Civil War deaths shaped America, Harvard president says at Gettysburg College

Death was the “texture” of the Civil War experience, Harvard University President Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust said July 15 at Gettysburg College’s Majestic Theater.

“We are all Civil War survivors,” said Faust, author of This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, which examines how the conflict’s enormous toll helped shape the nation.

Gettysburg College President Janet Morgan Riggs introduced Faust to an audience of more than 200.

“Death doesn’t just happen--it requires us to act,” Faust said, noting that the Civil War required everyday people to learn how to kill, how to mourn, and how to memorialize their losses. Battlefield deaths on an unprecedented scale made burial “an act of improvisation,” she said.

Such stresses led to a lasting expansion of national powers, Faust said, citing examples such as a national fund for soldiers’ pensions and the national cemetery that President Lincoln hallowed with his Gettysburg Address.

“Gettysburg generated this book,” Faust said, referring to a talk she gave here in 1995. "A Riddle of Death: Mortality and Meaning in the American Civil War" was Gettysburg College’s 34th Robert Fortenbaugh Lecture. The lectures are delivered each Nov. 19, the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

Gettysburg College covered July 15’s lecture via Twitter. Join Twitter and follow @gettysburg.

Richmond University President Ed Ayres, who joined Faust on a panel the next day, called her “a pioneering author.”

July 15’s lecture was part of the third annual meeting of the non-profit Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, which promotes historical awareness of the region stretching from Gettysburg to Monticello, Va. It was preceded by “Lincoln in 3-D,” a slideshow of historic stereoscopic images hosted by the Center for Civil War Photography.

The Majestic Theater at the Jennifer and David LeVan Performing Arts Center is owned and operated by Gettysburg College in partnership with the Greater Adams County community. The 2009-2010 season is the fifth since the Majestic's $16-million historic restoration to its original 1925 opulence.

Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with approximately 2,600 students. It is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. The college was founded in 1832.

Contact: Jim Hale, online content editor

Posted: Thu, 16 Jul 2009

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