Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Death and the Civil War

Squee! A new book and a DVD!

Look what arrived at my house yesterday. A book and DVD combo that I've been wanting for awhile. I saw "Death and the Civil War" on PBS' American Experience about awhile ago and was fascinated. It is the history of the establishing of national cemeteries, and the efforts to identify, return to their homes, and bury the fallen of the Civil War.

Here's an excerpt from the PBS website:

By the time Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union in April 1865, much of the work of death had only just begun. Tens of thousands of soldiers lay unburied, their bones littering battlefields; still more had been hastily interred where they fell, and hundreds of thousands remained unidentified.

"After the Civil War, the United States thought constantly about the dead, this constituency that was no longer there, and yet was so powerful in the influence it has on our nation, because the nation had to live up to the sacrifice that these individuals represented," says Drew Gilpin Faust, author of This Republic of Suffering, on which the film is based.

While Congress passed legislation to establish and protect national cemeteries in February 1867, the $4 million program would re-inter the bodies of only the Union Soldiers in 74 national cemeteries; all 30,000 African American soldiers were buried in areas designated "colored." White southerners channeled their deep feelings of grief, loss, rage and doubt into reclaiming the bodies of hundreds of thousands of their dead loved ones, abandoned by the federal government. The refusal of the victorious North to attend to the vanquished southern dead would have powerful consequences for generations to come.

Having visited the national cemetery at Andersonville Prison, learning about the tireless work of Clara Barton to identify the soldiers who had been relegated to mass graves and see them properly buried, I am eager to learn more. Clara ran the Office of Missing Soldiers after the war for the express purpose of identifying MIA soldiers' remains.

Often I am asked if I read history books only as research for novels. The answer is no. I am a history junkie, and I read history books because I love them. Sometimes what I learn ends up in a novel, but more often, I read history books for my own edification and education.

Question for you:

Do you like history? Have you visited a Civil War site?


  1. History is interesting if told in fun way. That's why I enjoy books by Jody Hedlund so much.
    My grandmother's grandfather faught in the civil war. She once had a letter written by him during that time but she was unable to locate it when I expressed an interest in reading it.

    1. I have some family letters from a Civil War veteran. Of course they needed to be transcribed, since they were all in German. :) But they are fascinating. I hope you locate your family treasure sometime.

  2. PBS just started a new show called Mercy Street about the doctors and nurses during the civil war. I saw the first episode and I am hooked.


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