Civil War Casualties

How Many Died in the Civil War?

Dead at Spotsylvania, 1864.

Dead at Spotsylvania, 1864.

A casualty is someone injured, killed, captured, or missing in a military engagement. The Civil War had plenty of all these. The casualty totals in the Civil War can only be treated as estimates. The exact numbers cannot be exactly known.

Due to exhaustive research by many credible and earnest Civil War scholars, the casualty numbers presented here can be considered to be as accurate as possible. I have relied on trustworthy sources for the numbers and statistics I share in this post. The exact number of Civil War casualties will forever be a topic for debate.

One fact we can be certain of regarding Civil War casualty counts, the carnage of the Civil War was immense. War and disease provided the Grim Reaper with all he desired.

Let us not neglect to know that the cold numbers and statistics shown in this post are facts that represent real people. People who fought in a vicious war, who bled red blood whether they were clothed in blue or gray. People who lost limbs or were severely disfigured, people who died miserable, slow deaths of disease or injury, people who perished instantaneously in groups during battle, or slowly had life ebb away as they sprawled alone and incapacitated in the aftermath of a major battle or minor skirmish. Many died agonizing and feverish deaths of disease. These numbers are human beings.

Do We Know How Many Died?

Dead at Petersburg, 1864-1865.

Dead at Petersburg, 1864-1865.

The quick and simple answer is that no one knows for sure exactly how many died in the Civil War, neither for the North or the South. An estimate of the deaths in the Civil War is 623,026. This means that of men of service age, one out of eleven men died during the Civil War years between 1861 and 1865.

Below is a chart showing how the Civil War compares in total deaths to other wars:

Deaths in American Wars

War Deaths
Revolutionary War 4,435
War of 1812 2,260
Mexican 13,283
Civil War 623,026
Spanish-American 2,446
World War I 116,516
World War II 406,742
Korea 54,246
Vietnam 57,939

 

How Many Casualties in the Civil War?

For both sides in the Civil War, 471,427 can be considered as a minimum number of those wounded. When added to the estimate of 623,026 deaths, the total estimate of Civil War casualties is 1,094,453.

Greatest Union Battle Losses

Date. Battle Killed Wounded Missing Aggregate
July 1-3, 1863. Gettysburg 3070 14497 5434 23001
May 8-18, 1864. Spotsylvania 2725 13416 2258 18399
May 5-7, 1864. Wilderness 2246 12037 3383 17666
Sept. 17, 1862. Antietam (+) 2108 9549 753 12410
May 1-3, 1863. Chancellorsville 1606 9762 5919 17287
Sept. 19-20, 1863. Chickamauga 1656 9749 4774 16179
June 1-4, 1864. Cold Harbor 1844 9,077> 1816 12737
Dec. 11-14, 1862. Fredericksburg 1284 9600 1769 12653
Aug. 28-30, 1862. Manassas(++) 1747 8452 4263 14462
April 6-7, 1862. Shiloh 1754 8408 2885 13047
12/31/62 Stone’s River 1730 7802 3717 13249
June 15-19,1864. Petersburg (Assault) 1688 8513 1185 11386

+ Not including South Mountain and Crampton’s Gap.
++ Includes Chantilly, Rappahannock, Bristoe Station, and Bull Run Bridge.
Source of table: William E. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865

The Union Armies lost 110,070 killed or mortally wounded, and 275,175 wounded; for a total of 385,245. This does not include the missing in action. Of the 110,070 deaths from battle, 67,058 were killed on the field and the remaining 43,012 died of wounds.
This table shows how this loss was divided among the different arms of the service:

Service Officers Enlisted Men Total Ratio of Officers to Men
Infantry 5461 91424 96885 01:16.70
Sharpshooters 23 443 466 01:17.70
Cavalry 671 9925 10596 01:14.70
Light Artillery 116 1701 1817 01:14.60
Heavy Artillery 5 124 129 01:24.80
Engineers 4 72 76 01:18.00
General Officers 67 —- 67 —-
General Staff 18 —- 18 —-
Unclassified —- 16 16 —-
Total 6365 103705 110070 01:16.20

Source of table: William E. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865

The losses in the three main categories of Union troops were:

KILLED OR DIED OF WOUNDS
Class Officers Enlisted Men Total Ratio of Officers to Men
Volunteers 6078 98815 104893 01:16.20
Regulars 144 2139 2283 01:14.80
Colored Troops 143 2751 2894 01:19.20
Total 6365 103705 110070 01:16.30

Source of table: William E. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865

DIED BY DISEASE. NOT INCLUDING DEATHS IN PRISONS.

