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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Death And The Civil War

Airs Monday, May 26, 2014 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: African Americans collecting bones of soldiers killed in the battle of Cold Harbor in Virginia one year earlier, April 1865.

From acclaimed filmmaker Ric Burns, "Death And The Civil War" explores an essential but largely overlooked aspect of the most pivotal event in American history: the transformation of the nation by the death of an estimated 750,000 people – nearly two and a half percent of the population – in four dark and searing years from 1861 to 1865.

Interview: Author Drew Gilpin Faust

Listen to Terry Gross from Fresh Air interview author Drew Gilpin Faust about her book "This Republic of Suffering:Death and the American Civil War." You can also read an excerpt from her book.

Significant Civil War Battles

For four straight years (1861 to 1865), Union and Confederate soldiers battled during the bloodiest war in American history. Both sides suffered unprecedented casualties, and the severe lack of infrastructure made accurate accounting of those soldiers near impossible. View a timeline of battles.

Civil War Resources

View a listing of related books and websites.

With the coming of the Civil War, and the staggering and completely unprecedented casualties it ushered in, death entered the experience of the American people as it never had before – on a scale and in a manner no one had ever imagined possible, and under circumstances for which the nation would prove completely unprepared. The impact would permanently alter the character of the republic, the culture of the government and the psyche of the American people – down to this day.

“Transpose the percentage of dead that mid-19th-century America faced into our own time – seven million dead, if we had the same percentage,” says author Drew Gilpin Faust, on whose groundbreaking book, "This Republic of Suffering," the film is based. “What would we as a nation today be like if we faced the loss of seven million individuals?”

"Death And The Civil War" tracks the increasingly lethal arc of the war, from the bloodless opening in 1861, through the chaos of Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, and the unspeakable carnage of 1864 – down through the struggle, in the aftermath of the war, to cope with an American landscape littered with the bodies of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, many unburied, most unidentified.

The work of contending with death on this scale would propel extraordinary changes in the inner and outer life of all Americans – posing challenges for which there were no ready answers when the war began – challenges that called forth remarkable and eventually heroic efforts on the part of individuals, groups and the government – as Americans worked to improvise new solutions, new institutions, new ways of coping with death on an unimaginable scale.

Before the Civil War, there were no national cemeteries in America. No provisions for identifying the dead, or for notifying next of kin, or for providing aid to the suffering families of dead veterans. No federal relief organizations, no effective ambulance corps, no adequate federal hospitals, no federal provisions for burying the dead. No Arlington Cemetery. No Memorial Day.

The program premieres in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle in American history.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is on Facebook, and you can follow @AmExperiencePBS on Twitter.

Video

Death And The Civil War Extended Promo

Above: 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. This program premieres in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle in American history.

Video

Death And The Civil War: Chapter One

Above: 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.

Video

Ric Burns on making "Death And The Civil War"

Above: Filmmaker Ric Burns discusses the intricacies of making "Death And The Civil War." Read the transcript.

Video

Why we made "Death And The Civil War"

Above: Executive Producer Mark Samels describes why no other TV series would tackle this subject. Read the transcript.

Comments

Avatar for user 'deovindice'

deovindice | September 19, 2012 at 9:27 a.m. ― 1 year, 12 months ago

Thousand of Negroes fleeing to the North for freedom,fails to mention they were escaping starvation. Nor was the fact large numbers of USCT were constricted not did volunteer. that they were often ill trained and hated by the white Federal troops. That the southern women might be angered over the wholesale looting and burning of their homes as well as death of theri loved ones si glossed over,easier to ignore federal attacks on Civilians and brand them as "Lost Causers'

If the lost cause is a great myth then it is no more so than the war to free the slaves. The Vast majority of Northern Soldiers fought to preserve the Union and anti black hostility was the common rule. The blockade of morphine and quinine was considered legitimate ass all southern civilians were considered legitimate targets under the lieber. A position which would be a war crime today. How ironic that this documentation comes out when the veterans administration is at the very time denying grave markers for those interred at Oakwood cemetery. A number is sufficient they say even though V.A. requires name and rank.

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