Death and the Civil War

photograph, Burial of Union soldiers in Fredericksburg, VA, 1864
Photo caption

Burial of Union soldiers in Fredericksburg, VA, 1864

Library of Congress
(September 13, 2012)

With the coming of the Civil War, and the staggering casualties it ushered in, death entered the experience of the American people as it never had before -- permanently altering the character of the republic and the psyche of the American people. Contending with death on an unprecedented scale posed challenges for which there were no ready answers when the war began. Americans worked to improvise new solutions, new institutions, and new ways of coping with death on an unimaginable scale.

On Tuesday, September 18, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Antietam, the single bloodiest day of battle on American soil, PBS’ American Experience premiered a new NEH-funded documentary, Death and the Civil War, by six-time Emmy-award winning filmmaker Ric Burns.

Based on the book This Republic of Suffering by historian Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Humanities’ 2011 Jefferson Lecturer, the documentary examines how the unprecedented death toll and carnage of the war challenged American cultural attitudes about death and fundamentally transformed federal government policies towards soldiers.

Read more about Death and the Civil War in “The Living and the Dead,” from the latest issue of NEH’s Humanities Magazine.

Death and the Civil War was broadcast on Tuesday, September 18 from 8-10 p.m. EST. Check PBS for local listings.  The documentary was produced with a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Watch a preview of Death and the Civil War here.

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