Class Officers Enlisted Men Total Ratio of Officers to Men
Volunteers 2471 165039 167510 02:06.70
Regulars 104 2448 2552 01:23.50
Colored Troops 137 29521 29658 04:35.50
Total 2712 197008 199720 02:12.60

Source of table: William E. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865

Deaths in the Union Army, from all causes, as officially classified.
DEATHS FROM ALL CAUSES:

Cause Officers Enlisted Men Aggregate
Killed, or died of wounds 6365 103705 110070
Died of disease 2712 197008 199790
In Confederate prisons 83 24783 24, 866
Accidents 142 3972 4114
Drowning 106 4838 4, 944
Sunstrokes 5 308 313
Murdered 37 483 520
Killed after capture 14 90 104
Suicide 26 365 391
Military executions 267 267
Executed by the enemy 4 60 64
Causes known, but unclassified 62 1972 2034
Cause not stated 28 12093 12121
Aggregate 9, 584 349, 944 359528

NOTE: The deaths from accidents were caused, principally, by the careless use of fire-arms, explosions of ammunition, and railway accidents; in the cavalry service, a large number of accidental deaths resulted from poor horsemanship.

Source of table: William E. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865

DEATHS IN CONFEDERATE ARMIES

A severe facial wound suffered in the Civil War.

A severe facial wound suffered in the Civil War.

James B. Fry, United States Provost Marshal-General, provides a report in 1865-1866 that includes a tabulation of Confederate losses. Fry’s report is compiled from the muster-rolls which are on file in the Bureau of Confederate Archives. This report is incomplete, as Confederate records can be, and often are, spotty. For example, in these records the Alabama rolls are mostly missing. Nonetheless, the numbers are worth noting. From General Fry’s report, the following tables were created by William E. Fox in his Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865:

Killed
STATE Officers En. Men Total
Virginia 266 5062 5328
North Carolina 677 13845 5522
South Carolina 360 8827 9187
Georgia 172 5381 5553
Florida 47 746 793
Alabama 5 538 552
Mississippi 52 5685 5807
Louisiana 70 2548 2618
Texas 28 1320 1348
Arkansas 54 2061 2165
Tennessee 99 2016 2115
Regular C. S. Army 35 972 507
Border States 92 1867 1959
Totals 2086 50868 52954

Source of table: William E. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865

Died of Wounds
STATE Officers En. Men Total
Virginia 200 2319 2519
North Carolina 330 4821 5151
South Carolina 257 3478 3735
Georgia 50 1579 1719
Florida 16 490 506
Alabama 9 181 190
Mississippi 75 2576 2651
Louisiana 42 826 868
Texas 13 528 541
Arkansas 27 888 915
Tennessee 49 825 874
Regular C. S. Army 27 441 468
Border States 61 672 733
Totals 1552 20324 21570

Source of table: William E. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865

The Horror of the Civil War: Wounds, Dying, and Death

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Seeing the Elephant

Seeing the Elephant – How it Feels to be Under Fire

During the Civil War, soldiers would speak about “Seeing the elephant.” The “elephant” was battle, combat, being under enemy fire.

Confederate Soldier

Confederate Soldier

Both the Confederacy and the Union had armies made up mostly of volunteers, with much fewer soldiers actually belonging to the Regular Army. Whether volunteer or Regular Army, the vast majority of these young men had never faced enemy fire. Many were away from home for the first time in their young lives. They had lived quietly and peacefully in small towns, farms, or cities. Now, they were learning to kill, and facing the great possibility of being killed. As these men trained and marched, preparing for battle, the thought of “Seeing the elephant” for the first time weighed on their minds.

”It’s just like shooting squirrels, only these squirrels have guns.”
— A Federal veteran instructing new recruits in a musket drill.

“Bang, bang, bang, a rattle, de bang, bang, bang, a boom, de bang…whirr-siz-siz-siz–a ripping, roaring, boom, bang!”
— Confederate Sam R. Watkins describing a “fire fight.” Sam Watkins was twenty-one years old and from Columbia, Tennessee when he joined up to fight in the Civil War. He kept a journal and recorded his experiences and thoughts during the war. His words give us great insight into the Civil War.

“It was eyes right, guide center! Close-up, guide right, halt, forward, right oblique, left oblique, halt, forward, guide center, eyes right, dress up promptly in the rear, steady, double quick, charge bayonets, fire at will, is about all that a private soldier knows of a battle.”
— Confederate Sam R. Watkins.

Armstrong Rifle at Fort Fisher, NC.

Armstrong Rifle at Fort Fisher, NC.

I was a ploughboy in the field,
A gawky, lazy, dodger,
When came the conscript officer
And took me for a sodger.
He put a musket in my hand,
And showed me how to fire it;
I marched and counter-marched all day;
Lord, how I did admire it!

— This tune is “The Valiant Conscript” and it is sung to the music of “Yankee Doodle.”

“Our men are not sufficiently impressed with a sense of honor that it is better to die by fire than to run.”
— General William Hardee of the Confederacy.

