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Statistical Analysis Raises Civil War Death Count By 20%

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the violence-of-math dept.

Math 139

Hugh Pickens writes "For more than a century, it has been accepted that about 620,000 Americans died in the the bloodiest, most devastating conflict in American history. But now, BBC reports that historian J. David Hacker has used sophisticated statistical software to determine the war's death toll and found that civil war dead may have been undercounted by as many as 130,000. Hacker began by taking digitized samples from the decennial census counts taken from 1850-1880. Using statistical package SPSS, Hacker counted the number of native-born white men of military age in 1860 and determined how many of that group were still alive in 1870 and compared that survival rate with the survival rates of the men of the same ages from 1850-1860, and from 1870-1880 — the 10-year census periods before and after the Civil War. The calculations yielded the number of 'excess' deaths of military-age men between 1860-1870 — the number who died in the war or in the five subsequent years from causes related to the war. Hacker's findings, published in the December 2011 issue of Civil War History, have been endorsed by some of the leading historians of the conflict. 'The difference between the two estimates is large enough to change the way we look at the war,' writes Hacker. 'The war touched more lives and communities more deeply than we thought, and thus shaped the course of the ensuing decades of American history in ways we have not yet fully grasped. True, the war was terrible in either case. But just how terrible, and just how extensive its consequences, can only be known when we have a better count of the Civil War dead.'"

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J.D. Hacker (1, Funny)

aglider (2435074) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642095)

He has a nice name, indeed. Sounds like "John Doe Hacker".

Re:J.D. Hacker (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642193)

I can see the headlines now: "Hacker increases war casualties by 130 000"

And so history becomes a science (5, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642107)

History seems to be benefiting from a new generation of numerate historians. It was an earlier computer analysis of the accounts of the British Royal Navy that showed that for many years it was the most expensive arm of government, and how important its financing was as a cause of the English Civil Wars. (I'm sure there's a lot more like this going on but this happens to be my period of interest.)

I'd like to see the same analysis applied to WW2 and Vietnam, especially the excess fatalities for 5 years after the wars. I am pretty sure the real costs of wars are systematically concealed by governments.

Re:And so history becomes a science (4, Insightful)

u38cg (607297) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642381)

I think it would be fairer to say systematically misunderstood. As soon as any project becomes even moderately complex, understanding causes of loss can become difficult.

Re:And so history becomes a science (4, Insightful)

HBI (604924) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642419)

I actually dislike this kind of numeric analysis. I don't think it is appropriate for history. So there are 'missing people' from the 1860s...those missing people could easily have gone to Canada or Mexico. They could have emigrated to Europe. They could have headed out West and been out of touch with US authorities for years at a time, missing censuses and the like. They certainly had motivation to flee...there was a huge war with drafts on both sides going on, why not head out?

This study is certainly using census data, with all of its warts and flaws.

Numerical analysis not appropriate? (4, Insightful)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643187)

Well, you are entitled to your opinion. But as the analysis did its best to allow for immigration and emigration, and did comparisons with other periods, your argument needs a bit more beef than "dislike". In my own field of interest, naval history, things like manning levels, pay rates, construction, weights of shot, water capacity, access to navigational equipment and the like turn out to be far better predictors of outcomes than the "Great Man" ideas of historians of the past. The outcome of the Battle of Britain was almost entirely determined by engineering factors - radar, and the fact that the British fighters were developed a little later than the German ones and so benefited from better engineering. The massacres in Rwanda and El Salvador can be better understood by analysing population density, land use and economic power than by speculation over tribal or political conflict. Proper statistical analysis of history - not numeric analysis, whatever that is - is not only illuminating in itself but could eventually give models with predictive power.

Re:Numerical analysis not appropriate? (4, Insightful)

wfolta (603698) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643881)

Yes, it appears that the study did a reasonable job, and its findings jibe with the opinions of many historians that deaths were undercounted.

At the same time, a one-off historical event is not quite the same as a physics experiment, or chemistry, or even psychology. Exactly what other time period or event could you compare the Civil War to in order to estimate war-time emigration/immigration rates? Doesn't seem like you can control very well for that. Considering the enormity of 600,000 dying, the scorched-earth tactics of the Union, draft riots, etc, I doubt that there really is a comparable, well-documented period to be found.

Also, I can't find the actual article, but the press didn't report any error margins, which might in fact be huge. (Not even sure how accurate those estimates would be.) If you know anything about statistics, a number with no error margins (confidence intervals, whatever you call them) is meaningless.

The fact that the press talks about a "sophisticated statistics package" is a red flag, but it may be due to reporters and not the actual study. (You can easily obtain, for free, a statistical package that can do whatever calculations they did. It's not the package that matters, it's the skill of the analyst.)

Yes, statistics and modeling can be useful in any field. But your unbridled enthusiasm isn't warranted. As you point out, in the past historians have had pet theories that were essentially Appeals to Authority (i.e. "I'm a famous historian and this is what I think"), but you have to be careful of the other side of the Appeal to Authority coin: "I used a sophisticated statistics tool to prove ...".

But your unbridled enthusiasm (3, Insightful)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644113)

Straw man? I was responding to someone who objects to statistical analysis on the highly logical grounds that (s)he "dislikes" it and thinks it "inappropriate", and was trying to put the other side a bit.

I think it was Jay Gould (and if not I apologise to his shade) who observed that the usual distinction between "hard" and "soft" science is completely backward. Physics advanced faster than chemistry, and chemistry faster than biology, because in fact it is physics that is "not-hard", and especially the social sciences and economics that are very hard indeed. We had a model of dynamics that was "good enough" by 1700AD, but the causes of infectious diseases wouldn't be understood for roughly another 150 years. (We've just seen what happens when a load of bankers think physicists are capable of writing financial models).

