal Attained and found to be a hole. – Ambrose Bierce

  18. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    This is a powerful book that deals with one aspect of the Civil War in a very different context than normal--death. Many books speak of the sanguinary nature of the Civil War, death due to battlefield trauma as well as death due to disease, accident, and so on. But this book, written by Drew Gilpin Faust, addresses death on a much broader basis. As a result, this is a powerful work. One simple fact to begin: the number of Civil War soldiers who died is about equal to the number of American dead This is a powerful book that deals with one aspect of the Civil War in a very different context than normal--death. Many books speak of the sanguinary nature of the Civil War, death due to battlefield trauma as well as death due to disease, accident, and so on. But this book, written by Drew Gilpin Faust, addresses death on a much broader basis. As a result, this is a powerful work. One simple fact to begin: the number of Civil War soldiers who died is about equal to the number of American dead from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and Korea combined. The focus of the book is briefly stated at the outset (Page xv): "Beginning with individuals' confrontation with death and dying, the book explores how those experiences transformed society, culture, and politics in what became a broader republic of shared suffering." Each chapter has a poignancy that is almost palpable. Chapter 1 focuses on the dying by soldiers. The effort to die a good death was one that manifest itself for many a soldier--Yankee and Rebel. One interesting issue--soldiers appeared to fear death by disease more than death in the heat of combat. Soldiers often carried letters to battle, containing their last words to families and loved ones in case they perished. This is an eye opening chapter. Chapter 2 deals with the other side of the coin--killing the enemy. Many were torn by their Biblical desire to avoid killing others versus their duty to try to do so. Killing others sometimes changed troops, numbing human feeling and producing aftereffects. Chapter 3 addresses burying the dead. After battles, there was often little time and the dead were buried in mass graves, often with no identification (no dog tags then). Soldiers felt an intense desire to decently bury the dead--but this was often more easily said than done. Chapter 4 deals with a related issue, naming those who died. Without identification, large numbers of dead soldiers were buried in anonymous graves. Even if reburied with more dignity, the names were still absent. The chapter addresses many issues, including the effort by loved ones to find the remains of their dead soldier(s). Other chapters deal with how people tried to make sense of the death of their loved ones; the nature of mourning; the relationship of death and religion; obligations to the dead; wondering how many actually died. A harsh truth (Page 267): "Nearly half the dead remained unknown, the fact of their deaths supposed but undocumented. . . ." And, the final sentence in the work (Page 271): "We still work to live with the riddle that they--the Civil War dead and their survivors alike--had to solve so long ago." A powerful book, one that will disturb many as they read it. But it also illuminates a little told side of the Civil War. Strongly recommended. . . .

  19. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    Because I don't buy books these days, I am still "currently-reading"this thing, as the library recalled it before I could finish it. However, I have it on hold again and will finish it because the first few chapters I did manage to read before the city of Kansas City plucked the book so meanly from my hands were eminently readable, interesting and thought-provoking. Ok. Finally read it. Must say that the preface was much more engaging than the book itself. Not that the book wasn't good; it was ju Because I don't buy books these days, I am still "currently-reading"this thing, as the library recalled it before I could finish it. However, I have it on hold again and will finish it because the first few chapters I did manage to read before the city of Kansas City plucked the book so meanly from my hands were eminently readable, interesting and thought-provoking. Ok. Finally read it. Must say that the preface was much more engaging than the book itself. Not that the book wasn't good; it was just chock full of footnoted facts. Kind of like a term paper; Faust would say something, then spend boring time proving it with too many footnoted examples. While scholarly, certainly, it disrupted the flow and the power. I thought the best chapter was that entitled "Believing and Doubting," a chapter on how faith developed and changed in the wake of such a horrendous body count. I have always questioned why so many men went so willingly into hand-to-hand combat. Running towards destruction. Some quotable tidbits from this chapter help explain the mindset; "Some historians have argued that, in fact, only the widespread existence of such beliefs [afterlife] made acceptance of the Civil War death tolls possible, and that religion thus in some sense enabled the slaughter." "Death offered these devout men (soldiers with faith) a 'change' but not an ending; the celestial skies of Glory became more alluring than the bloody fields of Georgia or Virginia." Also interesting was Faust's exploration on how the Civil War concepts of Christian after-life (which are still predominant today) came to be. It all started with the publication of a book called "Heaven and Hell" by Emanuel Swedenborg in 1758. This started a "movement away from a conception of heaven as forbiddingly ascetic, distant from earth and its materiality, and highly theocentric. Instead, a more modern notion of heaven began to emerge as a realm hardly separate or different - except in its perfection - from earth itself." The conversion of thought, the movement to "annex heaven as a more glorious suburb of the present life" started in the 18th century but was incomplete when the Civil War started. The Civil War solidified it because in the face of mass killing, Swedenborg's concept of heaven was comforting. And survivors, as well as soldiers not expecting to survive, clung to that comfort. It was in this atmosphere that spiritualism began to flourish; mediums, ouija boards, messages from the world beyond. People were desperate for closure and reassurance. And this desperation shaped religion in America. And still shapes it into the 21st century.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Karla

