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mikecmaps
CAMARILLO CA USA
Posts: 79
Joined: 2020
Confederate civilian deaths?
12/5/2020 6:47:33 PM
Confederate civilian deaths?
The most common estimate of 50,000 has never been supported by documentation or a rational methodology given, though it is almost universally accepted. While it is virtually certain that some number of confederate civilian deaths did occur, there is no reliable number available beyond idle speculation. Just where the 50,000 value came from is unknown.
Even that relatively small number appears to be a substantial exaggeration. The war lasted about 48 months. 50,000 is more than 1,000 per month. Even small battles where 1,000 men were killed and wounded were significant enough to be remarked and carefully recorded. It is very unlikely that had 1000 civilian deaths occurred in any month that they would not have been noted in some manner.
Two major cases of union capture and destruction of important confederate cities are Atlanta, Ga and Columbia, Sc. In each case about 30-40 per cent of the city was destroyed. Yet there is no significant documentation showing any large number of civilians were killed or wounded by federal troops at either of these notable events. The Vicksburg-Jackson, Nashville-Chattanooga, Atlanta, Savanah, Carolinas and Virginia Campaigns saw large union forces invading and occupying (at least temporarily) large areas of southern states. In total these actions covered some 28,000 square miles over 2 years and exposed some 590,000-600,000 civilians to union military operations. The oft said estimate of 50,000 southern civilian deaths must be taken in context with the total population actually exposed. Overall the estimate is about one half of one percent of the total confederate population. It is about 9% of the 600,000 exposed population. That is nearly twenty times the overall estimate. It does not seem plausible that had a concentrated area experienced a 20 times loss rate, that no substantial record would have been made or remain.
A further example is the 1864 Sheridan raid in the Shenandoah Valley. Sheridan’s report indicates he may have destroyed as much as 75% of the wheat crop from Winchester to Staunton the main target areas of the raid. About 1 in 4 livestock were reported destroyed. Yet any account of a large number of civilian deaths resulting from this discrete event is missing. The stated purpose of the raid was to eliminate the area as a source for confederate army supplies. While a number of civilian accounts complain of the destruction of crops and livestock, accounts of white civilian deaths or atrocities are largely absent.
Based on available information we have to say that a claim that 50,000 civilians were killed in the civil war is a large exaggeration. A guesstimate of 10-20000 is probably more reasonable and equally well founded.
Thanks, Mike_C
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4933
Joined: 2004
Confederate civilian deaths?
12/6/2020 4:16:30 PM
Mike,

This figure of fifty thousand is only feasible if it is predicated on indirect deaths, i.e. privation, hardship and disease attendant upon the disruption and stress of war. In terms of deaths by violence, my sense is that the figure of civilian deaths was tiny : hundreds, not thousands. There were a few Jennie Wades, killed by the random passing shots ; there was a massacre at Lawrence and a handful of unlucky civilians hit by artillery fire at Vicksburg, Petersburg or Atlanta. For a civil war, this one is uniquely respectful of civilian lives, if not of property. I've heard that the destruction wrought upon the farms of the Shenandoah might have resulted in a couple of hundred civilians dying from exposure, hunger and disease in the winter of 1864-65, and I daresay this sort of toll was replicated in other war ravaged areas. There must have been significant spikes in mortality among black people who were caught up in the maelstrom, but, again, this is almost entirely attributable to hardship, illness and accidents, rather than acts of violence. The frontier regions of the war might well have witnessed atrocities, and it would be complacent to overlook the violence of this theatre of the war, where guerrillas and brigands were rampant.

So I'm in heated agreement with you : this fifty thousand is only feasible, IMHO, if it's a measure of excess mortality over the pre war norm, and reflects the hardships and disruption that afflicted the civilians.

It's a guess I've seen mentioned in James McPherson's history. I think it's exaggerated, too.

Regards, Phil


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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
mikecmaps
CAMARILLO CA USA
Posts: 79
Joined: 2020
Confederate civilian deaths?
12/6/2020 5:10:15 PM
Phil,
Thanks, yes I think McPherson tends to lump many causes together to come up with such a large number. And have impression it’s a broad estimate with no data. Why I think it’s important is the “hard war” notion regarding union invaders. Yes they did destroy many crops livestock and barns & etc. But notion of Union troops committing atrocities directly against confederate civilians, while I am sure some did unfortunately occur, was very rare & very small scale. That’s what should be rightfully looked at not lumping every conceivable event together. Also the areas occupied were actually narrow ribbons maybe 50-60 miles wide on either side of the main RR. Not broad areas.
Puts me in mind of 1995 movie Pharaoh’s Army with Patricia Clarkson, Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson.
Tells story of small 6 man union foraging party deep back in Kentucky Hills. Two union soldiers die & one slave. Likely typical of hundreds of cases. But in this case it’s the soldiers who suffer.
Thanks, Mike_C.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4933
Joined: 2004
Confederate civilian deaths?
12/6/2020 6:49:12 PM
Mike,

Recent demographic historians have been assessing the toll of various wars with an eye to calculating " excess civilian deaths". One such example deals with France 1914-18. In this instance, the war killed 1,320,000 French soldiers, and the excess civilian deaths were estimated at 240,000. This was a war which saw artillery bombardments pulverise villages and townships, and there were also air raids which killed civilians. There were certainly some massacres of French non combatants. That said, the number of French civilians who were actually killed in acts of violence was probably not in excess of forty thousand : the implication being that five died from war induced privation and illness for every one that died violently.

It could be that some similar reckoning might be applied to the notional fifty thousand civilian deaths in the Confederacy : but the firepower in the American Civil War was so feeble compared with the high explosive deployed 1914-18 that I cannot believe that such a ratio would be plausible. To make my point, let me ask : how many of the citizens of Fredericksburg were killed when the yankees unleashed a massive cannonade on the town in December 1862 ? Another example comes to mind : the use of the " Swamp Angel" Parrott Gun, which bombarded the citizens of Charleston in 1863. It was cited as a barbaric onslaught on defenceless civilians, but, firing at a range of no more than four miles, how many citizens of Charleston were hurt by it ? None, if I'm right.

Such episodes in 1914-18 killed many civilians. Think of the " Paris Gun" that the Germans fired at the French capital from a distance of seventy miles in the spring and summer of 1918.....250 civilians were killed by it, one shell alone accounting for nearly one hundred of them when it struck a crowded church.

It does occur to me though, that there was an explosion in a munitions factory in Virginia which killed dozens of women workers there : this was in 1863, IIRC..... perhaps you might know more and help me out here.

The other thing to remember was that mid nineteenth century life was so hard in normal times that even without the war many folk perished from illnesses, and it would be hard to differentiate deaths attributable to war conditions from those which occurred as a matter of course.

It also needs to be countenanced that, of the confederate military deaths, the majority were still caused by disease. Places like Corinth were cesspits and thoroughly contaminated by the squalour of war as the contending armies encamped, and this surely had a lethal impact on the civilians who were left in the wake of the armed hosts.

Edit : might it be that more civilians died violently at the hands of the Sioux in The Dakota uprising of 1862 than were killed in the Civil War ?

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

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