Patriot Mother at Her Boy's Grave

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Patriot Mother at Her Boy's Grave
Unknown Artist
Page 66
The Soldier's Casket. Philadelphia: Ch. W. Alexander, 1865
Hand colored illustration
F 834.0075 Volume 1
Newberry Library

This picture shows the sadness of a Union mother. Like most women who had lost loved ones in the war, she wears all black to show that she is in mourning.  She stands amidst gravestones in a cemetery, weeping at her son's grave. It was published in the January 1865 issue of The Soldier’s Casket, a magazine honoring Union soldiers and their families. Union soldiers and their friends and family back home could write to the monthly magazine about their experiences. The magazine would then publish stories about particularly brave or heroic soldiers.

This image of the weeping mother would have been familiar as many Northern families experienced a loss of a family member or friend. People struggled to understand or cope with the scale of death in the Civil War. Many were unsure how to handle the death, especially when it occurred far from home—nineteenth century Americans believed that the best way to die was to be at home, in the presence of loved ones and with time to prepare and ready oneself for the transition to the afterlife. During the war, families were of course not present when their soldiers’ fell; many never even received the bodies of their soldiers, for most men were buried where they fell, only later to be moved to national battlefield cemeteries. This illustration depicts the most common experience for people on the home front: the challenge of learning about, accepting, and mourning the loss of the young men in their families and communities.

Further reading:
Alexander, Charles W, ed. The Soldier’s Casket. Philadelphia, 1865.

Faust, Drew. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2008.

Newberry Library. "Women in Mourning." Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North.

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago