America's most devastating war was far deadlier than textbooks say, according to a historian whose conclusions are finding support among experts.The excess is largely due to undercounted Confederate dead:
The true death toll was probably about 750,000 - 20 percent higher than the traditionally quoted figure of 620,000 - and might have been as high as 850,000, according to J. David Hacker of New York's Binghamton University.
The old estimate assumed similar death rates from disease for Union and Confederate soldiers, even though the North probably had better medical care.Hacker concedes however that the 1870 census of the South was unreliable, a factor he's tried to allow for in crunching his numbers. See also his post at the NYT "Disunion" blog.
Hacker arrived at his conclusions after studying improved census data released mostly in the last decade, the news release said.
After looking at reported male and female survival rates from 1850 to 1860, and from 1870 to 1880, he developed a baseline for typical death rates.
Then, looking at the data from 1870 - the Census after the war - he realized a lot more men were missing than the old death estimate could explain.
His new estimate suggested at least 650,000 died, and perhaps as many as 850,000.
"Roughly two out of three men who died in the war died from disease" - everything from diarrhea and measles to typhoid and malaria, Hacker said. "The war took men from all over the country and brought them all together into camps that became very filthy very quickly."