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Civil War News

[ 18 ] April 3, 2012 |

A couple of very interesting Civil War related items this morning.

First, the Disunion series published one of its more touching and excellent pieces, on the high suicide rates among Confederate soldiers. This is just great.

Second and more important is the revised analysis of Civil War death tolls. I have not read the relevant article yet, but it is widely gaining credence among leading Civil War scholars. J. David Hacker estimates that between 750,000 and 850,000 people died in the war, not the 620,000 previously believed by scholars. Hacker argues that vastly more Confederates died of disease than previously thought, which makes sense on many levels. Previous estimates assumed similar death rates from disease in both the Union and Confederacy, but assumes the highly unlikely fact of equal medical care between the two sides.

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  • Ian

    When fellow recruits accused him of being a coward, Robinson retorted that he would show them how a Roman could die, then plunged a knife into the carotid artery in his neck.

    I’ll grant that a Roman might commit suicide after having done something dishonorable or to avoid apparently inevitable dishonor, but this bizarre preemptive strike on honor’s behalf is a good argument for the importance of a sound classical education.

    • Of course, the antebellum South was obsessed with all things classical.

      • rea

        Sic semper tyrannus

      • Lee

        And feudal. It might have been a tad to cute to say but Mark Twain was somewhat right to attribute a lot of the South’s problems to reading a bit too much into Walter Scott.

  • BradP

    First, the Disunion series published on its more touching and excellent pieces, on the high suicide rates among Confederate soldiers. This is just great.

    Thank you for this.

  • firefall

    I must admit, I’d feel the analysis of suicides amongst Confederate soldiers would be more compelling if contrasted to how it was handled & discussed in the Union: still well worth reading, though.

    • rea

      Admittedly it’s Erik’s phrase, not the author of the article’s, but “high suicide rates” isn’t established. Some people in the Confederate military killed themselves. Whether they were doing that at a rate which exceeded the peacetime rate among civilians is nowhere addressed.

      • firefall

        Yes, I got that. What I was wondering is, was it actually dealt with or handled differently in the north? It seems to be a common theme in ACW studies to project and enlarge upon the differences between North and South culturally, and this would be one way of pointing that up (or conversely disrupting it as a view).

    • JoyfulA

      The author’s bio says she has a forthcoming, footnoted article and a forthcoming book on this topic. They may include comparisons.

      I wonder what suicide rates are now by states.

  • Anderson

    Here is Hacker’s “Disunion” post on the subject of casualties.

  • Lee

    Medical care was obviously superior in the Union Army. The Unioin Army, influenced by the British disaster regarding sanitary measures in the Crimean War, took special care regarding these issues and set up a sanitary department. Walt Witman was a nurse. There is no evidence that the CSA took care regarding soldier’s health.

    • Tom M

      The Union’s attempts at sanitation may have been engendered by the Crimean experience of the British Army, but the casualty figures from wounds and disease would rather belie the efficacy of those attempts. Deaths from typhoid don’t speak well of sanitation efforts, let alone those from other diseases.

  • laura

    This is very interesting. But as a total non-expert on the subject, what constituted better medical care during the civil war? Would it have been a matter of differences in scientific/medical knowledge or just resources dedicated to treating sick and wounded soliders?

    • The #1 issue was sanitation, both for wounded soldiers in hospitals and just in the camps generally.

  • Anonymous

    *I*’d totally expect a higher Southern death rate, because they were generally underfed. And it just got worse for them as the war went on and Northern attrition work got more and more effective. I was always struck by the reports about how enthusiastic they were when they caught a Northern supply train and were fed decently for once. The South was both poor and mostly grew the wrong crops to keep itself fed.

    And, of course, there’s a spiral of more disease and mental and physical collapses when you’re underfed.

    • grouchomarxist

      It was surprising to me to find out that the South depended so much on the blockade runners for military rations as well as munitions. I mean, sure, given their low level of industrialization, you’d naturally expect them to have to import cannon, arms, ammunition and even boots, but you’d think they’d at least be able to feed their armies.

      Of course, it didn’t help that the Union forces made a point of destroying the coastal salt works wherever they found them, which put a major dent in the South’s ability to preserve meat. And like you said, so much of their cropland had to be devoted to the cotton they needed for export, to give them the funds to purchase the war-making materials they couldn’t produce on their own.

      All in all, not a good setup for winning a protracted conflict.

  • Mike Furlan

    A minor point about Hacker’s paper is his treatment of African American casualties.

    The scholarly consensus as I understand it seems to be that it is impossible to make an estimate of black war/reconstruction era excess deaths from the census records the way it is possible for white population.

    Is that true?

  • This is just great.

    Be greater if there had been more of them.