Former Prisoners of War and Longevity

Joined
Aug 2, 2019
This is a follow up to last week's survey about how old folks' Civil War ancestors who were Prisoners of War lived to be.

Thank you to everyone who responded. For the purpose of this inquiry, we're just looking at the life span of men who survived being interred in a Civil War prison, so if you answered but your ancestor didn't make it out alive, I'm saving that information for another day and they aren't included on the chart below.

For those of you who are coming in late, a friend of mine, Deb Wallsmith, who is THE expert on Camp Lawton, the prison camp in Millen, Georgia, told me that her findings were that survivors of Millen tended to either die within the first year or so of being released, or they lived longer than the average lifespan at the time, which was about 40 years old in 1860. Granted, that figure includes deaths in childhood, which were much more common than today because of vaccinations and better medical care and nutrition, but you go with what you got. She's done presentations on this, and here's the slide of her findings

1612698760767.png


These statistics are all for men who were held at Millen. They may have been at other prisons as well (notably Andersonville), but if they weren't at Millen, they aren't included on this chart.

So this supports a sort of inverse Bell curve for longevity, with most of the deaths coming either at a young age (and presumably not long after release from prison) or at ages well beyond the average life expectancy at the time.

The complied stats for the members of this board show a longer than average life span, but not as many deaths at a young age. My speculation is that it's because this information was provided by descendants, and if you died young, the chances are greater that you didn't live long enough to create descendants. I lose the color when I paste my chart in the forum, so Union Deaths are in regular type, and Confederate Deaths (which we have more of reported) are in bold.


Age at Death# of DeadIndiv. Ages Regular type=U; BOLD=C
0-19
20-29
30-39138
40-49244(DIED W/I 1 YR); 45
50-59
60-69466, 68, 69, 62
70-79979, 73, 76 “70s”, 74,”Well into 70’s” 73, 77, 79
80-891187, 81, 87, 83, 83, 86, 82, 82, 80, 89, 85, 80
90-991“89 or 90”
100+



It's too complicated to try to sort the information by prison camp/battle captured at/state of origin, etc, and so I'm not going to try to break it down further. Our not exactly formal poll does support Deb's findings, in that the majority of the men in our survey lived into their 70s or 80s.

We can only speculate (and I'm sure we will!) about the reasons for this trend, which, I have to admit, kind of surprised me. I would have expected that time spent in harsh prison conditions would have always shortened one's life expectancy.

Cheers!

Gary
 

lupaglupa

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Fascinating data. There are so many ways to look at this. I agree that you might have thought that a sustained period of poor treatment would have a lasting effect. But this sure doesn't show that. It would be really interesting to do a detailed analysis with a larger data set.
 

Bloody7th

Cadet
Joined
Aug 30, 2015
Gary I can pull some data from my current work, looking at a few hundred Florence inmates that may add some interesting data points.
 

Peace Society

Corporal
Joined
Jun 25, 2019
Location
Ark Mo line
We can only speculate (and I'm sure we will!) about the reasons for this trend, which, I have to admit, kind of surprised me. I would have expected that time spent in harsh prison conditions would have always shortened one's life expectancy.
Wonder if all the outdoor exercise had something to do with it. From what I've informally observed, it seems that growing up poor on a farm helps one live to a ripe old age. These guys had a similar experience: poor food and hard work.
 

Gettysburg Guide #154

Sergeant
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 30, 2019
This is interesting and a bit counter-intuitive, at least at first blush. However, I recall a conversation with a colleague about the survival rate of wounded at Gettysburg, which was a somewhat surprising 90%. I speculated that the men who made it to Gettysburg were largely men who had survived more that a year in one or the other army without succumbing to disease, and perhaps had better than typical immune systems. My colleague, who was a retired surgeon, agreed that this is a possible explanation. It would seem that the same might apply to the POW data. So I agree with Viper21.
 
Joined
Aug 2, 2019
Gary I can pull some data from my current work, looking at a few hundred Florence inmates that may add some interesting data points.
Debbie Wallsmith offered me the raw data for just over 1,100 of the men who passed through Millen. Unfortunately, if I stop to follow up, I may never finish the book I'm working on. I'll keep your offer in mind, though!
 
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