“In this republic of suffering, individuals do not often become very strongly marked in one’s mind.” – Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., co-designer of New York City’s Central Park and Executive Secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission
That quote by Frederick Olmsted are words that any serious family historian would do well to keep in mind when hunting for information about those who lived during the time of America’s Civil War. Though penned by Olmsted more than 150 years ago as a call to America’s leaders to improve the treatment of the Union’s wounded and dead combatants, their power now is that of a beacon for family historians stymied by ancestors who seemed to have disappeared from the world after enlisting with the Union or Confederacy.
Were they injured? Did they die? Where are they buried? The sad truth is that their immediate families very likely never received answers to those questions, either – a fact made clear by the 2012 Steeplechase Films production, Death and the Civil War. Written and directed by Ric Burns for the oft-commended PBS series, American Experience, this documentary first aired in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the battle of Antietam. Now available for purchase from PBS and also streaming on Netflix, the content-rich film remains a worthy addition to the library of serious Civil War history buffs and anyone trying to learn more not just about the men who fought during that period in American history, but of what life was like for the families and communities they left behind.
Based on the book, Republic of Suffering, by Drew Gilpin Faust, Death and the Civil War is narrated by actor, Oliver Platt, and features commentary by historians David W. Blight, Mark S. Schantz, J. David Hacker, and Vincent Brown, as well as newscaster George Will, and poet and undertaker, Thomas Lynch.
Platt, perhaps the most important of these voices, serves as a much-needed dispassionate observer for viewers as they are exposed to often difficult subject matter. “With the coming of the Civil War, the first modern war, the first mass war of a modern age, death would enter the experience of the American people and the body politic of the American nation as it never had before – on a scale and in a manner no one had ever imagined possible and under circumstances for which the nation would prove completely unprepared.”
Read the rest of the article and see the related Civil War-era photos at: Snyder’s Point.