Sarah J. Purcell


Spectacle of Grief

Public Funerals and Memory in the Civil War Era

Spectacle of Grief examines how the public funerals of major figures from both sides of the U.S. Civil War shaped public memories of the war and allowed a diverse set of people to contribute to changing American national identities. During culturally important funerals—burial ceremonies and the culture of commemoration that surrounded them—Americans contemplated and contested the meanings of political and social issues surrounding the Civil War. Public mourning for military heroes, reformers, and politicians distilled political and social anxieties as the country coped with the aftermath of mass death and casualties.

The first book to go beyond U.S. presidents to show how large-scale funerals for other figures such as Henry Clay, Elmer Ellsworth, and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson set patterns for mourning culture and Civil War commemoration, Spectacle of Grief illuminates a wide-spread culture of nineteenth-century grief in material culture, monuments, print, and visual culture. After 1865, public funerals for figures such as Robert E. Lee, Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglass, and Winnie Davis created public debate about the meanings of Reconstruction, Civil War memory, race, and gender.

Sarah Purcell, Professor of History;
L.F. Parker Professor of History. August 9, 2017.
(Photo by Justin Hayworth/Grinnell College)

Sarah J. Purcell

Sarah J. Purcell is the L. F. Parker Professor of History at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. She is an expert on eighteenth and nineteenth century U.S. History, public memory, political culture, gender, and military history. Prior to Spectacle of Grief (to be released in April 2022), she is the author of Sealed with Blood: War Sacrifice and Memory in Revolutionary America (U. Penn Press, 2002) and The Early American Republic: An Eyewitness History (Facts on File, 2004). She is co-author of The Encyclopedia of Battles in North America, 1517-1916 (Facts on File, 2000) and Critical Lives: The Life and Work of Eleanor Roosevelt (Alpha/Pearson, 2001). She is also one of the co-authors of American Horizons: U.S. History in a Global Perspective, 3rd ed. (Oxford, 2020), the first textbook that places U.S. history in a global context.