However, as the originators of CERN would probably agree, because something is difficult is not a reason not to try it.

In my own experience, most of the people who object to statistical modeling do so because the results confound cherished beliefs. For instance, the arts graduates who run the British Home Office despise statistics because so many studies have shown that their approaches to crime don't work, and don't want to know about medical and psychological studies of the effects of various drugs because the results do not suit the agenda of the Daily Mail and the drinks companies. During WW2, the High Command of the RAF had a statistical wing that was demonstrating that (a) carpet bombing was a failure and (b) air crews did not become safer with experience. So what did they do? Ignored them, of course. But that is all the more reason why they should be done, and done as rigorously as possible.

Re:Numerical analysis not appropriate? (1)

HBI (604924) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644353)

The article mentioned some error margins. They were large, and could have accommodated the 600k original figure as well as a much larger 850k count. They cut it right down the middle, pretty much.

Re:Numerical analysis not appropriate? (1)

HBI (604924) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644331)

The data is bad. They know it's bad. I know it's bad. You know it's bad. No one can offer an argument that the immigration, emigration or census figures from the 19th century are anything but a spotty guess as to what was really going on. It's the same darned reason that the military records aren't useful in this regard: they were inaccurate, miscounting who was involved in battle and who was wounded and died. This caused a lot of trouble after the war when pensions were being spread around to the very old. Quantifying that you were a veteran involved witness reports.

Doing statistical analysis on bad data produces an ambiguous result. There's no real arguing with that. The historians in question want the number to be higher. A bigger body count makes for a 'more wrenching' experience. I note the guys they quote generally have Civil War related publications. I'm sure there's a fiscal motive for them to agree. I just think the whole thing is full of baloney.

Re:And so history becomes a science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39643329)

Well yes, that is how the historians feel. On this site people are supposed to understand science and the usefulness of mathematical analysis. In particular, immigration and emigration can also be quantified. After statistical analysis shows that there are 130000 missing people, you can then again apply historical methods to find evidence for or against the idea. If you didn't perform the statistical analysis, you would be essentially throwing away one source of good information and that would simply be bad research.

Re:And so history becomes a science (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643671)

Historians already had a good grasp of the scope and impact of the events under discussion. This is one of those things that sounds really exciting to a layman but is much less of a surprise to those that actually study the field.

Re:And so history becomes a science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39644063)

I actually dislike this kind of numeric analysis....

That, in essence is why ideology is for idiots. "Wall, if it ain't true, By God, it otter be!"

Re:And so history becomes a science (1)

HBI (604924) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644263)

The data is known to be bad. You're the idiot.

Re:And so history becomes a science (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642923)

In France, under the "Loi Gayssot" it is illegal to do so for WWII.

You know, we might suddenly realize there was not 6 millions jews killed during the WWII...and we might stop eating their emotional crap about it which would have consequences.

No, in France there is no way for a goy (an animal non jew) to question anything about WWII in terms of casualties.
The law even forbids investigating the camps to assert and research how they actually used the gaz.

In France, we make laws so that you have to accept the official version. If you don't and speak out, you will go to jail pay a fine and most of all you will be tagged as an antisemite which is the worst (and most common) political insult.

Re:And so history becomes a science (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643569)

So are you saying it was a different number of people murdered?

Would it realistically make any difference if it were 1 million or 10 million instead of 6 million? I mean, no matter how you look at it, unless you simply deny the camps existing at all, a huge number of people were killed.

Go West young man (1)

Vlad_the_Inhaler (32958) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644883)

Lets take Vietnam. I think we can assume the figures for US soldiers are reasonably accurate, but the figures for Vietnamese killed are probably straight plain fiction.
WW2 will be similar but on a much larger scale. The Nazis kept fairly exact records but destroyed a lot of them towards the end to hide their culpability.

Now back to the Civil War.
The following states were admitted to the Union after 1870 and it's census.
1870's - Colorado
1889's - the Dakotas, Montana, Washington
1890's - Idaho, Wyoming, Utah
1900's - Oklahoma
1910's - New Mexico, Arizona.
All of these were Territories before they schieved statehood (Oklahoma included 'Indian Territory'). Did the Census include Territories? Can we assume that more men that women would have been prepared to take that step? To simply head out west?
The 1870 Census is known to have missed a large number of people, particularly in New York and Pennsylvania. The authors tried to take that into account by using the number of women as a baseline but there still has to be a lot of guesswork involved.

Either way (2, Insightful)

Andtalath (1074376) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642109)

Shitloads died.
Let's focus on why it happened and how to prevent things like it to happen again.

Like, for instance, the government not being hellbent on forcing it's will above the states.

Not even written like an american, but as a person who saw what government trying to force it's will down upon unwilling states resulted in.

And, yeah, the same thing is happening right now, both in Europe and in USA.

Re:Either way (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642169)

Shitloads died.
Let's focus on why it happened and how to prevent things like it to happen again.

Like, for instance, the government not being hellbent on forcing it's will above the states.

Not even written like an american, but as a person who saw what government trying to force it's will down upon unwilling states resulted in.

And, yeah, the same thing is happening right now, both in Europe and in USA.

Some things are worth "being hellbent on".

Like eliminating slavery.

And all you "state's rights" morons can crawl back down into your hole. Because the "state's right" in question was the state's right to allow its citizens to own slaves.

Re:Either way (4, Interesting)

Vaphell (1489021) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642305)

Some things are worth "being hellbent on".
Like eliminating slavery.

only if you are naive and believe such a simplistic bullshit. WMD in Iraq anyone? Omg nukes in Iran? Terrorists and pedophiles coming for your first born? It's all propaganda.
Slavery was already on its way out, because slaves have low productivity and trained and motivated workers provided more profits despite wage cost.

I guess it's easy for average Murrican to dismiss criticism of the Civil War as a fringe talk after decades of brainwashing and all those profits reaped thanks to the position of global hegemony. Everybody likes to be the best and the forced unity made that possible.
Look at former Soviet union. Bitchslapped baltic states and crushed internal opposition, victor in WW2 and top2 position from then on for few decades to come. It was a horrible country yet many citizens have the nostalgia for the global superpower times. I guess for your average peon it was well worth it to sacrifice millions for greater good. FFF that.

The progress in social matters is slowed down when the political game is played at the top levels. If social issues were handled more locally (eg at the state level) the progressive regions would be long done with gay marriages with child adoption, marijuana and shit, and at the same time people in Backwardsville would be able to enjoy their closemindedness. Yes, it would suck for people with 'problems' born in the wrong part of the country, but with 50 states you would have an option to move to likeminded area.
One-size-fits-all solutions forced by the government require every interest group from every corner of the country to weigh in in order not to lose and that leads to gridlock, wartime rhetoric and deep divides across the society. That slows down the progress and makes people feel opressed by 'them' whoever that might be.

Re:Either way (3, Insightful)

stud9920 (236753) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642757)

Yes, it would suck for people with 'problems' born in the wrong part of the country, but with 50 states you would have an option to move to likeminded area.

*cough* Dredd Scott
*cough* Fugitive Slave Act
This being said, the South seceded BEFORE any of the state's rights were infringed, and they attacked Fort Sumter where, objectively, there were plenty diplomatic solutions available before firing a single cannonball. And anyway, it was not intended at that stage to abolish slavery; this only came as a way to wage total war two years later.

Re:Either way (4, Interesting)

lacaprup (1652025) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642887)

Good lord, I see we have a Lost Cause adherent here. Try reading the records from the seccession conventions of any of the Southern states. How about Alexander Stevens' Cornerstone Speech? State's rights was a myth made up by ex-Confederates AFTER the war was over. Men like Jubal Early, P.G.T. Beauregard, Alexander Stevens and Jefferson Davis made it their duty after the war to totally obscure slavery's role what the confederacy stood for. Literally, hundreds of historians have destroyed the foolish notion of the war for state's rights. [] [] [] [] Any of these books will enlighten you.

Re:Either way (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642973)

Yes. It was all about slavery:

"If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union."

--Abraham Lincoln

Re:Either way (1)

rhsanborn (773855) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643377)

Woosh, you missed the point. Lincoln didn't fight necessarily for slavery. But the South initiated the war and seceded explicitly so that it could continue to own slaves.

Re:Either way (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643723)

The whole slavery thing was a moral crusade for only a vanishingly small portion of the North. Most people were interested in preserving the Union and couldn't care less about slavery or slaves. Initially, Union commanders tried to "make nice" with the Confederacy and were under the misguided hope that the old status quo could be reinstated. Runaway slaves were even returned to their masters.

"freeing the slaves" was as much a military tactic as anything else.

Indeed: it had been tested already (2)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644211)

During the American wars with Britain, the Royal Navy had a well publicised policy of freeing captured slaves on American ships, thus encouraging them to mutiny on one hand, and making them very determined not to allow their new ships to fall into American hands on the other.

Re:Either way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39643399)

The Union could not exist with slavery, it was a conflict that needed to be solved at the founding of the nation, and the founding fathers knew it. But they knew they needed to be united in order to survive, and the believed that the problem could, and would, be solved later when the states united would be strong enough to withstand the conflict.

States rights and all the other non-slavery causes of the civil war are just spokes on a wheel, and the hub of that wheel is slavery. Without slavery, there wouldn't have been a war.

Re:Either way (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643275)

You do realize that most Southerners did not own slaves, and that of those that did, most only owned 1? Hell, most of them probably never even saw a black person, much like most in the North never had. The soldiers weren't fighting for slavery. They were fighting for their family, their country. Robert E Lee didn't turn down the offer to command the Union Army because he believed in slavery. He did it becuase he felt his loyalties lied more with his home state of Virginia than it did to the United States. For most Southerners their home was their state, not their country. The Civil War was about different economic and political systems, period. If the war was about slavery, then why did Lincoln only free the slaves in the Southern states and not the border Union states? The issue of slavery was a political tool, nothing more.

Re:Either way (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643749)

So that means that the Fire Eaters dragged everyone into their fight. That doesn't mean that the fight wasn't ultimately about preserving the Fire Eater's notion of the status quo.

Re:Either way (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644165)

Slavery was undoubtedly a significant issue with the politics of 1860, and it was the election of Abraham Lincoln from a political party whose primary tenant and justification for existence was to promote the abolition of slaves throughout America that provided the spark which started the U.S. Civil War. It seems doubtful that South Carolina would have seceded had a Democrat been elected in 1860, but that is alternate time line stuff that we simply won't know what would have happened. Then again, Lincoln didn't even get the majority of the popular vote in 1860... just under 40% of the vote in fact.

