Bill Kirby

Online news editor for The Augusta Chronicle.

Civil War deadlier than we thought

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It helps you understand, particularly in the South with a much smaller population, what a devastating experience this was.

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– Eric Foner, historian

We had a nice feature in Monday’s paper about Augusta’s historic Magnolia Cemetery, the final resting place of many old warriors, including seven Confederate generals and even more Union prisoners of war.

Now it appears that the Civil War in which they fought and which took such a toll on America a century and a half ago was actually deadlier than historians have long believed.

The New York Times reported this week that new research indicates America’s War Between the States probably killed 20 percent more than previously counted.

Much of the mortality statistics we’ve relied on for more than a century came from the dedicated research of Civil War veteran William F. Fox and another man, Thomas L. Livermore, The Times reported. But despite their best efforts, they did not consider or have access to data that shows the casualties were far greater.

Confederate records, in particular, were often incomplete. Complicating matters was the U.S. Census of 1870, which was poorly handled.

Enter J. David Hacker, a demographic historian from Binghamton University in New York. He has recalculated Civil War deaths by combing through newly digitized census data from the 19th century and increasing the count by more than 20 percent, to about 750,000 dead.

Confederate disease deaths, he determined, were more lethal because the many farm boys in the Rebel army were more vulnerable to illness than the North’s city boys, who had developed some immunities.

Hacker also said his estimate is just that — an educated guess — and the Civil War’s death toll could be as high as 850,000 or as low as 650,000.

Because of the lack of records, we’ll never know for sure.

As the poet Walt Whitman long ago observed, “The real war will never get in the books.”

TODAY’S GOLF THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Never teach golf to your wife. Never play your son for money.

TODAY’S JOKE: Charlie Williams shares this one.

Three elderly golfers were sitting around the clubhouse talking about what their grandchildren would be saying about them 50 years from now.

“I would like my grandchildren to say, ‘He was successful in business,’ ” declared the first man.

“Fifty years from now,” said the second, “I want them to say, ‘He was a loyal family man.’ ”

Turning to the third gent, he asked, “So what do you want them to say about you in 50 years?”

“Me?” the third one replied. “I want them to say, ‘He certainly looks good for his age.’ ”


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