Drew Faust, the President of Harvard University, discusses the pervasiveness of death during the Civil War and her new book This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. The title of her book is derived from famous architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s response to the carnage he witnessed at a Union hospital. The Civil War was the deadliest conflict in US History, with an estimated soldier death rate of 620,000 between 1861 and 1865 (slightly exceeding the total deaths of the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War, Spanish-American, WWI, WWII, and Korea combined). One in five men in the South died in Civil War fighting for the Confederacy. Unlike other Civil War history books that focuses on slavery and emancipation as the epitome of the Civil War, Faust focuses on the work of death—killing, dying, burying, justifying, mourning, consoling, and surviving—and how death became all consuming to the war generation, transforming all the historical changes attributed to them. “The dead made new demands on American culture, government, religion, philosophy, and even the economy. To handle these burdens, Americans redefined their sense of self, society, and nation. In other words, neither freedom, equality, victory, nor prosperity made modern America. Death did.”
For more information:
- Visit the U.S. History Scene Reading List for the Civil War
- Imaged sourced from Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana.