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Home > History > Death in the Civil War

Death in the Civil War

This page describes the gruesome reality of the Civil War - how hundreds of thousands of people from both sides died in battle, from disease, and in squalid prisons.

Andersonville Prison

Andersonville Prison

The Civil War was the deadliest war in the history of the United States. In all, over 600,000 people died as a direct result of injury in battle, disease, or as prisoners.

Union Confederate Total
Killed in Battle 112,000 94,000 206,000
Died of Disease 197,000 140,000 337,000
Died as Prisoners 64,000 26,000 90,000
Total Deaths 373,000 260,000 633,000

Statistics from Ayers et al. American Passages, p. 518

Deadliest U.S. Wars
1.) U.S. Civil War 633,000 American deaths
2.) World War II 405,000 American deaths
3.) World War I 116,000 American deaths
4.) Vietnam War 90,000 American deaths
5.) Korean War 54,000 American deaths

Note: Figures for tables are approximate

Deadliest Battles of the Civil War
1.) Gettyburg (PA) 1863 Between 46,000 - 51,000 casualties
2.) Chickamauga (GA) 1863 Apx. 35,000 casualties
3.) Spotsylvania (VA) 1864 Apx. 32,000 casualties
4.) Chancellorsville (VA) 1863 Apx. 31,000 casualties
5.) Wilderness (VA) 1864 Apx. 29,000 casualties

As is often the case in wars and sieges, the majority of the deaths in the Civil war were caused by disease. Field hospitals often became centers for infection and disease as mass numbers of wounded soldiers would be housed together in filthy conditions with little or no sanitation.

Most of the horrenous injuries suffered by soldiers were as a result of being hit with bullets from "minnie balls." Soldiers hit with such bullets in the head or abdomen nearly always died, but those in the arms and legs suffered considerable damage and often had the affected limbs amputated with various kinds of forceps. Such gruesome tools were not washed properly, and infection spread quickly from one soldier to another, or, from the dirty hands of the surgeon.

In Union and Confederate prisons, prisoners often died from disease, which spread quickly in the deplorable conditions, or died outright from neglect or starvation. In the infamous Andersonville, Georgia (sometimes called Camp Sumter) prison camp, conditions were so horrid that prisoners were described as "walking skeletons." Of the 45,000 total prisoners that were sent to Andersonville, more than one in four died of starvation, dysentery, or another disease.

Andersonville Prisoner

This Union soldier survived Andersonville

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