Skip to main content
The Civil War and Chicago: Memorialization, Commemoration, and Remembrance at Rosehill Cemetery

The War and Perceptions of Death

Dead of Ewell's Corps, Spotsylvania, May 1864

Confederate Dead in Spotsylvania

Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Prior to the Civil War, the experience of death had been largely personal and centered in the home.  The rituals associated with death were conducted by the deceased’s family, and institutions, outside of the church, rarely intervened.    
With the advent of the war everything changed.
The country experienced death of an unimaginable scope.  620,000 soldiers perished between 1861 and 1865.  Many died on battlefields, far away from the comforts of home and family.   The war defied the Victorian cultural ideals of a “good” death and left the country struggling to reaffirm and reevaluate.
Antietam, Md. Confederate Dead by a Fence on the Hagerstown Road

Confederate Dead in Antietam

Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Influencing the struggle were images like the one at right, which appeared in an October 1862 exhibit in photographer Matthew Brady’s gallery entitled “The Dead of Antietam.”  A New York Times review reported that the exhibit brought home to the American people the “terrible reality and earnestness of war.”