I’ve seen the words “magnificent” and “riveting” being used to describe My Thoughts Be Bloody: The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth That Led to an American Tragedy by Nora Titone — and I wholeheartedly agree with both descriptions.
This book is far more than a recounting of the Abraham Lincoln assassination. Titone first captivates us with the love story between Junius Booth, a well loved Shakespearean actor, and the young and lovely Mary Ann, with whom he has eight children. (Lest this sounds like the stuff of fairy tales, know that when his wife finds out, she isn’t too happy.)
The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust is an extraordinary book that provides a look back in time to see how 19th-century Americans viewed death – and how the Civil War fueled the growth of the funeral industry and the creation of national cemeteries, and caused the military to expand its functions dramatically. This book also shows the sheer gruesomeness of the war in ways that books focusing on the battles never could.
In modern times, we try to fight off death, to slow down death, to focus on living and life. In the Civil War era, a more Victorian philosophy still existed – that it was important to die a “good death.” That meant that you were at peace with yourself, with others and with God. When a soldier died, fellow soldiers and officers tried to comfort the family by assuring them that their loved one had died such a death. Some soldiers carried with them letters to send to family members in case of their demise, and these letters tried to provide the same reassurance.