    The book succeeds despite, not because of, the audiobook narrator. Lorna Raver's highly exaggerated enunciation and cadence worked my last nerve for most of it. By the end, it improved. In the way that the last 30 minutes of a root canal improves. Cuz it'll all be over soon.... So if you have the choice of book vs audio, I'd suggest the book. Unfortunately my library only had the audio. That said, I enjoyed the history and all the different aspects of death during the Civil War, from the practica The book succeeds despite, not because of, the audiobook narrator. Lorna Raver's highly exaggerated enunciation and cadence worked my last nerve for most of it. By the end, it improved. In the way that the last 30 minutes of a root canal improves. Cuz it'll all be over soon.... So if you have the choice of book vs audio, I'd suggest the book. Unfortunately my library only had the audio. That said, I enjoyed the history and all the different aspects of death during the Civil War, from the practical and cold field of logistics and statistics, to the influence on popular culture and survivors. There were no fiddles and pianos, but in other respects it read like a Ken Burns documentary. Anecdotes, excerpts from poetry and letters and editorials, and a digestible narrative. Most of the time I felt overwhelmingly sad. It helped me see beyond the battles, the winners and losers, and focus on the one thing both sides had in common to an unbelievable bloody degree.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    An odd and insightful look at the meaning and practices of dying in the American Civil War. Even at its worst, the book is a series of interesting vignettes and anecdotes about the innumerable little tragedies of the war. Not the best social history out there, but still intriguing. At its best, and this is the majority of the book, it is an eye-opening look at a whole other world of living and dying, impossibly distant from our own. For instance, Faust details the strict regulations of mourning d An odd and insightful look at the meaning and practices of dying in the American Civil War. Even at its worst, the book is a series of interesting vignettes and anecdotes about the innumerable little tragedies of the war. Not the best social history out there, but still intriguing. At its best, and this is the majority of the book, it is an eye-opening look at a whole other world of living and dying, impossibly distant from our own. For instance, Faust details the strict regulations of mourning dress for women, from heavy to full to half mourning gowns, provided by stores like Lord and Taylors in their "Mourning Department." There were strict timetables for wearing all of this: one year for the death of a son, two and half for a husband, six months for a brother. Southerners deprived of these fineries diligently worked to acquire them through the blockade, despite the danger and the need for more pressing supplies. Faust also chronicles the rise of a more Swedenborgian conception of heaven among mid-century Americans, one domestic and earth-like, almost a kind of Victorian home parlor in another world. Bestselling books like "Heaven our Home" and "The Gates Ajar" explained that one would find old friends in heaven again and live like as in a New England town. Spirtualists, including Mary Todd Lincoln, sought to converse with those dead who had perished in the war, as if they were always nearby, while the Spirtualist magazine "Banner of Light" had columns as if written by the dead, such as Willie Lincoln or Stonewall Jackson (who defended his actions). Death was closer than ever before, and yet more serene. The book climaxes, of a sort, in the National Cemeteries Act of 1867, which allotted over $4 million over 4 years to burying and re-burying the Union (and only Union, importantly) war dead across the South, in the face of angry Southerners who were intent on desecrating their occupiers' graves. It was both a symbol of the increasing power and wealth of the federal government, and the nation's increasing infatuation with its dead. The new power of the government, in fact, was built on the reputations of those who had perished defending it, as Lincoln explained at Gettysburg. So this book does open up a whole new vision of the American Civil War, something that is supremely difficult at this date and for which we should be extremely grateful.