Civil War

The Death Toll from Secession

The Civil War continues to be the most deadly American war, but the approximately 600,000 deaths could actually be an undercount. The New York Times' Disunion blog:

New estimates, based on Census data, indicate that the death toll was approximately 750,000, and may have been as high as 850,000.

Nearly a million Americans died because of southern secession. If there's a modern lesson in this, it's that the idea of seceding ought to be taken very, very seriously and anyone who dabbles in the notion is a colossal idiot with an unhealthy degree of bloodlust.

  • CarolDuhart

    I’ve always felt the 600k was an undercount for several reasons. It was easy to count those who were in the military and who died in service. There were regimental rolls after all, and the Military knew who they had. Civilian records were in contrast, scattered all over the place and many people died without clear attribution to the war.
    People who were part of the undercount:
    1) Civilians in and around the areas of fighting who may have died in non-combatant roles: nurses, cooks, helpers. Refugees from the fighting who were never part of the war.
    2) People who died of injuries and disease because of the war but who died after the fighting stopped.
    3) Slaves who caught the worst from both sides.
    4) Epidemics, starvation, rogue troop misbehavior.
    5) Suicide. Does anyone think PTSD is a modern phenomenon? Or the phenomenon of addiction because of it? Indeed, the growth in morphine/heroin/opium addiction in this country was an outgrowth of the Civil War and the lack of medical knowledge.

    I could easily see at least 100k civilian deaths alone because of those causes. And we haven’t even talked about lives that were lived long enough to be considered somewhat reasonable, but that were shortened than natural because of the war.

  • bphoon

    I think, if my memory serves, the 600K figure (I think it was closer to 620,000) was the number of soldiers on both sides who died during the Civil War. Interestingly, many more died from disease than from combat.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard an estimate of the number of civilian casualties but they typically far outnumber the military casualties in most any war you’d care to name.

    • IrishGrrrl

      Not to mention the slaves. Yeah, the count including civilians from disease, starvation, etc would push it up close to a million easily. In the South in particular, there weren’t any able bodied men to run the farms….people were very, very hungry. When the South says they “gave their all” they aren’t kidding.

      • bphoon

        Yeah, they did. Too bad is was in the interest of such a misguided cause.

        One, btw, which many these days still support as we can see. Imho, displaying the “stars & bars” is tantamount to at least a tacit endorsement of, if not treason, sedition.

  • Mark

    I confess I sometimes wonder if maybe we should have just let the South go. They’ve been nothing but trouble ever since.

    • horatiogalt

      Nah, we shouldn’t have let them go, but they should have been reorganized as territories and administered directly from Washington in perpetuity.

    • nicole

      I don’t. They would have continued to enslave human beings.

      However, if they were to attempt secession NOW, I’d be all for it! Hell, I’d be freaking thrilled.

      • Mark

        Agreed on both points.

        • IrishGrrrl

          The problem was actually the way in which Reconstruction was handled, or I should say mishandled. Lincoln wanted to take a much softer stance on how to treat the South, recognizing that they’d suffered quite a lot too AND that to integrate them back into the Union, a lighter hand would be necessary. Unfortunately he was assassinated and Congress wanted to make the South pay for the war, his death, etc. and they were too harsh on the South. We’ve been dealing with the consequences ever since. I would posit that it’s the Reconstruction era that has given us this “modern headache” of an angry, bigoted South, not the Civil War, per se.

  • CobBesca

    Well the North didnt have to start the war.

    • nicole

      Yeah, you know, we could have just allowed a secession that would ensure that people would remain enslaved by greedy white neanderthals based solely on the color of their skin.

    • bphoon

      Um…I believe it was the Southern states, starting with South Carolina, that threatened to tear our Union apart in the name of slavery. It was the South who fired on Fort Sumter.

      Quit trying to re-write history.