I agree that there were people in the Confederate Army like Robert E. Lee who were loyal to the government of the state from which they were from, and that there certainly were many other factors too. But the point remains that slavery was the big issue, and in the Articles of Secession by South Carolina [] , slavery is perhaps the most prominent of the several reasons for justification the secession from the federal union. BTW, I love this document as it does address a number of issues in American constitutional law that hasn't really been resolved either legislatively or judicially and in particular points out some glaring weaknesses in the American federal constitution. While not named explicitly in the document, it also mentions that the election of Abraham Lincoln was another chief reason for secession because it was felt that they as citizens of South Carolina would no longer be capable of exercising their "rights" to hold slaves.

Re:14th amendment was a product of the civil war (1)

American Patent Guy (653432) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643923)

Maybe "slavery" was on the way out, but racial injustice certainly wasn't.

This is a part of the 14th amendment: "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws". Without the civil war the states could march in and take whatever they wanted from lesser-privileged classes, and it was all legally legitimate.

Hundreds of thousands died in the Civil War, but far more future lives would have been ruined without the conflict!

Re:Either way (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642321)

Oversimplifying does nobody any good.

The right they were notionally fighting for was the right to secede.

They wanted to secede for reasons pertaining to slavery, but not because the North was going to abolish slavery (at that point, they didn't have the numbers in Congress to do so); it was because new territories were being permitted to self-determine whether to be slave or free -- whereas the South wanted a forced one-for-one, to keep free states from getting the upper hand in Congress. In reality, this is obviously an anti-states'-rights position. (Naturally, it says something about the flimsiness of one's justifications when the only way to have people not oppose you is to forcibly impose your supposedly reasonable system on them from the beginning...)

So, when you look at the whole picture, instead of your one-sentence simplification, the South wasn't principally motivated by a States' Rights ideal, and it's as unreasonable to hold their taint against States' Rights (including the right to secede), as to hold, say, Nixon against Democracy. In both cases, people with evil motives seized whatever justification was convenient to promote their evil ends.

Re:Either way (4, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642399)

Oversimplifying does nobody any good.

That's not entirely true.

States Right (1)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644357)

As the other commenter said, this is so simplistic.

Some psychopath writes a book or some racist writes a newspaper article inciting people to kill. Let's say there's no right to freedom of the press.

What? The First amendment. Well, there's a 10th amendment guaranteeing states rights, but that's now invalid because of a group of states were being immoral (even though let's forget that slavery was pretty prevalent throughout human history so we have the advantage of looking back at progress). So using your logic, I hereby declare there is no freedom of speech and of the press.

Re:Either way (0)

kqs (1038910) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642175)

Yes, it was truly a tragedy that the federal government felt that owning human beings was wrong. If only they had let the southern states keep their own slavery policies.

There are some points you can make in favor of states rights, but calling the civil war a tragedy isn't likely to help you.


Re:Either way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642327)

Yes, it was truly a tragedy that the federal government felt that owning human beings was wrong.

So why didn't they just repeal the Fugitive Slave Acts so any slave who reached a non-slave state would be free?

Re:Either way (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642509)

They passed the Fugitive Slave Acts in the first place to try and convince the South not to secede. It didn't work.

Why don't you actually read what the Confederates said their reasons were? They didn't beat around the bush on this one. They weren't ashamed of the fact that their government was founded on human slavery, the way modern Confederate apologists are.

Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.

That was Alexander Stephens, vice president of the CSA.

Re:Either way (1)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642667)

Stop perpetuating the lie the War of Northern Aggression was anything more than tangentially related to slavery. slavery ending was a good thing to come out of the war but it was not why it was fought, and it would have probably happened within another couple decades anyway.

If the Civil War was about slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation would have been issued day one. The war was about Federal power, and the slavery issues was pulled into gain the needed political support of abolitionists and no other reason.

Re:Either way (1)

kqs (1038910) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643453)

It was certainly about federal power. The federal government (controlled by the northern states) wanted to end slavery and the southern states wanted to continue it. It was also about economics; northern factories during the industrial revolution needed skilled workers, while southern agriculture benefited from massive cheap unskilled labor. And many other issues, most of which came down to the same root cause. Different regions always have different issues and goals, then and now. But so far the only difference which caused a massive secession was slavery, and arguing for another primary cause is historical revisionism.

Re:Either way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39644445)

Certain the Civil War was fought over the issue of States Rights. The right to do what? Keep slaves.

Before the war there was slavery, after the war there was not. And as Lincoln said to Harriet Beecher Stowe: "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."

It is impossible to justify the actions of your slave keeping ancestors by declaring the war to be about Federal power.

Re:Either way (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644841)

it would have probably happened within another couple decades anyway

Morally, you're probably right. I believe that Brazil was the last major country to outlaw slavery, in 1888. Economically, though? Slavery would have continued until mechanization around WW2.

Re:Either way (1)

damienl451 (841528) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642199)

Indeed, it's not as if it had anything to do with slavery. It was all about states' rights! Of course, the first thing the Confederacy did was make the preservation of slavery a constitutional mandate. Doesn't sound much like a resounding proclamation of states' rights to me.

Re:Either way (4, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642277)

Yeah, that's one of the arguments I've found particularly odd, because it's not like others are putting words in the Confederates' mouths. The states each wrote declarations explaining why they seceded, which we can read to gain some insight into their stated reasons for leaving the union.

For example, in the "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union" [] , South Carolina's government makes it clear that their secession is pretty much entirely motivated by a desire to protect slavery from possibly being abolished.

Re:Either way (2)

jtseng (4054) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642993)

IANAH, but it's been something I've thought about in the context of our current political climate. We've been taught in school that the casus belli was because of either slavery or "states' rights". Either way, doesn't that mean that the white soldiers of the South were fighting to protect a system that keeps wealth and money in the hands of a few wealthy plantation owners and keeps them down by owning slaves and keeping labor wages down? And this could also be an example of the people with power and money buying off their politicians, having them fight on their behalf for "states' rights." At the end of the day, these poor people fought for a system that kept them (and the slaves) down, and that war destroyed their farms once it was over (assuming they survived and weren't maimed), all in the name of Southern tradition.

I guess there will always be those who don't think for themselves.

Re:Either way (1)

Peter Trepan (572016) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643823)

And there will always be those who do. My mother wrote a book on the civil war, and in the course of her research she found a diary of a Union soldier who quartered his soldiers on the farm of a guy who told them his theory about how the war existed to protect the interests of a wealthy few at the expense of ordinary people.

Re:Either way (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644881)

Ah, but it recruited them by keeping them higher in status than the slaves. After the war, they had to compete with the former slaves on much more equal terms. (This prospect also frightened a lot of northern states.)

Re:Either way (2)

mdarksbane (587589) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644343)

It is sort of an interesting problem of analysis. Because slavery was definitely at the core of everything. Southern states seceded because of concerns that their slavery (and major industry) would be banned. As you point out, they said so themselves. But then, the Union never needed to invade Virginia. They could have let the South go fail at being a country on their own (which they probably would have, given a general lack of industry, low population, and an economy dependent on slave labor cash crops).

The thing is, the Army of the Potomac did not march into Virginia because they wanted to free the slaves. They marched to keep the Southern states under Federal control. And that's what turned this whole mess into a massive war instead of a couple skirmishes followed by a treaty. Yes, the South fired on Fort Sumter first - a Fort sitting right in the bay of one of their major cities, and an attack which produced no casualties.

In that light, it was a state's rights issue - did the states have the right to withdraw as political units from the US Government.

So, it's a mistake to say it wasn't about slavery... but it's also a mistake to tell the story the way I was taught in grade school - that the Union army had to punish the South for the evils of slavery, and make everyone free. Even the Emancipation Proclamation was mostly a political move to keep Britain from throwing military aid to the South.

Re:Either way (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644939)

(which they probably would have, given a general lack of industry, low population, and an economy dependent on slave labor cash crops)

Probably not until around WW2, when mechanization really took hold in agriculture. In 1850, Mississippi was the richest state in the Union.

Re:Either way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39644663)

Reading those things gives insight, but it's not complete: would you trust President Bush's March 2003 address on why we invaded Iraq to give an accurate picture of the full motivations in invading Iraq?

Re:Either way (1)

kj_kabaje (1241696) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642231)

Before anyone flames this guy too much,... looking at his comment history, he is Swedish. His comment may have roots in a teacher telling him that the Civil War really was just about "states rights". It could also be a language thing--many of his other comments have been thoughtful. This one is just ill-informed.

Re:Either way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642265)

So, following that logic, I guess the lesson learned from WWII was "give the Nazi's whatever they want". Seriously, read a fucking history book or shut your fucking mouth.

Re:Either way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39643267)

The GP poster is from Sweden. I believe their national tactic in WWII was to give the Nazis whatever they wanted.

Oh, I'm sorry, was that an oversimplification from some foreigner who doesn't understand the nuances of what actually happened? How about that!

Re:Either way (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642495)

So You support slavery?
Ok kidding aside. If we are leading up to a Civil war, I don't see a lot of the warning signs. Preceding the Civil War there was a lot of work to preserve the balance, Oh a new slave state lets make a non-slave state. The reason why so many died was because in the interest of preserving the peace they were actually creating battle lines and giving the other side as much of an equal advantage as the other.
The hidden value in Democracy, is in general who you choose to lead will have the largest number of the population behind him, thus his army/supporters is bigger then his opponent.
Before the Civil War, each side was actually trying to prevent war, so they manipulated democracy as to keep a fare fight so When Lincoln won, there was enough support for Douglas that they figured that they could win. The issue of state rights was the calling card, but the state right that was trying to be killed was slavery which sparked the interest. I assume if there wasn't a Civil War Lincon would have probably just continued to preserve the peace and keep each side equal and then a spark may have happened with his predecessor.

Re:Either way (2)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642585)

Like, for instance, the government not being hellbent on forcing it's will above the states.

Given the language you're using, which sounds right out of a set of Confederate talking points, I assume you're not talking about the various Federal laws requiring free states extradite (or assist with the extradition) of escaped slaves to the Slave States.

...which if I recall correctly, the overturning of such laws was what lead the South to have a hissy fit and decide to quit the union over, something they didn't actually have any constitutional right to unilaterally do.

In their zeal to pretend that the Civil War was more than about Slavery, or else suffer the indignity of being very much on the wrong side, I find it unfortunate Southerners have built this myth about "States Rights" that the South was supposedly fighting for. It wasn't. The South was, clear as day, fighting for the right to impose its will on the North. If it couldn't get there through Democracy, than a standing army and secured borders were the next step.

Re:Either way (1)

groslyunderpaid (950152) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642867)

which if I recall correctly, the overturning of such laws was what lead the South to have a hissy fit and decide to quit the union over, something they didn't actually have any constitutional right to unilaterally do.

Actually, history indicates that the south seceded for various reasons. NC for example, seceded mainly because they were asked by the feds to invade SC.

Slavery actually was a state's rights issue (1)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643359)

In their zeal to pretend that the Civil War was more than about Slavery, or else suffer the indignity of being very much on the wrong side

Slavery was the primary state's rights issue. What is often lost on opponents of the Confederacy is that the issue of state's rights ultimately exposes very large questions of how different sides see the nature of the United States. Opponents of the Confederacy ultimately do not accept the proposition that the United States was founded as a federation of states, but rather treat the states like provinces that are ultimately under higher accountability to one another than what is laid out in the U.S. Constitution.

This is dangerous stuff if you are a strong supporter of democracy and self-determination. There are very few issues that could be so bright lined for being "simply in the wrong" as slavery on basis of race. Now we have pro-choicers and pro-lifers who ardently agree that it must be all or nothing. The fact is that we've now reached a point where key decisions cannot be decided at the state level and dissidents forced to simply deal with it. For example, Rick Santorum and NARAL both agree that California and Alabama should have no say in the matter. This is why we are being ripped apart culturally. The simple fact is that aside from shared language, the various regions of the United States really are not "one nation, under God, indivisible" yada yada yada anymore than Great Britain is "one nation" because the Welsh, Scots, English and Northern Irish share the same native language among the vast majority of their populations.

And you also have to remember one thing about the Fugitive Slave Act. In all matters of property, if someone feels the jurisdiction with your property you have a right to reclaim it. For example, if someone drives your car to Canada, the Canadian government is obligated (morally, if not by treaty) to facilitate its return to the rightful owner. The problem here was that few people on both sides recognized that the differences were so great with regard to slavery that it was likely not possible that the union could have been preserved except by force. One side felt slaves were property, another did not even recognize slavery. It was about as viable to be held together by peace as a political union of Athens and Sparta.

Re:Slavery actually was a state's rights issue (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643833)

> but rather treat the states like provinces

We tried that whole "confederacy" thing. It didn't work out. That's why we have a federal constitution.

That said. There are certain founding principles where were stated at the birth of the nation that are directly at odds with the idea of owning another man.

Saying that it was all about "states rights" is tremendously hypocritical. The South was not content to "live and let live". They wanted to boss around the North. That's why monstrosities like the New Fugitive Slave Act was enacted. THAT little gem is about as far away from "states rights" as you can get.

The idea that the South just wanted a quite confederacy where they could be left alone is blatant hypocrisy.

Re:Either way (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642595)

Like, for instance, the government not being hellbent on forcing it's will above the states.

That's right. The Civil War was entirely fought over states' rights.

It was over states' rights to own human beings as property, to buy and sell them on an open market, but still...

It's funny, as a casual but avid reader of history, including news accounts and commentary from the past, I have noticed a tendency that once everybody who was alive during a period is safely dead, that's when the re-writes come. I've noticed the same thing happening recently regarding the Great Depression and the New Deal, just a little bit ahead of schedule. All of a sudden, you'll read, it was the New Deal that caused the Depression and FDR just made everything worse. Of course, the Right couldn't make this case until after the people who actually lived through that time are either dead or too old to make a lot of noise. I'm sure in 80 years there will be people saying that Barack Obama caused the financial collapse of 2007 and 2008. Oh, wait. There are already people saying that.

Re:Either way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642627)

You aren't American and have no idea what you're talking about.

"States rights" don't work as a model. Name one country today that is not united at the federal level that doesn't have a load of problems as a result.

Re:Either way (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643651)

Keep in mind that 40% of the Southern population were slaves. Given that the reason all the states gave for seceding was protecting slavery, it's quite clear that the majority of the people in almost every Southern state actually opposed secession. South Carolina and Mississippi were actually majority slave at the time.

In other words if you believe that everyone has the right to vote you cannot claim any of these secession acts was legitimate.

Also note that the Federal government actually hadn't done anything when most of the states seceded. Lincoln was elected in November 1860, he took office on March 4th 1861. Seven states seceded by February 1. Only four others actually managed to secede.

Lincoln's announced plans would not have actually affected any of these state's internal policies on slavery. He wanted to ban it from the territories, not emancipate it nation-wide.

So you're wrong on all counts. The states you're talking about were inherently illegitimate because 40% of their people were slaves, and thus unable to vote. Most of them seceded not to protest any action the Union had actually taken, but to protest the actions they had convinced themselves the Union was about to take.

the South's body count shall rise again... (1)

harvey the nerd (582806) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642123)

The South was thrashed and trashed more severely than the North ever admitted. What's new?
Remember, the victors write the history books.
Damn Redleggers (artillerymen).

Re:the South's body count shall rise again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642129)

The south still believes they can win.

But that's not new either.

(i live down here now. they are actually dead serious 'the south will rise again'. it's so insane to hear in reality.)

Re:the South's body count shall rise again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642141)

Just remember, this time? We've all got shoes.

Re:the South's body count shall rise again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642359)

We'll burn it the fuck down again, too.

Re:the South's body count shall rise again... (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643065)

I find it quaint that a rebellion was suppressed in a manner which left survivors. That's a genteel way of war, which spares enemy civilians.

Count still too low? (5, Interesting)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642171)

Looking at only native-born white men of military age still really underestimates the participation and casualty levels, unless they are doing a lot of extrapolation. Remember, you had boys as young as 12 or 13 volunteering, and while they were in most cases drummers, that could still put them in the thick of the fighting, and many would have lied about their age to follow their fathers or brothers. There were women that fought as men (only a few cases are known, but there were probably more). Many immigrants were likely pressed into service as soon as they got off the boats, and a lot of them were probably not documented accurately. And lastly (and the most un-PC) there were the free blacks that fought on both sides. While most blacks fought for the North, there was a not insignificant number of free blacks that fought for the South. Of course it goes against the commonly taught narrative that the Civil War was about slavery and not a conflict between differing economic systems and beliefs in government, so this last bit is rarely mentioned, which gives a grave disservice to all those that fought. In any case, there were many demographics beyond what this latest study measured that fought in the war, and a lot of them are probably unmeasurable, so we will never know exactly how many fought and how many died, but I suspect that even this latest number is on the low side.