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    Civil War historian Drew Gilpin Faust has written an informative and troubling study of how antebellum Americans adopted and shaped a 'Culture of Death' during the bewildering and staggering carnage of the Civil War. An estimated 620,000 soldiers were shot, blown apart by cannon fire, or killed by botched battlefield operations during the years that the war raged (1861-65). As the author points out, an equivalent proportion of the current U.S. population would be six million losses. Lincoln beli Civil War historian Drew Gilpin Faust has written an informative and troubling study of how antebellum Americans adopted and shaped a 'Culture of Death' during the bewildering and staggering carnage of the Civil War. An estimated 620,000 soldiers were shot, blown apart by cannon fire, or killed by botched battlefield operations during the years that the war raged (1861-65). As the author points out, an equivalent proportion of the current U.S. population would be six million losses. Lincoln believed that the mass killing transformed a provisional organization of states into a unified nation, but it was a bloody process that forced families to adopt new social rituals to both make sense of and work their way through all the dying. Faust describes in intricate but highly readable detail how bereaved Americans struggled to reconcile the systemized slaughter with a long-cherished belief in a loving and benevolent God. She uses the written memories of soldiers and their families as well as military leaders, chaplains, medical personnel, and even wartime poets to reconstruct the ways that those destined for the battlefield prepared themselves spiritually for violent ends, and how those they left behind reframed the losses so that spiritual bankruptcy and general despair did not result. The huge death tolls experienced at Gettysburg, Shiloh, Bull Run, Antietam, and other battle sites resulted in new commercial enterprises, such as the undertaking profession. Embalming also became routine practice for the first time. On the military end, a federal system of national cemeteries was established for Union casualties, while the South honored its dead in private cemeteries that were also monuments to their lost effort. Powerful and stirring, "This Republic of Suffering" provides a valuable new dimension to how we perceive the Civil War.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Harvard president and Civil War scholar Drew Gilpin Faust tackles the most intimate aspects of death during the Civil War in This Republic of Suffering, a groundbreaking new book on the realities of war’s carnage. From the physical bodies on the battlefield, to the “Good Death” and the developing belief in the concept of heaven, to the growth of federal standards for counting and communicating war deaths, Faust delves into aspects of the Civil War that many haven’t considered when thinking about Harvard president and Civil War scholar Drew Gilpin Faust tackles the most intimate aspects of death during the Civil War in This Republic of Suffering, a groundbreaking new book on the realities of war’s carnage. From the physical bodies on the battlefield, to the “Good Death” and the developing belief in the concept of heaven, to the growth of federal standards for counting and communicating war deaths, Faust delves into aspects of the Civil War that many haven’t considered when thinking about its impact. Chapters on “dying”, “killing”, “burying”, “naming”, “realizing” and “accounting” organize Faust’s meticulous research into the gruesome reality faced by the estimated 620,000 soldiers who died from 1861-1865 (the equivalent of today’s population would mean 6 million fatalities, to put into perspective the death rate for Civil War soldiers). Faust writes with eloquence as she incorporates not just the facts and statistics about death and dying, but the letters, poems and photographs that captured a nation’s suffering. Whether you are a history buff or just in search of a good read, This Republic of Suffering delivers a well-researched, well-written book that is also an eminently readable and quite gripping story on a key part of America’s history and culture.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    This gem took me longer than the actual Civil War to see through to fruition. This is no fault of Faust, the author, who has densely researched this magnifying glass on all aspects of death in the Civil War. Dying, in fact, is the first chapter, explaining that executions were more frequent in the Civil War than in any American conflict before or since. The death of the American soldier did not always fall victim to the enemy's bullet. Disease ran its course and killed thousands. But the war pre This gem took me longer than the actual Civil War to see through to fruition. This is no fault of Faust, the author, who has densely researched this magnifying glass on all aspects of death in the Civil War. Dying, in fact, is the first chapter, explaining that executions were more frequent in the Civil War than in any American conflict before or since. The death of the American soldier did not always fall victim to the enemy's bullet. Disease ran its course and killed thousands. But the war presented other logistical problems. The military simply was either unprepared or unwilling to maintain accurate records on casualty lists making it difficult for such things like proper burials, notification of families, troop morale, and later, pension payouts. The sheer volume of casualties, 2% of the country's population, a staggering number of workforce aged men primarily, left the United States in emotional bankruptcy following the aftermath of the conflict. But as I read on, even being a history buff, the weight and drudgery of reading about so much death and dying began to take its toll throughout the middle of the book, making it unwieldy and dry. I put it down only picking it up on occasion over the years, finally finishing it as of today, August 10, 2017. Satisfaction comes with a bonus as here is an Ambrose Bierce poem at the end that I found quite poignant. I will only quote one verse, as he relates his dissatisfaction towards someone who protests the decoration of Confederate gravestones as brave soldiers of war: The wretch, whate'er his life and lot, Who does not love the harmless dead With all his heart and all his head-- May God forgive him, I shall not

