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Book Reviews 139 Gary Laderman. The Sacred Rernains: American Attitudes Toward Death, 1799-1883. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996. Pp. xi+ 221. Philippe Aries's classic This Hour of Our Death (L'homme deuant la mart [1977] 1981, New York, Knopf) has inspired numerous studies of changing attitudes toward death. While recognizing the overall validity of Aries's interpretation, many historians have cautioned that his sweeping analysis overlooked the distinctive aspects of various national experiences. American historians responded by analysing Puritan attitudes toward death in the colonial period and how that tradition became a highly sentimental one in the nineteenth century. Gary Laderman builds on this historiography to explore the central role of the Civil War in compelling northern Protestants to reconsider their attitudes to death. Unlike many other works in this field, Laderman's approach is not confined to intellectual history. He is keenly sensitive to the central role rituals play in shaping and defining attitudes toward death. Also, Foucault's insights on how historians can discern attitudes toward the body influence Laderman. Like Ruth Richardson's groundbreaking Death, Dissection, and Destitution (1988), this book focusses on the dead body. In discussing the changing attitudes and rituals surrounding death, Laderman sheds light on many other aspects of American social history, such as the rise of science and medicine, the emergence of the professions , and the marginalization of women. This book brilliantly demonstrates how much can be learned about one of the most elemental aspects of social and cultural history-death-by studying military history or the impact of war. Laderman's analysis opens with a superb description of the rituals surrounding death in rural America. His attention focuses on the activities following the death of a loved one, particularly the preparation, transportation , and burial of the corpse. These activities were contained within a short three-to-five-day time span so as to avoid witnessing the horrifying decomposition of the body and they were dominated by the family and friends of the deceased. In antebellum northern Protestant society, Laderman notes that some changes occurred as a result of urbanization. Elements of commerce were introduced with the emergence of the undertaker and the growing pageantry of the funeral procession which was designed to display social status. A natural or scientifie attitude toward death and the body also emerged. But there were limits to these changes, according to Laderman. The basic rituals of preparing, transporting, and burying the body remained in~ 140 Canadian Review of American Studies Revu.ecanadienned etudes americames tact. Laderman cites the numerous incidents involving body-snatching to demonstrate that most Americans regarded such practices with horror and were not willing to accept the medical view of the death or any medical intervention . Still, the corpse was considered sacred. The core of Laderman's book demonstrates how the excessive violence and gruesome bodily mutilation that characterized Civil War battles compelled reconsideration of death and modification in certain aspects of the ritual. The greatest problem facing many northern families was that fallen soldiers were unceremoniously buried in the blood-soaked battlefields of the South and were lost. The consolation families gained through the ritual process of preparing the body and saying a final farewell during the burial-made all the more pressing since so many soldiers were stricken down in the prime of life-was absent. Laderman provides moving and graphic descriptions of the lengths northerners went to locate and reclaim their loved ones' bodies. The challenge for many families if they could track down a loved one was how to get the corpse back home in recognizable condition. For the Union Army and war effort, a different challenge existed. The soldiers' corpses had to be transported to northern communities intact if they were to play a role in wartime civic rituals. Through a detailed study of northern popular opinion, Laderman demonstrates that if the bodies were in a decomposed and putrefied state, it was difficult to convey the message that the blood sacrifices were leading to a regenerated American Union. The corpses, themselves, had to look "restored and redeemed." Respect for the dead bodies had to be demonstrated in order to maintain public support for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 139-141
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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