This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

In This Review

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War
By Drew Gilpin Faust
Knopf, 2008
368 pp. $27.95
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The sheer scale of the slaughter in the American Civil War -- more than the total military deaths in all the rest of the United States' wars combined -- still overwhelms almost 150 years after the fact. Faust's painstakingly researched account of the Civil War dead details how they died, what happened to their bodies, how families received the news, how they mourned, and how the North and the South memorialized the slain. Her careful recovery of detail contrasts with the bare statistics of mass death to startle readers over and over into a fuller recognition of the human dimension of this colossal and tragic conflict. Popular interest in U.S. history tends to shift between two stories: the relatively simple and triumphant narrative of the American Revolution and the establishment of the Constitution and the darker and more complex story of the Civil War. It may be that after a period in which the Revolution and the Founding Fathers spoke most directly to the nation, the country is entering a period in which the somber figures of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Robert E. Lee best reflect the concerns and hopes of a troubled time. If so, the extraordinary success of Faust's unsparing account may end up marking the moment when Civil War historians began to recapture the attention of the reading public.