And for the record yes, I have a history degree (for which I wrote a major paper on the historiography of the Civil War) and have even worked in a Civil War museum, so I know what I'm talking about.

Free Blacks that Fought for the South? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642253)

there was a not insignificant number of free blacks that fought for the South.

Citation desperately needed. Blacks fought for the South but "free blacks" was a completely different identifier in the South at the time.

Re:Count still too low? (3, Insightful)

u38cg (607297) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642397)

The approach was a pretty sound one; take census counts before and afterwards, calculate the expected joiners (through aging and immigration) and leavers (through death, aging, and emigration), and then compare with the second count. We have enough knowledge to do this pretty accurately for a large population, so the death estimates should be pretty tight.

Re:Count still too low? (1)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642605)

Not to mention towns raised & civilians killed.

Re:Count still too low? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39643199)

Not to mention the thousands of immigrants, mostly Irish, who literally stepped off of one boat, were handed a signing bonus, gun, and uniform, and literally walked onto another boat going south. They weren't native-born but were indeed combatants. In counting "war dead", I think it important to count ALL lives, not just American ones.

Re:Count still too low? (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643229)

Not to mention towns raised & civilians killed.


"Yep, we'll kill all the townfolk just as soon as we get this row of houses put up!"

Re:Count still too low? (2)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643991)

There was no significant number of free blacks fighting for the South for a simple reason: the South made it illegal for free blacks to fight. While a handful joined state militia units, they weren't allowed to fight for the national army, and the militia regulations the CSA Congress passed specifically banned them from state militia service. The most prominent exception (the confusingly named Louisiana Native Guard Regiment, whose "Natives" were all black) was put on display for the papers in grand parades three times, and then abolished when Louisiana adopted the national Miltia regulations.

The magazine "Civil War Gazette" did a good blog post on this [] . Their low estimate is 6 guys actually fired their weapons in Confederate service. The highest estimate is 300. The highest estimate raised in the comments is 3%, or 15k-60k. It's unsourced, with poorly done math (29 in a regiment would be less then 3% because most regiments had 1100-1200 guys). Many others quote Frederick Douglas, who had no access to military records North or (especially not) South, was probably extrapolating any numbers he got from the aforementioned Louisiana Native Guards, and was a fairly biased source anyway. He wanted to convince the North to use black troops, which was a lot more likely to happen if the South was doing it. He stopped when the alleged black troops never appeared in battle. The rest are all "My Great-Grandpa swore he had a buddy..."

Re:Count still too low? YES -- CIVILIANS TARGETTED (1)

redelm (54142) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644233)

Looking a white men only gives military casualties. But both the Confederates (Forrest, Stuart) and the Union (Grant, Sherman) conducted operations destroying supplies, livestock and buildings.

While done early with the justification "to deprive enemy forces of required supplies", later actions were done to demoralize civilian populations (Atlanta). It is _impossible_ that civilian casualties were not thereby caused from starvation, (leading to disease) and exposure.

I regard the US Civil War as one of the most heinous in all history -- AFAICS, it is the first time since the Crusades that civilians were deliberately harmed as a matter of strategy and official policy. Civilians always get harmed in wars, but prior to this (and lipservice to this day) such harm was officially regretted.

Re:Count still too low? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39644659)

There were no black confederate soldiers, not that saw battle, anyway. And yes, I've got a degree in history, too. And a postgraduate degree in history. And I studied with civil war scholar whose primary focus and specialty was debunking the myth of black confederates.

So I call bullshit. Go on, share your primary sources on this one. You won't have any, not really.

Numbers can vary massively on what you're counting (1)

tinkerton (199273) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642229)

This is quite clear in the recent case of Iraq.

The numbers on Iraq vary hugely depending on what you're counting. At some point the estimates varied with a factor 30. The spectrum covers
- documented kills by american military.
- documented violent deaths
- statistical estimate of violent deaths
- statistical overall excess death (including increased child mortality, epidemics etc).

The first item is the one you want to use if you want to minimize blame , and you can push it a bit by keeping as few records as possible and contesting the remaining records - but the blame can actually be extended to cover the very last item. The Lancet made estimates of overall excess deaths , see []

Missing from the census != Death (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642247)

Did this analysis have any way to determine that everyone missing from the census had actually died, as opposed to leaving the country or avoiding the census to dodge the draft? At least in modern day civil wars it isn't uncommon for there to be a sizable refugee population that decides a country is too unstable/unsafe to stay in.

Re:Missing from the census != Death (1)

Gideon Wells (1412675) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642279)

Keeping in mind the West wasn't all states back then. Jesse James, as a psuedo-example, was an ex-confederate who fled west. How many others did the same after the war, from possibly both sides, looking for a new life.

Re:Missing from the census != Death (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643497)

Jesse James did not "flee west". I can find no evidence that Jesse James committed crimes further west than Kansas (a state that bordered his home state of Missouri). Most of his criminal activity was in Missouri, Iowa and Kentucky (states which neighbored Missouri). In fact, his criminal career came to an end when he led his gang two states away (northward, not westward) into Minnesota and territory that they were unfamiliar with (where the gang was pretty much wiped out by locals who were familiar with the area).
In summary, everything indicates that Jesse James lived most of his life in his home state of Missouri, except for short forays into neighboring states (and one disastrous trip a little further north).

Re:Missing from the census != Death (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644065)

The US Census is every 10 years, years ending in zero. For both sides the draft lasted from 1862-1865. So draft-dodging would not affect these numbers.

