Book Review This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust

Pat Young

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#21
At least they were honored. After some European battles, the bodies were left on the battlefield and bones later gathered up to make bonemeal for gardens.
Quite true. Still, the segregation reflected the incompleteness of the Union program. I will note that at Cypress Hills Natl. Cem. in New York USCT are buried side by side with both white Unionists and Confederates.
 

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Pat Young

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#22
Part 9:

While the Federal dead were reburied by the United States government, the deceased Confederates were still scattered about the land. Those who died in battles outside the Confederate states, those at Gettysburg for example, became the object of particular concern. Accounts of Confederate graves being forgotten and even vandalized led women to organize efforts to bring all the Confederate dead to the South for reburrial. Because 19th Century assumptions saw women as less threatening than men, Ladies Memorial Associations (LMAs) were started to provide for the care of the departed. These women-based groups were allowed to function during Reconstruction with little interference from the occupation authorities.

The first of these groups was founded in Richmond just a year after the war. Over the coming years, the LMAs would prove to be adept fundraisers and organizers. They reburied tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers and created a thriving women's commemorative culture that found fruition in the Daughters of the Confederacy. The author provides a stunning look at the achievements of this culture of club women.
 

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#23
Part 10:

Gilpin Faust argues that the process of burrying the dead was also a means of immortalizing them. The new cemeteries for the war dead
"were unlike any graveyards that Americans had ever seen. These were not clusters of family tombstones in churchyards, nor garden cemeteries symbolizing the reunion of man with nature. Instead the Civil War cemetery contained ordered row after row of humble identical markers, hundreds of thousands of men, known and unknown, who represented not so much the sorrow or particularity of a lost loved one as the enormous and all but unfathomable cost of the war."
 

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#24
Conclusion:

When this book came out it was hailed as groundbreaking and a revelation. It still has the power to enlighten the reader. Coming to it a decade and a half after it was published diminshed my experience of it as revelatory, so I might have read it differently from someone new to this material.

The book covers a lot of ground from gender realtions, religious practices, the creation of the cemeteries, to the development of embalming in response to the need to transport bodies from the battlefield to home. It ties the war closely to the society that generated it.

Overall, this is a good book to read for anyone interested in the Civil War.
 

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#27
This book was a lot to digest I found. I took my time reading it because it really does delve deeply into the most depressing elements of the war, and that can take time to absorb plus have an impact on the psyche. Every word and chapter were valuable in terms of insights, but it became harder to read the closer I got to the end. It may be one some people need to pick up and put down again, reading in short spurts so as not to become too burdened with all that is revealed there. I'm yet to read the final two chapters, but I will.
Oh, once I get that far, I always read to the end.
 

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#28
Oh, once I get that far, I always read to the end.
I was actually doing the traps there while I was reading it. Maybe being in some of those places where the heatache was so real caused me to want to reflect a little more and that was probably the reason it hit me harder, too.

I might just try to finish it this weekend.
 

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#30
From the NY Times review:

The lasting but little-understood impact of all that sacrifice is the subject of Drew Gilpin Faust’s extraordinary new book, “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.” “Death created the modern American union,” she writes, “not just by ensuring national survival, but by shaping enduring national structures and commitments.” And she continues: “The work of death was Civil War America’s most fundamental and most demanding undertaking.” Her account of how that work was done, much of it gleaned from the letters of those who found themselves forced to do it, is too richly detailed and covers too much ground to be summarized easily. She overlooks nothing — from the unsettling enthusiasm some men showed for killing to the near-universal struggle for an answer to the question posed by the Confederate poet Sidney Lanier: “How does God have the heart to allow it?”
 

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#34
From Civil War History:

Reviewed by:
It’s difficult to quibble with an elegantly written book that promises to enlighten large numbers of readers about the experience of death and mourning in the nineteenth century, but more attention to the differences between northerners and southerners would have strengthened the study. Did both sides share a “crisis of belief” at war’s end? Did sentimentality and irony [End Page 83] predominate in equal measures? Did mourning practices evolve in similar ways? One also wonders how soldiers’ experiences with killing put them at odds with civilians when they returned home. This Republic of Suffering is a work of impressive scope and wide-ranging importance, which will be of interest not only to scholars of the Civil War but to anyone with an interest in the meaning of death in America.


 

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