Tuesday night PBS aired a new documentary called Death and the Civil War based on Drew Gilpin Faust’s book This Republic of Suffering: Death in the American Civil War. I highly recommend the book and also believe you should view the documentary. Kevin Levin has made several posts including this one that pretty well covers the positives and negatives of the show.
I would like to take this time to recommend another book that looks at death and the aftermath of battle for just one battle: Gettysburg. Gregory A. Coco’s A Strange and Blighted Land: Gettysburg: The Aftermath of Battle tell the story of the landscape around Gettysburg following the three days of fighting in July 1863. While Coco’s book does not discuss the traditions of death in the early Victorian age, it does give one a very detailed sense of what the land in and around Gettysburg was like following battle in the Civil War.
Coco recounts many of the scenes at Gettysburg through the words of the men who walked the fields and buried the dead.
“…[W]hen we arived at the wheatfield we found men there busily ingaged in burring the dead…[O]n the bank near the [burial] trench lye[s] a large Rebel Sargent. one of our mineys balls passed through His Head so quick that it dislocated all the Confederacy there was in it and it was gradually oozing out onto the Ground for the flies to Diagnosis”. (p. 40)
He also includes what might be one of the saddest stories to come out of Gettysburg (I doubt this was the only such instance of this) concerning a wife and mother who came to the battlefield to recover the bodies of her husband and son:
“Mrs. Harness was not so fortunate. Both her son and husband had enlisted in the 147th New York Infantry. Hers was a most tragic ending, for the husband Elias, age 43 and son De Grasse, age 19, were among the dead, one killed on July 1 and the other succumbed on July 15 of wounds received the same day as his father. As both men were side by side. There is hardly a greater tragedy concerning the Battle of Gettysburg than this. The husband is buried in the National Cemetery today, but no trace of her son De Grasse was ever found. (p. 305)
If you are looking for a detailed…detailed account of the aftermath of a battle this book is a must read.