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Statistical Analysis Raises Civil War Death Count By 20% 139

Posted by Soulskill
from the violence-of-math dept.
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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Statistical Analysis Raises Civil War Death Count By 20%

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  • J.D. Hacker (Score:2, Funny)

    by aglider (2435074)

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

  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @06:50AM (#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.

    • by u38cg (607297) <calum@callingthetune.co.uk> on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @07:52AM (#39642381) Homepage
      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.
    • by HBI (604924) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (enidarapk)> on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @08:01AM (#39642419) Homepage Journal

      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.

      • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @09:34AM (#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.
        • by wfolta (603698) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @10:30AM (#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 ...".

          • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @10:50AM (#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.

            • 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.

              As I recall it, the details are even more interesting. Bomber crews did get safer with more experience, until the Luftwaffe fielded Schräge Musik. After that, experience didn't matter (as much) any more. In fact, after that getting rid of defensive armaments (and the associated weight and personell, saving even more weight) would have been a net positive. But Bomber command was reluctant to do that, and I can't say I very much blame them. There's also the morale factor to take into account, and the ana

          • by HBI (604924)

            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.

          • by JoeRobe (207552)

            Would they be able to use other, more modern wars/conflicts with more reliable numbers to test the same statistical analysis? For example, we know how many Americans died during, say, WWII better than during the U.S. Civil War. Would they be able to reproduce those numbers for WWII using their census-based analysis? Immigration/Emigration rates would be different, but they should be able to account for it in the same way they accounted for it in the 1860 timeframe. If they don't get it right for the 194

            • by HBI (604924)

              Too much has changed over the course of 80 years for it to be a useful comparison. Stagecoaches to passenger trains to buses. You really need solid data for 1860s America to draw any kind of meaningful result, and that's the one thing we don't have.

              The migrations and mass immigration of the 1800s would wreak havoc with any kind of analysis, war or no. The practice of purchasing substitutes made a mess of things. Then you have voluntary or involuntary 'local recruitment', something like the impressment o

        • by HBI (604924)

          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 ver

        • by khallow (566160)

          Well, you are entitled to your opinion.

          As you are too.

          But as the analysis did its best to allow for immigration and emigration

          We need to remember here that the "best" is pretty bad. The "Great Man" theory at least has the virtue of providing an entertaining and engaging story, something which does have modest scientific value.

          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.

          In other words, if you know vast amounts of information about the regions and peoples who experienced a conflict, then you can come up with useful models. Such information density doesn't exist for most historical conflicts. The infrastructure to carry out such detailed data collection would be

    • 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

  • Either way (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Andtalath (1074376)

    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: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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 (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Vaphell (1489021) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @07:41AM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by stud9920 (236753)

          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

        • Re:Either way (Score:4, Interesting)

          by lacaprup (1652025) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @09:03AM (#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. http://www.amazon.com/What-This-Cruel-War-Over/dp/0307277321/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334149324&sr=1-1 [amazon.com] http://www.amazon.com/Race-Reunion-Civil-American-Memory/dp/0674008197/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334149363&sr=1-1 [amazon.com] http://www.amazon.com/Causes-Won-Lost-Forgotten-Hollywood/dp/0807832065/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334149385&sr=1-1 [amazon.com] http://www.amazon.com/Myth-Lost-Cause-Civil-History/dp/0253222664/ref=pd_sim_b_1 [amazon.com] Any of these books will enlighten you.
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            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

            • by rhsanborn (773855)
              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.
              • by jedidiah (1196)

                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.

                • 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.
          • by Nidi62 (1525137)
            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 Stat
            • by jedidiah (1196)

              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.

            • by Teancum (67324)

              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

            • by lacaprup (1652025)

              You realize that all of Southern society was based on the hierarchical structure that was underpinned by slavery? There's a very good reason why there was never the amount class-based animosity in the South that should accompany a society with such an enormous disparity between rich and poor... a society with zero middle class. Slavery! Every white man - no matter how poor he was - knew he was still good enough to own another human being (whether he had the means to or not), and that he was far superior

        • Slavery was already on its way out, because slaves have low productivity and trained and motivated workers provided more profits despite wage cost.

          This argument gets made a lot, but there really isn't any evidence for it. If you look at census data [tripod.com], the number of slaves went up at every census through 1860. The number of slaves increased by almost 60% from 1840 to 1860. That doesn't look like a dying system. And then sharecropping, which was in many respects an extension of slavery, survived in much of the South until the second half of the 20th century. There's no reason to think that slavery wouldn't have survived a very long time after 1865 had the

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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 i

    • 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 (Score:5, Informative)

        by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot&hackish,org> on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @07:35AM (#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" [yale.edu], 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.

        • by jtseng (4054)

          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 mon

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

            Oh but they did. Only about (what 1/4) of the southern population could afford to keep slaves, so the majority, esp. the bulk of the white southern forces didn't have any slaves. There was plenty of complaints from soldiers about having to fight for "their niggers", i.e. "their" refering to the richer plantation owning strata of southern society.

            That's of course not to say that they were against slavery as such, just miffed at having to die to fight the "mans" war.

        • 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).

