I am a Civil War buff to the highest degree possible. I study, read about, visit places pertaining to, and collect artifacts from the civil war. I know that there are hundreds of thousands of people like me in this grande nation. But as history buffs, historians, teachers, and students do we really know what the war was like? Can we feel the same emotion felt by the “characters” in the heat of battle or in the warmth of the campfire? Do the deaths of 620,000 men hold the proper signifcance for us? One of the most important ways, I believe, to really understand the war is to study the deaths caused by it as more than just numbers or statistics.
I am currently reading the book This Republic of Suffering written by Drew Gilpin Faust. It is an in depth look at death in the American Civil War. It presents the Civil War in a new light. It is ,at times, a rather gruesome yet unavoidable and unforgetable look into death, killing, burial, and the aftermath of battles and the war itself. It produces a glance at an issue that is skirted around by many books and authors because of the sheer gore and graphicness involved.
I personally believe this is an issue that should not be “skipped over” because death and the fear of it was felt so keenly by all who participated in the Civil War and even by those citizens who lost a son, brother, husband, or father. To get a grasp on what was really felt, to get a grasp of some of the true emotions of the Civil War, one must study death.
It is hard to really understand the loss felt by so many when we are not there to
witness it. A Connecticut chaplain put it very well when he said, “To say that two thousand or twenty thousand men are killed in a great battle or that a thousand of the dead are buried in one great trench ,produces only a vague impression on the mind at the fullest. There is to much in this to be personal to you. But to know one man who is shot down by your side, and to aid in burying him, while his comrades stand with you above his open grave is a more real matter to you than the larger piece of astounding information.” This illustrates the saying by Joseph Stalin ( I loath to quote such an evil man) “a single death is a tradegy; a million deaths is a statistic”. I think that if we, as students of the Civil War, want to really understand it we need to look at the grisly, terrible side of the war. We ought to look at more than just the overview of the war, more than the statistics. The personal stories and sadly, more often than not, the deaths of the individual soldiers and civilians in the war.