“War is at best barbarism…Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot, nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”
— William Tecumseh Sherman. These words are from his June 19, 1879 address to the Michigan Military Academy.

“We made a bargain with them that we would not fire on them if they would not fire on us, and they were as good as their word. It seems too bad that we have to fight men that we like.”
— Words of a Union soldier.

Perhaps some of you reading the LearnCivilWarHistory.com blog are veterans or soldiers who know full well what it is like to under fire. However, for most us, we can only wonder and imagine what it is like to be “Seeing the elephant,” just as the young men of the Civil War wondered and imagined so many years ago.

Below are the experiences of being under Civil War fire as described by Captain Frank Holsinger. Try to imagine yourself in Captain Frank Holsinger’s shoes (or rather, brogans) as you read this stirring account of what it was like to be “Seeing the elephant” in the Civil War:

Excerpts from: How Does One Feel Under Fire? by Captain Frank Holsinger, 19th United States Colored Infantry

“My sensations at Antietam were a contradiction. When we were in line “closed en masse” passing to the front through the wood at “half distance,” the boom of cannon and the hurtling of shell as it crashed through the trees or exploding found its lodgment in human flesh; the minies sizzling and savagely spotting the trees; the deathlike silence save the “steady men” of our officers. The shock to the nerves were indefinable–one stands, as it were, on the brink of eternity as he goes into action. One man alone steps from the ranks and cowers behind a large tree, his nerves gone; he could go no longer. General Meade sees him, and, calling a sergeant, says, “Get that man in ranks.” The sergeant responds, the man refuses; General Meade rushes up with, “I’ll move him!” Whipping out his saber, he deals the man a blow, he falls–who he was, I do not know. The general has no time to tarry or make inquiries. A lesson to those witnessing the scene. The whole transaction was like that of a panorama. I felt at the time the action was cruel and needless on the part of the general. I changed my mind when I became an officer, when with the sword and pistol drawn to enforce discipline by keeping my men in place when going into conflict.

“When the nerves are thus unstrung, I have known relief by a silly remark. Thus at Antietam, when in line of battle in front of the wood and exposed to a galling fire from the cornfield, standing waiting expectant with “What next?” the minies zipping by occasionally, one making the awful thud as it struck some unfortunate. As we thus stood listlessly, breathing a silent prayer, our hearts having ceased to pulsate or our minds on home and loved ones, expecting soon to be mangled or perhaps killed, some one makes an idiotic remark; thus at this time it is Mangle, in a high nasal twang, with “D—–d sharp skirmishing in front.” There is a laugh, it is infectious, and we are once more called back to life.

Dead of Spotsylvania, 1864.

Dead of Spotsylvania, 1864.

“The battle when it goes your way is a different proposition. Thus having reached the east wood, each man sought a tree from behind which he not only sought protection, but dealt death to our antagonists. They halt, also seeking protection behind trees. They soon begin to retire, falling back into the corn-field. We now rush forward. We cheer; we are in ecstasies. While shell and canister are still resonant and minies sizing spitefully, yet I think this one of the supreme moments of my existence … The worst condition to endure is when you fall wounded upon the field. Now you are helpless. No longer are you filled with the enthusiasm of battle. You are helpless—the bullets still fly over and about you—you no longer are able to shift your position or seek shelter. Every bullet as it strikes near you is a new terror. Perchance you are enabled to take out your handkerchief, which you raise in supplication to the enemy to not fire in your direction and to your friends of your helplessness. This is a trying moment. How slowly time flies! Oh, the agony to the poor wounded man, who alone can ever know its horrors! Thus at Bermuda Hundreds, November 28th, being in charge of the picket-line we were attacked, which we repulsed and rejoiced, yet the firing is maintained. I am struck in the left forearm, though not disabled; soon I am struck in the right shoulder by an explosive bullet, which is imbedded in my shoulder strap. We still maintain a spiteful fire. About 12 M. I am struck again in my right forearm, which is broken and the main artery cut; soon we improvise a tourniquet by using a canteen-strap and with a bayonet the same is twisted until blood ceases to flow. To retire is impossible, and for nine weary hours or until late in the night, I remain on the line. I am alone with my thoughts; I think of home, of the seriousness of my condition; I see myself a cripple for life—perchance I may not recover; and all the time shells are shrieking and minie bullets whistling over and about me. The tongue becomes parched, there is no water to quench it; you cry “Water! Water!” and pray for night; that you can be carried off the field and to the hospital , and there the surgeons’ care—maimed, crippled for life, perchance to die. These are your reflections. Who can portray the horrors coming to the wounded?”

At the completion of Captain Frank Holsinger’s military service, he was given a brevet rank of major. Holsinger settled in Kansas.

The Horror of the Civil War: Wounds, Dying, and Death

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