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Re-examination of Civil War death toll caps off lecture series

Civil War Hacker
Dr. J. David Hacker speaks to students, faculty, staff and community members about his research into the death toll of the American Civil War during the final event of UNG's "Civil War at 150" series.

For decades, the number of people killed during the Civil War stood at a widely accepted number of 618,222, but during a presentation at the University of North Georgia (UNG), Dr. J. David Hacker explained his research methodology that elevates the number to 751,562.

Hacker's presentation was the final event in UNG's "Civil War at 150" series, held on April 9 to mark the 150th anniversary of the formal end of the conflict. All three events were recorded, and videos will be located online at

"Tonight marks the end of hostilities during the Civil War — it is only fitting that we pause to remember the cost of the war," said Dr. Deanna Gillespie, assistant professor of history at UNG.

An associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota, Hacker discussed several factors that made his estimate of the number of dead drastically higher than the long-established total reported in history documents and textbooks.

"My estimate takes into consideration the soldiers who were coming home to die," Hacker said. "Many soldiers were wounded, or contracted diseases, and were mustered out of the service. They died in their homes, sometimes several months after leaving the service, and so weren't counted as official casualties. We will never know exactly how many people died in this war."

To cement this point, Hacker showed documented evidence of a soldier who died at home from a gunshot wound sustained in battle; he died four months after being mustered from service.

Hacker also relied less on war death records and more on the nation's census data, and the changes in the data from decade to decade. From 1790 to 1860, the nation experienced explosive population growth, and projections in that era pointed to a likelihood of some 42 million people for the 1870 census. But when the 1870 census was completed, the population stood at only 38.6 million, and re-counts confirmed that number.

Hacker said that much of this can be attributed to the many men who were listed as "missing-in-action or captured" and yet were actually dead. He tracked these numbers through census data by looking for what he identifies as "excess male mortality." Also, with the number of men killed heavily concentrated in the 16-35 age range, the nation experienced a significant decline in births, which further impacted the expected population number for the 1870 census.

Taking these numbers into account, Hacker arrived at a new estimate of 751,562, which he pointed out is greater than the cost of all other American wars combined.

"This series has been very enjoyable, and the presenters have been very passionate," said J.C. Hustis, a Gainesville resident and member of the Sons of the Revolution, who attended all three of the series' events. "I'm glad the university held this series; I've learned more about the war and how it started."

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