I have been reading and in some cases rereading some Civil War history books recently (and in a way, I am always reading Civil War history) and part of what I am trying to think about is the story as a whole in a way that makes sense to me, but also some of the driving questions about the living aspect of the history.
This book is a more conceptual history book in the sense that it takes on a topic about the war and then explores the different ways this topic circulates the full history of the before, during, and after of the war. Here, the topic is death.
Death seems like an obvious point in talking about war and when talking the about the US Civil War, the figure that is routinely put out there is something like 620,000 dead from the war. That number is both extraordinarily high, but also hard to place for a lot of reasons. For reference, about 300,000 Americans died in WW2, and about 115,000 in WWI. Somewhere between 20,000 and the 70,000 died in the Revolutionary War.
Ok so taking that 620,000 figure, and comparing it to say, US Covid deaths, it seems relatively small, but the US population was roughly 1/10th what it is now, and so you would be looking at something like 10-12 million deaths in comparison. It seems a little silly to compare the two other than there being a roughly similar timeframe were working with here. In addition, so many of the Civil War deaths were from disease (most of them actually) so it seems a little more relevant in that regard.
But the book here covers a lot of different topics related to death. In addition to numbers, Faust discusses ways of dying, attitudes about death, letters home about death, communication systems available for reporting death, the differences in how the country handled white deaths versus black deaths, and lots of other factors.
Civil War history as a whole is about understanding a few things. How we got there, what everyone was thinking, and what happened? By looking at the war in a slightly side-ways way, Faust has opened up some additional interesting questions about what was life like in terms of living during the war. These questions tend to be more the venue of literature and memoir, but in this book they take on a cohesive, almost oral history kind of sense.