After a marathon of old Cartoon Network shows thanks to Netflix, I've been watching "Death and the Civil War," the PBS documentary I've been wanting to see since it was first broadcast in September 2012 (you can find it on Netflix now). Fascinating and very sad. They read from lots of letters sent by dying soldiers and those about to go to battle who believed they would not be coming back. While a number of images and B-role cover shots are repeated (and lingered upon a little long), it's a powerful piece that is definitely worth watching. It was directed by Ric Burns, so you pretty much know what to expect from his style.
So many documentaries and books on the Civil War focus on the battles and strategies or the politics and political figures of the time. This film highlights the effects of the war regarding the dead, and it is eye-opening as well as very interesting. I've done a lot of reading on the Civil War and Lincoln and, of course, cemeteries, but I learned quite a few things from this documentary. I think we've all seen the photos of dead soldiers on the fields, which are heart-breaking. But I don't recall seeing the images of skeletons and skulls on the battle fields. Those solders were left on the fields, unburied, so long that all that was left were bones and the tatters of their uniforms. That was shocking, though it is understandable. When there was no plan for caring for the dead--and thousands of soldiers died during any given battle--what would you do? You couldn't put the war on hold to properly care for the dead. How deeply and horribly sad.
I think the reason so many of us are compelled to keep reading and researching the Civil War is because there are so many human layers to it. The reasons the war was fought ... the fact that we fought against ourselves ... that brothers fought brothers ... that women assumed the identities of men in order to fight ... that black men weren't allowed to fight for the longest time in a war that was truly about them and the rights they should have had all along ... the extreme losses this country and our people suffered ... the most brilliant president our country has known ... how women, who would have even fewer rights that free black men, stepped up during the war and after it ... how the war changed views on death ... how it changed views on life.
As a review, I give "Death and the Civil War" 4 out of 5 stars. I definitely recommend it.
I'm the founder and editor of TheCemeteryClub.com and Epitaphs Magazine. I love cemeteries and sharing the art and history of them with anyone who will listen!