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The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead (Emerging Civil…

af Meg Groeling

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351549,405 (2)Ingen
The clash of armies in the American Civil War left hundreds of thousands of men dead, wounded, or permanently damaged. Skirmishes and battles could result in casualty numbers as low as one or two and as high as tens of thousands. The carnage of the battlefield left a lasting impression on those who experienced or viewed it, but in most cases the armies quickly moved on to meet again at another time and place. When the dust settled and the living armies moved on, what happened to the dead left behind? Unlike battle narratives, The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead picks up the story as the battle ends. The burial of the dead was an overwhelming experience for the armies or communities forced to clean up after the destruction of battle. In the short-term action, bodies were hastily buried to avoid the stench and the horrific health concerns of massive death; in the long-term, families struggled to reclaim loved ones and properly reinter them in established cemeteries. Visitors to a battlefield often wonder what happened to the dead once the battle was over. In this easy-to-read overview that will complement any Civil War library, author Meg Groeling provides a look at the aftermath of battle and the process of burying the Civil War dead. The Aftermath of Battle is part of the Emerging Civil War Series offering compelling, easy-to-read overviews of some of the Civil War's most important stories. The masterful storytelling is richly enhanced with hundreds of photos and illustrations.… (mere)
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This book was not what I was expecting--and not in a good way. I was hoping for something along the same lines as Michael Adams' excellent, if disturbing, Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War. Groeling's book, however, suffers from trying to be two different books (or maybe three) with the result that neither is carried off with with complete success. Part of the book wants to be a scholarly work for the casual Civil War enthusiast, and as such it draws extensively on letters, diaries, and military reports to discuss attempts to clean up some of the most notorious slaughterfests of the war: Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, etc. Most chapters however end by morphing into a battlefield guide book type of description of present day historical sites. The end of the book morphs again into something like an edited collection, with a series of appendices, most by people other than Groeling, that seem to have been included largely to make up the page count.

There is also, on the whole, not a lot of new information here, even for the casual Civil War enthusiast. Most people who have read about a Civil War battle or visited one of the battlefields have probably already intuited that having thousands of men trying to kill one another tended to make a helluva mess of the place. . .and of one another. Groeling does, however, do a good job emphasizing the sheer scale of the carnage and how unprepared either side was for coping with the extraordinary numbers of wounded, let alone the dead. She is adept at building on the first-hand accounts of those who, for example, arrived at Pittsburgh Landing in the days immediately after the battle of Shiloh, or those who lay on the field the first night as wild pigs feasted on the dead--and the not quite dead.

Her description of the stench that hung over Gettysburg for months--even after attempts had been made to dispose of some of most of the dead men, thousands of dead horses remained a problem beyond the resources of the small town's population--may be new to some, but it has already been covered in detail in Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering.

More valuable is her discussion of Doctor Letterman's organization of the Union army's medical corps, providing it with logistical coordination and triage protocols that were still in operation into WWII. Equally important is her vivid discussion of what I tend to think of as the "forgotten year" of 1864. In the modern public mind the war pretty much ended with Gettysburg. But the sheer scale of the killing and dying throughout 1864 beggared anything that came before. The series of grinding battles that became known as the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, for example, were fought over a ground still littered with skeletons from the previous Battle of Chancellorsville. And even when he was beaten back with massive casualties, union general Grant refused to disengage and kept moving after Lee, never giving him time to rest and re-group. The result was that no time was taken to bury more than a handful of the most accessible dead from these battles, and Groeling's account of the numerous burial details that swept the Wilderness area for years afterwards makes for grim reading.

Refreshingly, she also gives proper attention to more recent scholarship that has challenged the long-held casualty figures for the war and revised them upwards substantially. The generally accepted figure of 620,000 (derived many years ago) may in fact be dramatically lower than the real number of dead; more recent historians using statistical sampling methods have proposed totals between 750,000 and 850,000, numbers that point to the war being even more destructive than previously thought.

Small wonder then, that the war retains such a grip on the US popular imagination. In the space of four years, a substantial chunk of the US population simply vanished, leaving behind widows, orphans, farms no longer tenable, and anguished mourning for bodies that would, in many if not most cases, never be found. ( )
  BornAnalog | Dec 20, 2016 |
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The clash of armies in the American Civil War left hundreds of thousands of men dead, wounded, or permanently damaged. Skirmishes and battles could result in casualty numbers as low as one or two and as high as tens of thousands. The carnage of the battlefield left a lasting impression on those who experienced or viewed it, but in most cases the armies quickly moved on to meet again at another time and place. When the dust settled and the living armies moved on, what happened to the dead left behind? Unlike battle narratives, The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead picks up the story as the battle ends. The burial of the dead was an overwhelming experience for the armies or communities forced to clean up after the destruction of battle. In the short-term action, bodies were hastily buried to avoid the stench and the horrific health concerns of massive death; in the long-term, families struggled to reclaim loved ones and properly reinter them in established cemeteries. Visitors to a battlefield often wonder what happened to the dead once the battle was over. In this easy-to-read overview that will complement any Civil War library, author Meg Groeling provides a look at the aftermath of battle and the process of burying the Civil War dead. The Aftermath of Battle is part of the Emerging Civil War Series offering compelling, easy-to-read overviews of some of the Civil War's most important stories. The masterful storytelling is richly enhanced with hundreds of photos and illustrations.

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