The Civil War–already considered the deadliest conflict in American history–in fact took a toll far more severe than previously estimated. That’s what a new analysis of census data by Binghamton University historian J. David Hacker reveals.
Hacker says the war’s dead numbered about 750,000, an estimate that’s 20 percent higher than the commonly cited figure of 620,000. His findings will be published in December in the journal Civil War History.
“The traditional estimate has become iconic,” Hacker says. “It’s been quoted for the last hundred years or more. If you go with that total for a minute–620,000–the number of men dying in the Civil War is more than in all other American wars from the American Revolution through the Korean War combined. And consider that the American population in 1860 was about 31 million people, about one-tenth the size it is today. If the war were fought today, the number of deaths would total 6.2 million.”
Hacker looked at the ratio of male survival relative to female survival for each age group. He established a “normal” pattern in survival rates for men and women by looking at the numbers for 1850-1860 and 1870-1880. Then he compared the war decade, 1860-1870, relative to the pattern.
His new estimate of Civil War deaths contains a wide margin: 650,000 to 850,000, with 750,000 as the central figure.
Like earlier estimates, Hacker’s includes men who died in battle as well as soldiers who died as a result of poor conditions in military camps. “Roughly two out of three men who died in the war died from disease,” Hacker says. “The war took men from all over the country and brought them all together into camps that became very filthy very quickly.” Deaths resulted from diarrhea, dysentery, measles, typhoid and malaria, among other illnesses.