I can't exactly recommend this book, because it's so grim and harrowing, but I can report that it's one of the most important books ever written about the Civil War, and about war in general.  It takes a frank and even brutal look at the phenomenon of mass death on American soil between 1861 and 1865, and allows you to get in touch, at least partially, with the unspeakable horror of it.  It's certainly an indispensable book for anyone, like myself, who's ever been infected with the “romance” of the Civil War, or of war in general.

About 600,000 soldiers died in the Civil War, plus an uncounted and today uncountable number of civilians.  As a percentage of the U. S. population now that would work out to over 2,000,000 people.  Faust does her best to give us a sense of how the survivors tried to cope with this ghastly slaughter — emotionally, spiritually, politically, philosophically and physically.  It was an epic endeavor.  On the most basic level, the physical, no one was prepared for the task of disposing of so many tons of rotting meat that had once been human beings.  On a higher level, there were no rituals of mourning in place for loved ones who died so far from home, often suddenly, without warning, and so conceivably “unprepared” to meet their Maker, and whose bodies in tens of thousands of cases remained unidentified and unrecoverable.

Faust, for once, deals equally with the mechanics of death and with its lasting consequences for those survivors who had to manage its effect on their own lives.

The Civil War dead cast long shadows, and we stand among those shadows today, whether we know it or not.


  1. This sounds like a book my father could sink his teeth into, since he does have a tendency to–as you say–“romance” the Civil War. Thanks for the recommendation, Lloyd…

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