Review: This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust

Published: January 6th 2009 by Vintage
Format/Source: Paperback borrowed from a friend
Genre: Nonfiction- Historyrepublicofsuffering


More than 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the American Civil War. An equivalent proportion of today’s population would be six million. In This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust reveals the ways that death on such a scale changed not only individual lives but the life of the nation, describing how the survivors managed on a practical level and how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the unprecedented carnage with its belief in a benevolent God. Throughout, the voices of soldiers and their families, of statesmen, generals, preachers, poets, surgeons, nurses, northerners and southerners come together to give us a vivid understanding of the Civil War’s most fundamental and widely shared reality.


I had every intention of writing my review with fact after fact to illustrate the sobering and shocking effect this book had me.

This is a book I would like to own, so I can refer to it to continue to soak in all the facts that simply became overwhelming when reading it cover to cover. It’s a book that you just want someone to be sitting beside you so you can keep saying, “Did you know that…” or “Wow, this is crazy.”

This is not a book that deals with the significant battles or even with the various personalities of leadership. Instead, it dealt purely with the war’s main event: death. Each chapter dealt with different aspects of this event: Dying, Killing, Burying, Naming, Realizing, Believing and Doubting, Accounting, Numbering, and Surviving.

To say I learned something is putting it lightly. I have read other books about the Civil War before, though they all dealt with a certain battle or the broader motivations. This book’s focus on just the scale of death in the war was simply mind-boggling. The numbers really shock.

I will save all the “Did you know?” facts for other people to recite. All I will say is that it was very thought-provoking, though there were times when in order to get through the book, I felt like I was doing homework so deep was the book. It’s made me try to plan to go to more of the Civil War sites around me as living in Northern Virginia there’s like one for every town.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with a strong stomach and a morbid curiosity. There was quite a lot that left its mark on the psyche of American culture from the Civil War and it is important for us to learn about it.

My rating: 4/5

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