  25. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    I really wanted to give this 5 stars. It's an exceptionally strong look at how America dealt with death on scale it had never seen before. Faust does a wonderful job of exploring the need for a "good death" and how that influenced countless tales and remembrances of dying soldiers. How the need to make themselves right with God, dispense some wisdom for their family, and utter some remembered final words became almost a template for the dying. The scale of the carnage soon outstripped the society I really wanted to give this 5 stars. It's an exceptionally strong look at how America dealt with death on scale it had never seen before. Faust does a wonderful job of exploring the need for a "good death" and how that influenced countless tales and remembrances of dying soldiers. How the need to make themselves right with God, dispense some wisdom for their family, and utter some remembered final words became almost a template for the dying. The scale of the carnage soon outstripped the society's intellectual and logistical ability to handle it and Faust does a great job of doing into detail of how both the North and South attempted to cope. The rise of the embalmers was a particularly interesting section. Equally interesting was the post-war efforts at finding missing soldiers and consolidating their burial sites. What kept this from getting 5 stars is the section on the literary world's attempts to deal with heretofore unfathomable levels of death. Faust cites Melville, Ambrose Bierce, and Whitman, all of of whom had direct experience with the war and she notes their increasingly ironic detachment from the whole enterprise. She falters though with her extended passages on Emily Dickinson. Dickinson was essentially a shut-in who had no real direct experience with the war and Faust's attempts to shoe-horn her writings into being a response to (or being influenced by the war) ring very very hollow. Other than that, a wonderful and interesting look at how a society processes (or fails to process) that which it has never before experienced.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Addison

    This is a book about how the Civil War changed the way Americans dealt with death, both on the spiritual level and the intensely practical level of, we have all these dead bodies. What do we do with them? I found her most interesting when talking about the practicalities of burials (and reburials) and identifications and the way in which the modern armed forces ethos of bringing all soldiers home was born because of the problems created by this massive wall of death across the early 1860s, where This is a book about how the Civil War changed the way Americans dealt with death, both on the spiritual level and the intensely practical level of, we have all these dead bodies. What do we do with them? I found her most interesting when talking about the practicalities of burials (and reburials) and identifications and the way in which the modern armed forces ethos of bringing all soldiers home was born because of the problems created by this massive wall of death across the early 1860s, where you have civilian families on the one hand desperate to know what has become of their loved ones---are they alive? are the dead? where are their bodies?---and soldiers on the other trying to find ways to be sure that their families will receive that information. And the Army as an institution had nothing to do with it. It was up to volunteers and charitable workers and fellow soldiers to try to reconnect the broken tie. Sad and fascinating.

  27. 5 out of 5

    David McLemore

    One summer recently, my wife and I took took a drive through the southern United States, stopping off at various sites of Civil War battles and old forts. Up through Savannah, on through the Carolinas and into Virginia and Washington, D.C. Then on to Gettysburg, with stops on the way home to tour the deadly grounds of Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. At each stop, we paused and looked over the killing grounds where young men by the tens of thousands died. Nearby cemeteries spread o One summer recently, my wife and I took took a drive through the southern United States, stopping off at various sites of Civil War battles and old forts. Up through Savannah, on through the Carolinas and into Virginia and Washington, D.C. Then on to Gettysburg, with stops on the way home to tour the deadly grounds of Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. At each stop, we paused and looked over the killing grounds where young men by the tens of thousands died. Nearby cemeteries spread out like a great sea, the small stones inscribed 'Unknown.' We looked out and were speechless. The Civil War, of course, was a horror story. In the four years after Southern cannons fired on Ft. Sumter, more than 620,000 soldiers, Yank and Rebel, died. That would be about 2 percent of the then U.S. population – an equivalent today of 6 million lives. As outlined in her very moving book, The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust, historian and president of Harvard, details how the sheer enormity of the scale of death and destruction came as a brutal shock to the religious and social culture of the 19th Century. The prevalent convention of the Christian 'good death' – to die at home amid loved ones, who would witness your last words of acceptance of God's mystery and reassure the dying and the living alike that that death was merely a passing to Eternity – was irreparably shattered. Faust tell us that about 40 percent of Union combat fatalities and a higher percentage of Southern were never identified. Often their remains were never located. How could a benevolent God, whom both sides fervently prayed to for victory, allow this horror on the earth? 