Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Other Voices---Word On The Street: This Republic of Suffering

Former Resident Tells Realities Of War In New Book, Teresa Dunham, The Winchester Star, Tuesday, January 8, 2008.

Romanticized notions about the Civil War are shattered in Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust’s new book "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War."

The Ivy League university leader, who grew in Clarke County, takes a realistic look at the war that claimed approximately 620,000 soldiers’ lives — and those men didn’t all go down in a blaze of glory. Some of the recorded fatalities range from mundane to strange, such as a soldier who met his end when a mule kicked him to death, and a man who died after an amputation resulting from another man biting his thumb.

The book details how survivors mourned and chronicles efforts to identify, reclaim, preserve, and bury the battlefield dead. It also examines how the war’s carnage impacted residents — materially, politically, intellectually, and spiritually. "It’s stories about death and the impact on people during the Civil War," said Faust’s brother, Tyson Gilpin Jr. of Winchester. For locals who would like to catch up with Faust, she will discuss her book at its official launch at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The event is free and no reservations are required, said National Archives spokeswoman Laura Diachenko, but seating is on a first-come first-served basis. A book signing will follow Faust’s discussion.

Though Faust was not available for comment, her brother was willing to offer his thoughts after reading an advanced copy. "I’m passionate about this," Gilpin said, adding that the book is compelling and accessible. Since Faust grew up outside Millwood, Gilpin said the Winchester area gets plenty of mention in the book. Faust incorporates quotes from people who lived around Winchester during the war and also refers to Mount Hebron Cemetery, he said. As Gilpin read the book, he was fascinated to learn that dead soldiers’ bodies could still turn up occasionally. In fact, a body was discovered as recently as 1996.

Gilpin also learned that embalming became more widespread as a result of the war. Many embalmers were regarded as a nuisance, he said, because they would automatically embalm the bodies of well-to-do men and then demand an exaggerated fee from the family. Besides real-life anecdotes, Gilpin said his sister also incorporates literary observations from authors such as Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson to capture the times. "You see pictures here that aren’t the romantic ones I like," he said.

Obviously, Gilpin likes his sister’s book, but local and national historians are giving it a thumbs-up too. "She understands the lives of the people of the past [better than] most historians. Her work is more nuanced and has more depth," said Deborah Lee, a Loudoun County historian, who is well-versed in Faust’s writings. A review by Tony Horowitz, author of "Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War" was also complimentary. "Timely, poignant, and profound, ‘This Republic of Suffering’ does the real work of history, taking us beyond the statistics until we see the faces of the fallen and understand what it was to live amid such loss and pain," he wrote of Faust’s sixth book.

Drew Gilpin Faust, a Clarke County native and the president of Harvard University, will launch her book at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the William G. McGowan Theater of the National Archives Building, Constitution and 7th St. NW. Use the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance. Metro is accessible on the Yellow and Green lines at the Archives/Navy Memorial Station.

Photo top: Drew Gilpin Faust
Source http://www.winchesterstar.com/article_details.php?ArticleID=3771
Contact Teresa Dunham at tdunham@winchesterstar.com

Interview with Drew Gilpin Faust

Other Reviews:
Los Angeles Times



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