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2008 National Book Award Finalist,
Nonfiction

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Drew Gilpin Faust
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War
Alfred A. Knopf

Photo © Tony Rinaldo.

CITATION

More soldiers lost their lives in the American Civil War than in all American conflicts combined from the Revolution to the Korean War. Drew Gilpin Faust's highly original, deeply moving account explains the impact of this tremendous loss on American culture. Attending to politics, poetry and rituals of burial, remembrance and mourning, Faust reveals the way that the Civil War Dead came to represent both the ongoing hostility between the North and the South as well as the vehicle through which a new national unity could be imagined.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Drew Gilpin Faust is president of Harvard University, where she also holds the Lincoln Professorship in History. Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study from 2001 to 2007, she came to Harvard after twenty-five years on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of five previous books, including Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, which won the Francis Parkman Prize and the Avery Craven Prize. She and her husband live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

ABOUT THE BOOK (from the publisher)

An illuminating study of the American struggle to comprehend the meaning and practicalities of death in the face of the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War.

SUGGESTED LINKS

AUDIO
Drew Gilpin Faust speak about The Republic of Suffering on public radio's Fresh Air.
http://tinyurl.com/56og7j

EXCERPT

Excerpted from This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust Copyright © 2008 by Drew Gilpin Faust. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

The impact and meaning of the war’s death toll went beyond the sheer numbers who died. Death’s significance for the Civil War generation arose as well from its violation of prevailing assumptions about life’s proper end–about who should die, when and where, and under what circumstances. Death was hardly unfamiliar to mid-nineteenth-century Americans. By the beginning of the 1860s the rate of death in the United States had begun to decline, although dramatic improvements in longevity would not appear until late in the century. Americans of the immediate prewar era continued to be more closely acquainted with death than are their twenty-first century counterparts. But the patterns to which they were accustomed were in significant ways different from those the war would introduce. The Civil War represented a dramatic shift in both incidence and experience. Mid-nineteenth-century Americans endured a high rate of infant mortality but expected that most individuals who reached young adulthood would survive at least into middle age. The war took young, healthy men and rapidly, often instantly, destroyed them with disease or injury. This marked a sharp and alarming departure from existing preconceptions about who should die. As Francis W. Palfrey wrote in an 1864 memorial for Union soldier Henry L. Abbott, “the blow seems heaviest when it strikes down those who are in the morning of life.” A soldier was five times more likely to die than he would have been if he had not entered the army. As a chaplain explained to his Connecticut regiment in the middle of the war, “neither he nor they had ever lived and faced death in such a time, with its peculiar conditions and necessities.” Civil War soldiers and civilians alike distinguished what many referred to as “ordinary death,” as it had occurred in prewar years, from the manner and frequency of death in Civil War battlefields, hospitals, and camps, and from the war’s interruptions of civilian lives.[4]

Excerpted from This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust Copyright © 2008 by Drew Gilpin Faust. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


 

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