Drawing heavily on This Republic of Suffering, historian and Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust’s acclaimed book, “Death and the Civil War” explores a critical but largely overlooked aspect of the Civil War experience: the immense and varied implications of the war’s staggering and unprecedented death toll.
The war created a veritable “republic of suffering,” as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted described the wounded and dying arriving at Union hospital ships on the Virginia Peninsula. The shattering Civil War death toll transformed hundreds of thousands of individual lives and the life of the nation as well, from its understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship to the profound struggle of a deeply religious culture to reconcile these events with a belief in a benevolent God.
The film examines the increasingly lethal years of the war, focusing primarily on several key battles and their corpse-strewn aftermaths, and concludes with a section on the postwar efforts toward reburial and remembrance. The program premieres in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle in American history.
American Experience: Death and the Civil War, Monday at 9 p.m. on PBS 6.