War’s Human Cost Was Worse Than We Thought

Census data that become available in the past decade shows far more lives were lost in the Civil War than previously believed. J. David Hacker, who teaches at Binghamton University in New York, says his analysis of detailed census data sets reveals that 750,000 were killed in the conflict—20 percent higher than the number commonly cited (620,000). He based his conclusions on breakdowns of data from before and after the conflict that identify each individual as well as his or her race, age and birthplace rather than grouping them as an aggregate number of people in a specific age group. To estimate the number of men killed in the conflict, Hacker first established the population trends for deaths in the decades before and after the war. He then compared the census data for 1850-1860, 1860-1870 and 1870-1880 and found that the number of civilian deaths among native-born men in the 1860-1870 period—encompassing the war years—was far lower than would be expected based on similar trends among native-born women. Hacker reasoned that the difference between the two, 750,000, represented the number of men killed in the war.

Scholars have long suspected that the original casualty estimate was less than accurate, since neither North nor South had standardized personnel records. Commenting on the new data presented by Hacker, historian James McPherson said, “My guess is that most of the difference between the estimate of 620,000 and Hacker’s higher figure is the result of underreported Confederate deaths.”

Gettysburg Welcomes the Benner Farm

Located on Old Harrisburg Road, in Straban Township, Pa., the Josiah Benner House lay in the path of Confederate Brig. Gen. Jubal Early’s Division as it advanced toward Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 1, 1863. The sturdy two-story brick structure, set on a stone foundation, was used as cover for skirmishers on both sides during that day’s fighting. Both the dwelling and a nearby large stone barn later served as field hospitals for the Southerners. Last September the Gettysburg National Military Park acquired the house, a one-story springhouse and nine acres, which—added to the three-acre parcel that holds the barn (purchased by the park 10 years ago)—makes for a tidy addition to the historic site.

Rural Plains Joins Richmond Battlefield Park

Rural Plains, an 18th-century estate 14 miles northeast of Richmond, Va., was caught up in the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek between May 28 and 30, 1864. Major General Winfield Scott Hancock used the house as his headquarters while its owners, the Sheltons, took refuge in the basement. During the fighting, a signal station set up on the home’s roof attracted plenty of Confederate fire. On May 30 alone, in fact, more than 50 artillery shells hit the house. Richmond National Battlefield Park, which acquired the house in 2006, recently opened the restored dwelling to the public during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Plans call for the house to be open in the future only for special events, but a two-mile walking trail, which is being added to the site, should attract its share of visitors.

Tennessee Battlefield Grows by 52 Acres

On December 31, 1862, Confederate Brig. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest narrowly escaped capture near Red Mound, Tenn., when he was surprised and surrounded by Federals under Union Brig. Gen. Jeremiah C. Sullivan at the Battle of Parker’s Cross Roads. Since 2001, the state of Tennessee, the Civil War Trust and the Parker’s Crossroads Battlefield Association have saved roughly 298 acres of the land where that fight took place. And just last fall a crucial 52-acre tract situated next to Interstate 40 was added to the protected area, allowing preservationists to shield acreage that was central to the struggle. The state and Civil War Trust paid a total of $1.3 million for the land. Tennessee Rep. Steve McDaniel, who has been actively promoting the project, says the new land will be planted in cotton, in keeping with its wartime use. For more information on the battle and preservation efforts in Tennessee, visit parkerscrossroads.com.

Feds Save Fort

Fort Monroe, the moated bastion strategically situated at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, was deactivated and officially transferred to the state of Virginia in September 2011. The fort served as a refuge for contraband slaves during the conflict and became former Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ prison for two years following the war’s end. Today you can still visit the cell where Davis was imprisoned, part of the Casemate Museum (call 757-727-3391 for more info).

Ever since 2005, when the property—including 170 historic buildings, a 332-slip marina and eight miles of waterfront—was first placed on the federal government’s closure list, the Commonwealth had been preparing to accept responsibility for the site. But at public meetings held on the fort’s future, opinion was divided on how it could best be used, with many hoping to see it become a national park rather than being developed. In late October the suspense ended: It was announced that Fort Monroe will be designated a national monument under the Antiquities Act—a move that was characterized by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (quoted in the Virginian-Pilot)—as a “huge economic opportunity for southern Virginia.”

Virginia History Textbook Still a Mess

Would you attend the “United States Navel Academy”? Probably not, unless you were an orange, but that misspelling appears in the updated version of Our Virginia: Past and Present, the fourth-grade social studies text that originally claimed ”thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson”. The supposedly corrected version still contains numerous errors. George Mason University associate professor of history Zachary Schrag has found “dubious quotations, misleading images and maps depicting inaccurate borders” in the revised text, which had been approved by the Commonwealth’s Board of Education.

 

Originally published in the February 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.