Wednesday, January 16, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: This Republic of Suffering. Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust

This Republic of Suffering. Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust is an unusual choice for me. It is a study of the Civil War focused on death. This isn’t one of the journalistic type histories that takes an interesting hook and builds a broad narrative around it. This book is a narrow look at what death of such magnitude did to the United States in the nineteenth century.

Topics include the problem of killing (How do men bring themselves to kill other men and justify doing so?) and dying – (What is a "good death" and how do young men reconcile themselves to the fact that they are likely to die?) How is it possible to bury so many corpses and why it is necessary to bury them? How can loved ones be appropriately informed so that they can begin the process of mourning? What is the process of mourning or what should it be, for individuals and collectively? What happens when a loved one’s body cannot be found or when corpses can’t be identified? How did death on such a massive scale change religious attitudes, politics, and governmental policies?

This is an exhaustively researched and thorough discussion of the subject. It’s a fairly dispassionate book. No exaggeration or melodrama is needed to document the horrors of the battlefield and the unimaginable grief of survivors. My only quibble is that it grew repetitive, an unavoidable complication of examining one subject from slightly different angles.