Numbers Varied of those Killed or Died in Civil War



The American Civil War (1861-1865) touched our ancestors and their hometowns more deeply than we thought, and so shaped the course of the future decades in the United States, plus your own family tree. In 1900, historians and the general public have assumed that 618,222 men died on both sides. That number is probably significantly under-counted.

New estimates, based on Census data, indicate that the death toll was approximately 750,000, and may have been as high as 850,000 on both sides. In the 1870 Census, it estimated that the number of male deaths was “not less than 850,000.”  

As it was, both armies lacked systematic procedures to identify the dead, wounded and missing in action, as well as an official means to notify relatives of a soldier’s death. Men went missing; even with the many battle, hospital and prison reports, which proved incomplete, much was unknown. The dead men were buried unidentified, and family members were forced to infer the fate of a loved one just because they never returned home. That may not have been the case for many former soldiers.

in 1866 it was estimated that 279,689 men in the Union Army and Navy died in the war. The estimated death toll increased to 360,222 by the 1890s. A true count of the Confederate dead was very difficult, with various figures given over the last half of the 19th century. By 1900 Confederate death figured from non-combat (diseases) deaths was 164,000. Add to that figure the estimate of those killed in battle, there was a total of 258,000 Confederate deaths.

One reason for differences in the number who died was that many had died as a result of diseases and wounds contracted while in the Army of both sides. They were discharged from the military, very ill or wounded and may have died a few month or even one to two years after being discharged.

So looking at your ancestors before the war in 1860, it can be figured approximately 1 in 10 white men (both sides) of military age in 1860 died from the conflict, either in battle or illness. Very startlingly ratio of the number of Americans directly affected. Do to those figures then there are the unknown number of widows and orphaned children also. Might some of your family tree exhibit such tragedy? This is an important aspect of the family history.

What is nearly impossible is then figuring how many African-Americans (those already freed or former slaves) also were killed in battle or died from diseases, because of very incomplete census taking of slaves before the war.

So if you had an ancestor alive in the 1860 census but no record of him from 1865 and beyond, he might be of those not officially counted as killed in battle or who died shortly thereafter. Even more amazing would be those who survived and lived full lives.

Photos: Unmarked mass graves from Battle Antietam in 1863; lack of hospital care; Civil War widows and orphans whose father died at Gettysburg July 1863.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Civil War Medical Records

List of Union Graves

Pension Files of Soldiers

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