Harvard historian Drew Faust discusses a new PBS documentary that shows how the deaths of more than 600,000 Americans in the Civil War today explain an important part of America’s national identity.
Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
The Civil War had a death toll that would be, even to us today, almost unimaginable. Two-and-a-half percent of the population died in the war. That would be the equivalent of seven million Americans today. And so when you think about those kinds of numbers, I think it - it reminds you of how people must have had to struggle in order to cope with those deaths.
And one part of that was simply the military deaths. What did you do with the bodies? How did you identify them when people didn't have dog tags? How did you tell next of kin when there was no system for notification?
And so there emerges from the war a reburial movement in which, after the fighting has ceased in 1865, Union troops moved through the South looking for every dead Union soldier in order to protect and honor them. And what that finally yields is the national cemetery system, with 74 national cemeteries and a national commitment to the lives of those who are lost in the nation's behalf.
And so things we take for granted today only emerged in the course of the Civil War. And the bureaucracy and commitment of the federal government to those principles is an essential part of the kind of nation that emerged from the Civil War conflict.