This Republic of Suffering : Death and the American Civil War
Drew Gilpin Faust, the first female president of Harvard University, provides us with an extraordinarily well-researched and superbly written scholarly treatise on the disposal of the dead during the American Civil War. The topic is obviously a bit out of the ordinary and is, astonishingly enough for an event that has inspired thousands of books, one that has never been previously discussed. Faust, a gifted writer and a superlative historian, answers the question of how the North and South coped with 620,000 military and 50,000 civilian deaths through analyzing diaries, newspaper accounts, and memoirs. These records give this topic the power to move a reader 143 years later. The attempts to cope with the unexpected numbers of dead forced the government to intervene. This was the beginning of national cemeteries (including Arlington), military pensions, and improved military medical services. Reading of New Yorker Amos Humiston dying at Gettysburg while clutching images of his three young children to his chest and the North’s subsequent search to find his family reminds us that 620,000 is not a statistic, but 620,000 unique national tragedies.