March 28, 2008

The American Civil War & iconic sculpture

Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University but more importantly (to me) a historian, has lately been making the rounds discussing what will likely be her last book, entitled This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. (Being a historian is time-consuming, but running the world’s most famous and powerful university is even more so!)

The book is on the NY Times bestseller list, and is one that interests many of us here at the Cemetery. Dr. Faust discusses the inconceivable numbers of casualties (to put it into today’s terms, as if we had lost 6 million American troops in Iraq) and looks at how normal, everyday people were affected. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends—all had to come to terms with the devastation. The concept of death ceased to be romanticized in popular and literary culture, as families were ripped apart. Some of the bereaved never recovered, and remained in mourning for the rest of their lives, unable to move past their grief. America seemed to lose a sense of innocence and optimism that had defined our country's beginnings a century earlier.

Many of the soldiers from Roxbury who fought and died in the Civil War are buried in Forest Hills’ Civil War lot, which was dedicated on America’s first Memorial Day, in 1868. The statue that marks the lot, Martin Milmore’s The Citizen Soldier, is an iconic work. It portrays the ordinary (but extraordinary) volunteer at a meditative moment instead of an officer or a hero on his horse, and was imitated all over the country for Civil War memorials. Martin Milmore, one of the country's great 19th century sculptors, is also buried at Forest Hills.

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