Next week PBS’ American Experience will show a Death & the Civil War, a new documentary by filmmaker Ric Burns based on historian (and Harvard president) Drew Gilpin Faust’s awesome 2008 book This Republic of Suffering.
The Civil War came at a particularly unfortunate moment in history. Military strategy lagged far behind rapid development in military technology and that gap created a casualty level no one had previously imagined during wartime.
The United States had no national cemeteries, no provisions for identifying the dead or notifying their next of kin or for providing aid to the suffering families of dead veterans. While we fought a war that dragged on far longer than either side had anticipated, both Union and Confederate forces had to come up with new ways to deal with combat deaths on an unprecedented scale.
All of this should be of interest to anyone who has a military pension or deals with the VA. All of the solutions devised during and immediately after the Civil War are the direct precedent for everything you’re dealing with today. It’s also important to note that the financial obligations created by military pensions and veteran services directly led to the rise of a centralized Federal government and the rise of an income tax.
The whole film is two hours long and you can order a DVD if you don’t have access to a TV next week. Or you can watch the first chapter of the film below: