This Republic of Suffering:
Death and the American Civil War

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, by Drew Gilpen Faust, reviewed by .

"The work of death was Civil War America's most fundamental and most demanding undertaking." "Americans North and South would be compelled to confront-and resist-the war's assault on their conceptions of how life should end, an assault that challenged their most fundamental assumptions about life's value and meaning." The table of contents begins by outlining in general form for the reader a chapter by chapter process developing the author's thesis, quoted above.

The Preface begins by educating the reader about the cultural situations existing at the start of the war. "Death's significance for the Civil War generation arose …from…violation of prevailing assumptions about life's proper end-about who should die, when and where, and under what circumstances." "The war created …a… republic of suffering," stated Frederick Law Olmsted describing the Union wounded and dying coming in to the Virginia Peninsula by hospital ship. The number of fatalities in the American Civil War was about equal to the deaths suffered in the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined.

The Civil War generation found themselves in a new and different moral universe, one which was the result of unimaginable destruction occurring on a daily basis. Where did God belong in such a world? Death challenged the Civil War generation's understanding of human decency, dignity and identity. At the end of the conflict, the government had a debt to repay to its soldiers. It took the form of national cemeteries, pensions and veteran record keeping. Citizen soldiers were bodies and names who were literally the lifeblood of the nation. It was therefore a sacred duty of the government to preserve the names and identities of the dead, states the author.

I would recommend the book. It is laid out well and it has just enough detail to support the author's thesis. It also raises the question in my mind, What is a good death for our generation?