04 April 2012

Updated Civil War Death Toll Estimations

In September a Civil War historian, J. David Hacker of Binghamton University, published his work of updated estimates of American Civil War deaths. Using the previous research of Provost Marshall James B. Fry, Francis Amasa Walker, and others, Hacker comes to a much larger number than assumed. The original 1866 death report by Fry for the Union army was 279,689. This number continued to grow as widows and orphans came forward to apply for pensions and survivors' benefits. A census superintendent, Walker, found a discrepancy in the 1870 census record (the census was taken every 10 years and the Civil War was fought from 1861-1865). President Grant pushed Walker to recount the population, as he felt that the country should have grown. Previous 19th century records showed a population growth of about 34% and instead the 1870 census showed only a growth of 22.6%. Walker argued the war was to blame for the lack of growth.

Walker stated in his report that the growth rate was a result of the...
“notorious and palpable effects of the war, which hampered the growth of the black population, checked immigration, limited marriages and births and led to the direct loss of close to a million men.”
 At this time, the Surgeon Generals office had recorded approximately 304,000 Union deaths during the course of the war. They did not factor in those who died from disabilities or diseases as a result of the war. With this in mind, Walker estimated about 500,000 Union men died. When it came to estimating the Confederates deaths, Walker found it more difficult. Estimating using the total roster count and assuming the death tolls as a result of poorer nutrition, longer service, and lack of medical supplies and resources, close to 350,000 Confederates died.

Unfortunately for Walker, the census was put under investigation for fraud, and others took up the torch of research. Researchers did find that the Southern states were largely under-counted during the Reconstruction era of 1870 and was not fraudulent. A former Union private by the name of William F. Fox, took up the research, using battlefield death counts (which are inconclusive considering that many died from battle wounds after the 'official' count). These "incomplete" records proved at least 94,000 Confederates died as a result of the war.

In 1900 Thomas L. Livermore, who was also a Union army veteran, decided to compare the battlefield death tolls, calculating the compared risks of malnutrition and disease both armies would have faced during the war. With this estimate, he was able to conclude that 258,000 Confederate lives were lost.

Today popular belief, through years of research, brings the death toll to 618,222. But Hacker wanted to challenge this. By using the resources of new technology and the accessibility of the 1850, 1860, and 1870 census records, as well as demographics, and other research methods, he was able to estimate approximately 750,000 Union, Confederate, guerilla, and non-enlisted men who died as a result. This new estimate is huge, because it shows that 1 in 10 white men of military age died during the war (of course it leaves out the deaths of African Americans and Native Americans who fought during the war, as well as civilian deaths—this could result in about 100,000 more deaths).

To read the complete commentary of Hacker, go here.

Here he talks about how the new numbers show greater devastation of American lives.

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