Death at the Edges of Empire


Death at the Edges of Empire

Fallen Soldiers, Cultural Memory, and the Making of an American Nation, 1863–1921

Shannon Bontrager

Studies in War, Society, and the Military Series

432 pages
28 photographs, 2 appendixes, index


February 2020


$60.00 Add to Cart

January 2022


$35.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
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February 2020


$35.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

February 2020


$35.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

A 2020 BookAuthority selection for best new American Civil War books

Hundreds of thousands of individuals perished in the epic conflict of the American Civil War. As battles raged and the specter of death and dying hung over the divided nation, the living worked not only to bury their dead but also to commemorate them. President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address perhaps best voiced the public yearning to memorialize the war dead. His address marked the beginning of a new tradition of commemorating American soldiers and also signaled a transformation in the relationship between the government and the citizenry through an embedded promise and obligation for the living to remember the dead.

In Death at the Edges of Empire Shannon Bontrager examines the culture of death, burial, and commemoration of American war dead. By focusing on the Civil War, the Spanish-Cuban-American War, the Philippine-American War, and World War I, Bontrager produces a history of collective memories of war expressed through American cultural traditions emerging within broader transatlantic and transpacific networks. Examining the pragmatic collaborations between middle-class Americans and government officials negotiating the contradictory terrain of empire and nation, Death at the Edges of Empire shows how Americans imposed modern order on the inevitability of death as well as how they used the war dead to reimagine political identities and opportunities into imperial ambitions.

Author Bio

Shannon Bontrager is an associate professor of history at Georgia Highlands College in Cartersville, Georgia.


"Original, thoughtful, and wide-ranging. Readers interested in the connections among military sacrifice, memory, and national identity will come away with many insights."—Andre M. Fleche, Journal of Southern History

"Though a work of history, Death at the Edges of Empire ultimately raises questions about the present: Are we too divided to do war memorials anymore? And if so, are honest forms of commemoration even possible?"—Randall Fuller, Wall Street Journal

"Death at the Edges of Empire is an insightful new addition into the historiography on how Americans construct cultural memories from their military dead and how these memories are susceptible to change."—Tristan Krause, H-War

"This is would be an excellent book for a graduate level seminar in American historical geography or American cultural memory. . . . Geographers who study cultural memory will be especially interested in the skillful analysis of how memory moves and takes shape across places at different scales to justify the American imperial project."—Jordan P. Brasher, Journal of Historical Geography

"This innovative work—part intellectual history and part memory study—reveals the shifting cultural landscape of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century America and the crucial of role of military cemeteries within this national, transatlantic, and transpacific narrative."—Tracy L. Barnett, North Carolina Historical Review

"Shannon Bontrager has written an intricate, impressive book about mourning, memory, and national identity. Some facets of his story are familiar, but he extends the sweep of his analysis in fresh and provocative directions, enlarging it, as the title suggests, to the edges of the American empire."—W. Fitzhugh Brundage, Civil War Book Review

"Shannon Bontrager’s Death at the Edges of Empire is an important addition to the scholarship of cultural memory. By limiting the scope to the period between the Civil War and the end of World War I, he allows us to trace the evolution of remembrance across four very different conflicts during a period that transformed America as a nation. Given the depth and complexity of the topics discussed, this book would work well in a graduate-level seminar on American history, especially one concerned with cultural memory."—Robert T. Jones, Cercles

"Death at the Edges of Empire provides an essential new perspective on the intersection of military memory, the bodies of the war dead, race, and empire. It pushes historians to consider how the war dead have been used to expand American empire while reinforcing the limitations of who could be included in the American project. As the United States confronts the legacy of military commemoration in new ways, this book provides scholars with novel analyses that will strengthen their understandings of the field."—Allison S. Finkelstein, Journal of the Civil War Era

"Bontrager's wide sweep means that scholars with different specialties will find this book valuable."—Vicki Daniel, Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

“Shannon Bontrager’s Death at the Edges of Empire joins a list of other seminal works on war and memory, such as Kristin Hass’s Carried to the Wall. He shows the importance of culture on shaping American narratives regarding war. It is a very important addition to the literature. Highly recommended!”—Kyle Longley, author of Grunts: The American Combat Soldier in Vietnam  

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations


Introduction: Lincoln’s Promise

Part 1. Storage

1. Where the Grapes of Wrath Are Stored

2. The Nation, a Monument of Empire

3. Remembering Domestic Foreign Spaces

Part 2. Retrieval

4. Retrieve the Maine!

5. Memories of a Foreign Land

Part 3. Communication

6. Exiles of American Cultural Memory

7. Cultural Memory in the Information Age

8. That Cause Shall Not Be Betrayed

9. Listening to Empire

Epilogue: Reclaiming Lincoln’s Promise?

Appendix A: Stops in D. H. Rhodes’s Tour of the Philippines

Appendix B: Stops in F. S. Croggon’s Tour of the Philippines





A 2020 BookAuthority selection for best new American Civil War books