Books I’ve Read: This Republic of Suffering

Although it is a subject matter that I would not normally tackle, I found This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust to be extremely interesting.

Drawing on records from the military, family histories and benevolent organizations, Faust recreates the impact the War had on the American psyche. When the War commenced, the concept of death was neatly packaged in the idea of the Good Death.

But the battlefield and disease that took so many of America’s men were not conducive to the concept of dying at home, with family and with a clear Christian conscience. So as families and the country struggled with the sheer volume of death the War created, family members were further burden with the realization that their loved one most likely did not die the Good Death.

Faust also points out how industries like embalming rose up out of the need for American families to see the deceased.

What I found most intriguing, is the sheer volume of work and manpower required to account for all the dead. That is:

  • To make sure the deceased had a name and not just a serial number
  • The incredibly difficult job of identifying and re-interring soldiers, and
  • How the War inadvertently created the need for, and implementation of, National Cemeteries.

Possibly the most disturbing fact the book reveals is the desecration of graves — from both sides of the conflict — once the War ended.

Written in a scholarly fashion — with ample footnotes — the book is definitely not a quick read. But if you are interested in American history and, in particular the Civil War, you will find the book engaging.

Definitely a 5-star book because it is so well researched and because it offers such a poignant look at how soldiers were treated once they were dead.

Categories: American History, Books I have read, Civil War History | Tags:

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