Three summers of road tripping to Civil War battlefields has driven home the horror and carnage of 19th-century warfare. Death and dying was an omnipresent fact of life during the course of this dark chapter of U.S. history: A family member dying in a military hospital far from home, a generation of young men from one small town obliterated in a single battle, or a family farm caught in the cross-hairs of battle, their home turned into a makeshift hospital, the parlor an operating room, and the front yard a temporary cemetery.
How society viewed death and grappled with it in practice on such an unprecedented scale is a fascinating aspect American cultural history and the subject of this excellent book. At a time when ensuring a so-called “Good Death” was of utmost importance, to this life and the next, such a war, in which loved ones died alone and far from home, possibly buried in mass graves, and without any last words to or from their families, was a horror previously unimaginable. From this era came a rise in the industries of undertaking and embalming, improvements in cataloging and transporting the dead, and the formation of national and Confederate cemeteries. Gilpin Faust explores the practical, social, and spiritual aspects of a society forced to deal with death on a simultaneously massive and intimate scale, an interesting lens through which to view history.