Wednesday, November 20, 2013

U.S. Civil War: People Became Acquainted with Death

Death is the most common denominator from the U.S. Civil War.  People on all sides of this war became acquainted with death, much more than they would have liked.  According to an article in “U.S. and World Report Secrets of the Civil War,” written by Drew Gilpin Faust 620,000 soldiers died.  The confederacy was hardest hit in percentage of the population as the deaths represent 20 percent of the fighting age men.  In other words, nobody escaped death in the South, while in the North, because of the greater numbers of soldiers the percentage was lower.  More Americans died in this war than in the other U.S. wars combined.  Two percent of the U.S. population passed away.  If two percent of the population were to die today this would be six million people.  
Soldiers did not have a monopoly on death.  The civilian population was also hard hit, with likely over 50,000 civilian deaths.  Some of these were the result of violence directed towards them, New York riots, vigilante gangs in the Midwest etc.   Some was the result of being in the battles way.  Death was also present during this time as a result of disease.  Having soldiers in close quarters spread disease, which then spread to civilian populations. 
National Memorial cemeteries sprung up as a result of the war.  One of these was Arlington Cemetery she is on the old Lee property in Arlington.  This is where Robert E. Lee lived before the war.
Another reason death became closer was the use of photography for the first time to document was.  People could see pictures of war dead for the first time.  


  1. John Kelly It provided the general public with graphic reality never seen before. I imagine there were many people, parents, siblings, friends...who had no idea of what the battlefield looked like and turned their thoughts of care for their country to care for their own.

    Sean Reilly Photographers during this era were just as likely to have staged the scene of their battlefield images, but they would’ve conveyed no less of an impact, the shaping of opinions were more likely to have been formed from the storyline that accompanied the displayed image, ...but they definitely brought a new dimension of the war to the public at large, which must of been horror for most.

    James Gasparo People were familiar with death beforehand.... what it did... in conjunction of casualty lists was paint a picture of the scope.

  2. Phil Ross I wonder about the level of "general public" access to those photographs. In 1861 most people didn't live anywhere near a photography studio, didn't travel to places that had them, and newspaper halftones were still decades away.

    Pat Eakin Word of mouth can spread quite quickly, even without modern day electronic communication.

    Matt Diestel In many ways, those who lived in the 19th century were much more familiar and far more accepting of death (in its many forms including disease, accidents and infant mortality) than those in the 21st century and that included death in battle -- which st...See More

    Robert Gravallese None of the photographers wanted to be anywhere near the battles while they were occurring. Most would take photos, after positioning the dead in the most grotesque manner possible and that is what we have today.

    Pat Eakin Robert Gravallese, Where did you learn that bodies were repositioned in "the most grotesque manner possible"?

    James Gasparo Civil war times article maybe

    James Gasparo Also the bodies in devil's den are located in obsurd positions to have died there naturally

    Robert Gravallese Post battle - battle fields were horror shows - beside the horrid visuals, the odor was unbearable and the flys were everywhere. Several truces were called to deal with the dead - such was the horror.

  3. James Gasparo Also the bodies in devil's den are located in obsurd positions to have died there naturally
    Like · Reply · December 7 at 6:14pm
    Dwayne Knox
    Dwayne Knox People's bodies twist into grotesque positions in the pain of death. Add the effects of rigour mortis and bloat and it becomes horrible. Just be glad the smell isn't carried into the photographs.
    Like · Reply · Yesterday at 8:18am
    James Gasparo
    James Gasparo I was referring to being on top of boulders and whatnot
    Like · Reply · Yesterday at 9:51am
    Jean Mark Kaufman
    Jean Mark Kaufman I don't think any of the artistic artifice used in some photos detracts in the least from their fundamental honesty as a record of the horror. They tell a tale frankly and brutally that captures some measure of the brutality.

  4. Jean Mark Kaufman There is a book written on the subject of the transformation of death in the culture entitled This Republic of Suffering.

    Matt Diestel Jean Mark -- Re "This Republic of Suffering" is an excellent recommendation and would only add another good read is "Embattled Courage."

    Hw Davis 10s of thousands of glass negatives taken during this war faded away in sunshine as they were used for hothouse glass. The North turned its back on slaughter and tried to forget.

    Vince Delaney I remember the daily death counts and news footage of the fighting on the evening news during the Vietnam War. I can personally attest to the strong influence it had on the youth of my generation. I will make the assumption that photographs of the dead lying on the field had a similar effect.