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University of North Carolina Press


Inspired by a recent “dark turn” in Civil War historiography, Diane Miller Sommerville’s Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War-Era South offers a compelling and impressive history of the destructiveness of the Civil War on the bodies, psyches, finances, and lives of southern whites and African Americans. According to Sommerville’s estimate, more than 300,000 Confederate soldiers died during the war and close to 200,000 more returned home with severe physical and emotional scars. By war’s end, the wealth of Southerners had largely vanished and the region’s economy lay in tatters. Southern whites confronted hunger, the loss and damage of property, the humiliation of military defeat, the death of loved ones, and financial ruin. In the chaos of war, even those African Americans who successfully made their way to hurriedly constructed and overcrowded contraband camps faced food insecurity, inadequate shelter from the elements, and disease. Aberration of Mind brilliantly analyzes how ideas and experiences relating to suicide and suffering helped shape southern life and culture following the war and set the stage for the development of a Lost Cause ideology that grounded whites’ claims to privilege and power in their allegedly unique experiences with hardship and self-murder during and following the Civil War.