          Th

          • (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.

            • Exactly, the "anaconda plan" set out to prevent both exports from the south and import to it. And the British seriously considered intervention to protect their access to cotton. Which was a very important crop in mercantile Brittain (the industrial revolution was to a large part the textile industrial revolution).

              But the slavery issue, together with success in growing (lower quality) cotton in Egypt later kept them out. And that sealed the fate of the south.

    • 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.
    • 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
    • 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 did

      • 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.

      • 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 rathe

        • by jedidiah (1196)

          > 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 Fugit

        • by fuzznutz (789413)

          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.

          Shelby Foote put it best in Ken Burns' Civil War Mini-Series: Before the war we said The United States are. After the Civil was we say the United States is. It made us an "is." People don't realize how significant a chan

      • by fuzznutz (789413)

        [...]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.

        So sayeth the judicial branch of the same government that the South wished to depart. History (and the rules) are written by the victors.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947)

      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 not

      • The Depression of the 1930s would not have been the "Great Depression" without FDR, although Hoover certainly contributed. Although party is a fair indicator, it's governing philosophy that has the most effect, and both Hoover and FDR were "progressives".

        To some extent, a history written by people alive when the history happened suffers from being politicized and too anecdotal. The historian can't see the forest for the trees. As time goes by, more data becomes available, including memoirs of critical playe

        • by PopeRatzo (965947)

          To some extent, a history written by people alive when the history happened suffers from being politicized and too anecdotal.

          As opposed to current revisionist history, which can only be politicized.

          I'm not even talking about first-person accounts. Just that after everybody who actually lived during an era is dead, there's nobody to call bullshit when some right-wing think tanker writes a book saying that "FDR caused a Great Depression". And my favorite: "Government spending didn't get us out of the Grea

    • 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 anythi

      • If you believe everyone has a right to vote, then none of the Northern states had legitimate government either, since they didn't let women vote.

        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.

        And the South correctly recognized that any system that prevented new slave states from coming into being would eventually result in the abolishment of slavery. Since abolition would destroy the economy of the South, they decided not to wait until the North had an even larger lead but instead gambled that the North would leave them alone. They were wrong.

        • abolition would destroy the economy of the South

          That's what they believed, but it's not true. Free workers have been repeatedly shown to be more productive than slaves. Slaves, particularly field workers, had no incentive to be any more productive than needed to avoid punishment.

          • Free workers also don't choose to stay and grow cotton (or sugar cane, if you want to generalize this to the rest of the Americas) at the kind of wages that allow cotton to be sold profitably, which is a major part of why the Great Migration occurred. Poorly productive slaves are still far more productive than anyone who isn't there.
        • If you believe everyone has a right to vote, then none of the Northern states had legitimate government either, since they didn't let women vote.

          In general I would agree that no government is legitimate unless almost every adult it actually governs can vote for it. Which means that nobody had a legitimate government before 1850, and legitimate governments weren't really the norm even in the West until the 1960s ended US Segregation and European Imperialism.

          In this situation I'm discussing the relative legitimacy of a specific decision. If the South had had a government that allowed blacks to vote there's no way they would have seceded, which means t

  • 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).
    • by couchslug (175151)

      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.

      • There were a lot of textile mills up North that wanted that cotton. Who would you put in place to harvest it?
      • For as long as we have reliable history (about 2500 years in the West) it has not been common for rebels to be extirpated. Kill off troops and rebel leaders, sure, but what's the point of wiping out a largely indifferent populace? Subject states (common in Greece, for instance) could provide no tribute if they were all dead.
  • Count still too low? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nidi62 (1525137) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @07:08AM (#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.

    • by u38cg (607297) <calum@callingthetune.co.uk> on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @07:55AM (#39642397) Homepage
      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.
    • Not to mention towns raised & civilians killed.
      • Not to mention towns raised & civilians killed.

        "Raised"?

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

    • 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

    • 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

      • Try the Thirty Years' War.
        • by redelm (54142)
          The Thirty Years was was undeniably nasty, with high bodycount (much from disease). However, most of the harm done to civilians was a result of the "self-financing" [looting] nature of the regiments involved.

          Had the leaders in 30yW been able to capture territory with less destruction, they would have. The US Civil War AFAICS is the first time the thugs had more than a wink-and-a-nod "boys will be boys" tolerence, but strategic, systematic, official orders to burn.

    • by T.E.D. (34228)

      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

      I can't see why that would be. The "differing economic systems" were a slave economy and a free economy, and the "differing beliefs in government" bascially boiled down to whether residents of free states should be allowed enough theoretical political power to stop slavery in slave states. Feel free to talk about individual soldiers all you want, it doesn't change what the war was about.

  • 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 po

  • by bob_jordan (39836) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @07:31AM (#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.

    Bob.

    • 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

  • 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.

    • by HBI (604924)

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

  • by OzPeter (195038) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @07:48AM (#39642361)

    Just the other week: Richmond woman finds Civil War-era cannonball in her garden [washingtonpost.com] (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 [foxnews.com]
     

  • 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.

    • 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 an
      • by tp1024 (2409684)

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

  • Wait for it, he will.

Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.

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