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Grief and the US Civil War: a conversation with Drew Gilpin Faust

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(Read caption) Writer Drew Gilpin Faust (r.) had her book 'This Republic of Suffering' adapted into a PBS film directed by Ric Burns (l.).

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The Civil War unleashed a tide of grief and mourning that remains unimaginable today when American wars are fought by the few.

On Tuesday evening, Sept. 19, PBS's "American Experience" documentary series will try to help us understand the toll – which for some would last well into the 20th century – by airing a new film titled "Death and the Civil War." It is based on the 2008 book "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War" by historian Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University.

In a review for The Christian Science Monitor, Monitor Books editor Marjorie Kehe called the book "a harrowing but fascinating read" that "makes a convincing case that since the heartbreak of the Civil War the US has never been the same."

I talked to Faust last week about the Civil War's legacy of immense grief and mourning, the ways the war changed perceptions of American citizenship and government, and the evolution of her own beliefs as a child of the South. 

Q: How did the death toll of the Civil War – an estimated 620,000 soldiers and 50,000 civilians and perhaps even more, according to a new estimate – change us as a nation?

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