People leaving the country to serve with the Khedive in Egypt, or joining the french Foreign legion, would afect the numbers.

Not knowing says as much as knowing. (3, Interesting)

bob_jordan (39836) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642259)

Knowing how many died tells you a lot but when a society is so affected by war that you don't actually know how many died, that also tells you a lot.


Re:Not knowing says as much as knowing. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643939)

Knowing how many died tells you a lot but when a society is so affected by war that you don't actually know how many died, that also tells you a lot.

It's not that society was so effected that we don't know how many actually died... It's that they didn't have the data to know how many actually died, and that situation is independent of the war. (Which is why Hacker had to resort to statistical analysis to guesstimate a more accurate count in the first place.)
Unless you're in your seventies or older or from a third world country, you've grown up in a social environment where records were kept and scrupulously preserved. Where every citizen (or at least out to two or three nines) could be tracked from birth, through school and work to death. This wasn't true in the 1860's.
CIP - my "cousin" Jerry. Who wasn't actually my cousin... You see, one of my aunts celebrated VJ day a bit... enthusiastically, and ended up with a souvenir from a soldier boy she never saw again. Well, back then and there in rural Georgia a girl didn't have a child out of wedlock - so she was sent to a relatives farm, and nine months later my Grandma showed up at the county courthouse to register her newborn son. The clerk just asked his birthday and produced a birth certificate for J____, son of J____ and R___... and thus my cousin became my uncle. (He was even given a name starting with "J"... just like his "father" and older "brothers".) You couldn't do that today...
  Even in 1980, when my youngest brother was born at home due to a severe snowstorm, we had to wait a day until the paramedics filed their paperwork to get his birth certificate.

Maybe I'm nitpicking... (1)

bjourne (1034822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642311)

For more than a century, it has been accepted that about 620,000 Americans died in the the bloodiest, most devastating conflict in American history

But I really think that statement should be qualified with "bloodiest, most devastating conflict involving only Americans." The Indian genocide, World War II, Vietnam War and possibly even the Iraq Wars were deadlier. Non-American causalties should also be counted in body counts.

Re:Maybe I'm nitpicking... (1)

HBI (604924) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642401)

You are. "American History" is exclusionary and the people you mention aren't Americans.

So... (0)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642453)

The native Americans, on your view, weren't Americans? And Vietnam and Iraq are not part of American history? Well, that's one way round it. Would you try to justify Hitler by arguing that the German Jews "weren't Germans" and that the destruction in Russia and Poland shouldn't be included in German history?

The United States has done far less harm in its history than Germany, Russia or even China, and possibly less than Western Europe taken as a whole, but let's not pretend that American history has no external effects, or that the rise of the USA was anything other than an invasion.

Re:So... (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644191)

Many Native Americans weren't US Citizens until 1924. They were citizens of their tribe because they weren't subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal government.

Moreover very few of them died as a result of conflict with the US. They died due to the fact that they had no immunity to European diseases. We would sweep in and conquer the weakened state afterwards, but the war wasn't the cause of the disease it was the result.

It is still touching more lives and communities (2)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642361)

Just the other week: Richmond woman finds Civil War-era cannonball in her garden [] (and I have no idea as to why this was posted in the crime section)
And from a few years ago Virginia Man Killed In Civil War Cannonball Blast []

Re:It is still touching more lives and communities (1)

u38cg (607297) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642407)

My favourite trivia question: when did the last Civil War pensioner die? (trick question. There's two still alive).

Re:It is still touching more lives and communities (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642665)

I thought the last widow died in 2003? Who are the two alive?

Curse that (0)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642363)

'Northern aggression'. Read all about the spitefull greed of New Englanders in your local Jesusland high school history book.

Re:Curse that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642607)

That's funny, my New England history book called it "The Well-Deserved Ass-Whupping".

Blame Statistical Analysis? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39643255)

Did statistical analysis really raise the death count? I don't think statistical analysis is to blame for those people dying. I think they were already dead by the time somebody decided to apply statistical analysis.

Re:Blame Statistical Analysis? (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643883)

Of course you can blame statistical analysis but if it was going to be used for something really useful it should have been to look at the problems of today.

..and this relates to what? (1)

whizbang77045 (1342005) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643387)

Excuse me for wondering, but why do we care? This war ended almost 150 years ago, and all the players are long gone. As the saying goes, this is only of historical interest, and only to a very limited number of people, even then. Perhaps we should rethink the number of casualties in the Revolutionary War?

mod 0p (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39643449)

About half of the my calling. Now I thing for the same worthle5s racist? How is hear you. Also, if parts of you are

Peanuts. (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643521)

While everybody is talking about the minor squabble in the USA, during the same time there was the Taiping Rebellion in China. A mere 20 million dead followed by another 10million who died in the Dungan revolt that started during the same time.

Mainly due to "Plague and famine" (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644369)

That was in a 15 year period. Now we need to know how many people in China would typically have died from the same causes in that period. This is exactly where proper data collection and analysis is needed - to what extent was the destruction caused by the wars responsible for the civilian deaths? Were there other factors (weather patterns, for instance) involved? Was China more fragile than the United States, so that a war in which fewer died directly had a much bigger knock on effect? What similarities and differences were there with the Cultural Revolution, with a similar death rate?

Re:Mainly due to "Plague and famine" (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644495)

Some people call it famine when you surround a city with military troops without letting any food in.

Re:Peanuts. (1)

konoking127 (2141670) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644415)

Are you actually suggesting that statistical analysis should only be done on wars with the highest death count? What an utterly simplistic mind you have.

I'm pretty sure they are all dead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39643863)


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