'How does God have the heart to allow it,' asked Southern poet Sydney Lanier. The armies of both sides were woefully ill-prepared for the slaughter to come. The Union army had no units trained for graves registration, no burial details, no systematic means of counting the dead or identifying them. Soldiers would write notes and pin them, sometimes with daguerreotype images to assist in identification. In the wake of great battles, wives, fathers and brothers and sisters wandered the fields of corpses, hoping to find their loved one's body and take it home. Often, their search went on for months or years. A cottage industry arose of entrepreneurs who, for a fee, would scour the battlefields and ship the bodies home. Other specialists brought 'improved' embalming techniques and and the promise of airtight coffins and set up shop amid the fields of dead. Some Nothern states and, eventually, Congress provided funds for great cemeteries near the battlefields to provide sides provide a decent burial for the soldiers who had given such a price. Until long after the war, however, they were only for the Union dead. Southerners weren't allowed. Faust provides ample scholarly detail to document how the war greatly affected 19th Century life. But the greater story she unfolds is the lasting effects it played on the creation of a sense of a United States. 'Death created the modern American union,' Faust tells us. 'Not just by ensuring national survival, but by shaping enduring national structures and commitments.' The war that had helped end slavery and its odious hold on America now helped create a greater sense of national purpose and obligation. Whether the nation should have elevated the end of slavery as the sacred result of the work of death in the war – and abolitionist like Frederick Douglass had certainly hoped so – the struggle to comprehend the meaning of the war's harvest took precedence. The dead, known and unknown, had experienced what the 19th Century termed 'the great change.' But they were the creators of their own destruction – both butchers and butchered But the survivors – the soldiers who experienced such horrors as this war brought, as well as their loved ones who were left with only memories of their sons and brothers and husbands – also underwent the shock of change. 'Individuals founds themselves in a new an different moral universe...,' Faust writes. 'Where did God fit into such a world?' The nation, too, survived and found itself charged with a new and immeasurable debt for the sacrifice of those who died and suffered for its very survival. We live today with the legacy of the state's responsibility created by the force of the dead in the Civil War, Faust says. We owe those who we call to serve in war to care for those who die and those who survive. We owe it to their families to account for their lives and deaths. The very purposelessness of their sacrifice, she writes, created its purpose. This is an excellent book, both morbid and hopeful. It is a very American book. Whether you are a Civil War buff or not, you will find something moving and provocative in it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    KB

    Two topics I'd like to read more about are the American Civil War and the Vietnam War. But I really wasn't in the mood to tackle a 700+ page monster of a book on either. So I came across the fairly slim This Republic of Suffering and decided to give it a go. I don't think we're really taught about the American Civil War here (at least not in detail; I wasn't), so I was hoping I wouldn't get lost reading this, but thankfully that wasn't the case.This book is not a military history of the war in a Two topics I'd like to read more about are the American Civil War and the Vietnam War. But I really wasn't in the mood to tackle a 700+ page monster of a book on either. So I came across the fairly slim This Republic of Suffering and decided to give it a go. I don't think we're really taught about the American Civil War here (at least not in detail; I wasn't), so I was hoping I wouldn't get lost reading this, but thankfully that wasn't the case.This book is not a military history of the war in any sense. Names of major battles are indeed dropped constantly, but that is not the focus. This book is all about death and how Americans dealt with it during this period. This was death on huge scale (something like 3% of the population) during a modern war and I think Faust tries to get this across and how it was at odds and changed normal rituals and beliefs surrounding death.The book is divided up by theme, which works very well. Faust also does a good job of linking these themes, so you do get a sense of how everything ties together. Americans had a very strong sense of what was to be expected prior to death that the war largely interrupted. They wanted a 'Good Death' where ritual was important: loved ones had to be near, the dying person was always at home and had to accept death willingly (as per religious beliefs), the hearing of the dying person's last words was also extremely important. But when men were being killed randomly and suddenly on a battlefield far from home, often this was impossible.Soldiers did what they could for their dying and dead comrades. They would try and record their last words and wrote to family members assuring them that he accepted his death and died a religious man. However, one could not expect a funeral or even to be buried properly: Jeremiah Gage of the 11th Mississippi felt differently. As he lay dying at Gettysburg, he wrote to urge his mother not to regret that she would be unable to retrieve his body. With his last words, he asked "to be buried like my comrades. But deep, boys deep, so the beasts won't get me."Bodies were retrieved, but not always. Families would actually try and find bodies on their own, or inquire about the whereabouts and have it shipped back to wherever they were from. But because so many men were not buried properly, identification of bodies or knowing the location of a grave was difficult.Another topic that was interesting was how these deaths were viewed by a religious society. The easiest way, of course, was to believe that men taking part in the war was almost a religious necessity, or that they were doing God's will to preserve a nation or fight for equality or whatever it may be. Men and women who lost fathers, sons and brothers also clung to the belief that they would see them in the afterlife; that they may be gone, but they were not exactly dead.For someone with little knowledge of the American Civil War, I actually found this to be a good starting point. You really don't need to know any specifics to understand anything Faust writes about and the significance of it will not be lost on you either. The book is about how society and individuals dealt with the deaths of the war; battles and officers and dates don't mean much here. And I liked that. I'll find another book covering the war in detail after, but this was a great and informative read on a specific aspect of it.I found Faust's writing to be extremely accessible but unremarkable. But because of the content and the plentiful amount of first-hand accounts, it is quite engaging. Footnotes take up a large chunk of the page length, so it's actually only 270 pages of actual reading. It's a breeze to get through.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is the first book of academic non-fiction I’ve read in a long time. The author writes well and, since we’re all preoccupied with death, the topic is fascinating. Still, as much as I enjoyed it, I did find the book haunted by creeping academia, ie one has to be redundant to prove one’s thesis, and to push some points beyond their usefulness. I did like what I learned about the role of newspapers at the time in helping people hunt information and report it. The part about the fashion of mourn This is the first book of academic non-fiction I’ve read in a long time. The author writes well and, since we’re all preoccupied with death, the topic is fascinating. Still, as much as I enjoyed it, I did find the book haunted by creeping academia, ie one has to be redundant to prove one’s thesis, and to push some points beyond their usefulness. I did like what I learned about the role of newspapers at the time in helping people hunt information and report it. The part about the fashion of mourning could have gone on forever and I wouldn’t have gotten bored. The hostility taken out on corpses, the nascent idea of national cemeteries for soldiers, the slave perspective, the statistics – much of that was new to me and I was thankful to learn it. In terms of literature, the author pulled Walt Whitman and Ambrose Bierce into the book very well, and the information on popular, non-literary writing was an enlightening reflection of the times. But I became impatient with the pages spent on Emily Dickinson. A couple of valid points could have been made on a page or two, without the author going into Dickinson’s linguistic and syntactical oddities as being influenced by the Civil War. As intriguing as the idea is, it felt out of place in this book. That as an instance of creeping academia – that urge to make the point all over the place –the book might have been better without. There aren’t any surprises regarding history or death itself, “the good death,” or the role of religion or patriotism. The book’s beauty and impact is in its cumulative effect. As you’re confronted with anecdote after anecdote of suffering, bereavement and innocence, it’s hard not to be moved to sobs.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust (the president of Harvard, and a woman, FYI) is a history of the Civil War period that focuses on the devastating death toll of the conflict and its effects on American culture of that time and since. The main threads of the discussion include attitudes of the Victorians towards a "good death," fashionable mourning, and the possibility of people simply disappearing; efforts to properly identify the staggering number of casualties and bodies and dis This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust (the president of Harvard, and a woman, FYI) is a history of the Civil War period that focuses on the devastating death toll of the conflict and its effects on American culture of that time and since. The main threads of the discussion include attitudes of the Victorians towards a "good death," fashionable mourning, and the possibility of people simply disappearing; efforts to properly identify the staggering number of casualties and bodies and dispose of them appropriately; and the role of the government in directing the efforts to care for and compensate the people who had lost so much. This last point is probably the most interesting aspect of the book. The author suggests that, because the raison d'être of the conflict was the legitimacy of the federal government itself, the government took a much stronger role in the aftermath. As the war progressed, the government moved from issuing vague, unenforceable orders to generals telling them to bury their dead, to actually disinterring bodies after the war ended and reburying them in official national cemeteries, which had never previously existed. Similarly, one of the reasons identifying the dead was so important was the availability of survivors' benefits for widows and dependent mothers and sisters. In these arrangements you can see the roots of today's entitlement programs. The author has drawn together a huge volume of primary material to offer both an analysis and eye-catching details. However, like many academic books, this one suffers from being too repetitive, almost as if the chapters were individual articles, not intended to be read in order.

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