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Published:May 28th, 2013 08:36 EST
American Civil War Casualties Ran at 750,000, 130,000 Higher than First Estimated!

American Civil War Casualties Ran at 750,000, 130,000 Higher than First Estimated!

By John G. Kays

The most important news story I could find, or the one that had the greatest effect on me, appropriate for Memorial Day, was posted on the BBC, `Who, What, Why: How many soldiers died in the US Civil War?`  The traditional number of Americans who died in the Civil War has been given as 620,000, but in December of 2011, J. David Hacker published a paper in the Civil War History journal which raises that figure by 130,000, to  an estimated 750,000 who perished in the War Between the States.

I used the word perished, since not all of these soldiers died from musket balls or artillery fire; probably around half of them died from disease or were originally only wounded in battle, but later died in a shoddy army hospital. Many died in poorly run prison camps, such as the infamous Andersonville in Georgia. When looking over the Wikipedia entry for Andersonville, I see there were 45,000 Union prisoners, of which 13,000 died of starvation, malnutrition, diarrhea, or other diseases (resulting from the horrible conditions).

Another startling figure caught my eye; of the 13,714 graves at Andersonville National Cemetery, 921 of them are unknown. This stat, in an indirect fashion, gave me confidence in J. David Hacker`s revised estimate of Civil War casualties, which runs 21% higher than the archaic number, calculated by William Fox and Thomas Livermore, way back in the late 19th Century. I mean, let`s call it the  `Unknown Soldier Factor!` Many of these bodies at the battlefields were hastily buried; who cared anything about accurate record company, given the circumstances?

One can probably safely assume, that the two sides, both Blue and Grey, just wanted to get this over with and rejoin the regiments in preparation for the next big battle. This is especially true for the major battles, such as Antietam or Gettysburg, where the corpses had already been rotting for a few days, and the two forces needed to finish the job of mass-burial. Who was keeping tab of how many they buried, much less what their names were, what town they came from, or who their family was? 

The BBC article also points out, many of the bodies were blown up or may have sunk in the mud; also, many men were deserters, especially Confederates, who couldn`t get enough food or even shoes to where. A most telling line in the article for me, is that initially the army may have only listed them as wounded in action, whereas they ended up dying very soon after the battle in some makeshift hospital, where medical care for the wounded was hopelessly primitive. Wiki reports an estimated 60,000 men lost limbs in the war.

How long did many of these men who lost limbs survive once the war was over, in April of 1865? Well, we don`t have numbers to put to that; the crude record keeping of those times is not going to capture this different kind of casualty. One development of the American Civil War that doesn`t lie however, is photography. Alexander Gardner photographs Confederate corpses piled up on Bloody Lane at Sharpsburg, and you know the stat of 23,000 casualties on September 17th, 1862 is real! Two weeks after the battle, New Yorkers must have been totally shocked by seeing these photos of dead soldiers at Antietam; now war was real!

 One thought that came to me, which I suspect may be on the money (yet, we`ll never know for sure), but let`s suppose these pioneer American Civil War dead statisticians, William Fox and Thomas Livermore, who were actually Union army officers serving during the conflict, were partially in denial by the way these four years of war had devastated our country, then it`s reasonable to assume they must have felt a great deal of guilt and responsibility for what had happened. 

Therefore, they felt like they had to skew the stats to a lower figure so the nation could begin to heal quicker. Or, perhaps, when they looked the raw stats in the face, they simply couldn`t believe or accept they were true. After all, Sherman had practically wiped the South and its way of life off the face of the earth! This report had to look something like the Warren Report looked to the American people in 1964.