Why were Civil War casualties so high?

Why were Civil War casualties so high?

  • 1. Because Civil War generals employed outdated tactics?

    Votes: 25 36.8%
  • 2. Because it lasted four years?

    Votes: 13 19.1%
  • 3. Because death and sickness due to disease were common in that era, especially in cities?

    Votes: 50 73.5%
  • 4. Because the United States did not fully and properly engage its advantage in naval power?

    Votes: 3 4.4%
  • 5. Because Grant was a butcher?

    Votes: 3 4.4%
  • 6. Because Jefferson Davis did not want to admit that the Confederacy was beaten?

    Votes: 4 5.9%
  • 7. Because minie`ball wounds could not be treated with existing medical technology?

    Votes: 21 30.9%
  • 8. Because casualties of both combatants are counted as US casualties?

    Votes: 17 25.0%

  • Total voters
    68

Pat Answer

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Oct 8, 2013
Location
“...somewhere between NY and PA”
That, too, is a good point. The problem of replacing 40,000 trained troops in short order for a nation-state of limited (geographical) size is a much different one than that of finding 40,000 motivated but amateur recruits (to fight similar opponents) across a ‘continent’. The logistical challenges coupled with the inability of ACW armies to routinely inflict 40% damage on each other certainly helped to drag things out. And, speaking politically, of course it is significant that First Manassas didn’t go the other way.

All these things factor in.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
So very true! And the civilian portion of the deaths in China far exceeded that of the US in relative terms, so when comparing K/WIA I would be surprised if the figures weren’t in the same ballpark. Nothing is as important as the context for understanding these things, and if my chosen example of ‘large modern conflicts’ failed to point that way I do apologize.
No criticism intended. :smile:

In the Taiping Rebellion, they had organized exterminations going on, sometimes at the rate of 30,000 people per day. Thankfully, we had nothing like that here (although there are a few atrocities to cite for either side in the ACW and some bad death numbers in POW camps for either side, nothing on that scale can be found here.) Given the religious elements in the Taiping Rebellion, that probably is not too surprising -- religious wars can get very, very nasty.

Lest anyone think I am trying to downplay the horrors of ACW POW camps: I have a friend who came to this country about 1950 or so, when he was an infant. His father had been captured on the Eastern Front in 1943 and survived the Russian POW camps. They "released" him in 1948, which means they herded him into a boxcar and dumped him in East Germany. He was from a little town near the Belgian border, so he walked and begged his way across the border (no solid Iron Curtain yet) and the width of occupied West Germany to get back to his wife. Shocked the family when he showed up at the door, not having been seen or heard from in five years. Since some say that the long-term death-rate for German POWs in Russian hands was 98%, I figure he must have been tougher than an old tree root to survive. ACW POW camps had their horrors, but they probably rank below what that man went through. My friend was born after all that.
 

Irishtom29

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 21, 2008
Location
Kent, Washington
Lest anyone think I am trying to downplay the horrors of ACW POW camps: I have a friend who came to this country about 1950 or so, when he was an infant. His father had been captured on the Eastern Front in 1943 and survived the Russian POW camps. They "released" him in 1948, which means they herded him into a boxcar and dumped him in East Germany. He was from a little town near the Belgian border, so he walked and begged his way across the border (no solid Iron Curtain yet) and the width of occupied West Germany to get back to his wife. Shocked the family when he showed up at the door, not having been seen or heard from in five years.

I knew a fella who had the same experience, the janitor of the apartment building next to my Dad's on the West Side of Chicago. He was in the German army and captured by the Soviets and was assumed dead by his family in Munich. Then in 1948 the Soviets released him and one day he showed up in Munich, much to the surprise of all. The Soviets worked him like a set of twins operating on the reasonable enough principle of you wrecked it, you fix it.
 
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WScott

Private
Joined
May 6, 2021
One element of the Civil War that can't be underestimated is the fact that soldiers in the Union and Confederacy were, at times, related to the opposition. Fathers and sons, brothers and brothers, neighbors, cousins, uncles and grandfathers were willing to fight to the death in support of their respective causes. This war was personal not king against emperor, country against country and not a single monarch deciding the fate of their subjects.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The existence of the Confederacy was at stake. Especially by 1864, every battle had a desperate nature. For the US, the legitimacy of the Constitution, and the fulfillment of the dreams summarized by Manifest Destiny, led to war for total victory. There was not an easy to see territorial compromise, or economic treaty, that would resolve the issues.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The existence of the Confederacy was at stake. Especially by 1864, every battle had a desperate nature. For the US, the legitimacy of the Constitution, and the fulfillment of the dreams summarized by Manifest Destiny, led to war for total victory. There was not an easy to see territorial compromise, or economic treaty, that would resolve the issues.
I think to be honest that to some extent this trivializes the wars in Europe, and that's probably going too far. For the Spanish in the Peninsular War it was very much a war of national survival, and against Napoleon "an easy to see territorial compromise" for the states in question was no compromise at all - it meant having to pay heavily for the upkeep of French armies, to provide large drafts of manpower as French armies themselves, to lose large quantities of terrain (often to give royal titles to Napoleon's favourites, or his relatives, or to be used to pay off other powers).
For Britain meanwhile it was well understood that Napoleon intended to invade if he had the chance.

There is a reason why the powers of Europe were consistently willing to go to war against Napoleon over and over again, despite repeated defeats and harsh peace, and it is that they could see that a compromise with Napoleon was not truly possible - Napoleon would always double down and always seek to push.

Let us not forget that in 1806 Napoleon demanded territory from Prussia under threat of force, then tried to bribe Britain into neutrality with the promise of more Prussian land. That is the background under which Prussia goes to war; conversely, Napoleon was offered France's pre-war borders in 1814 (and his confirmation as Emperor) but refused, expecting that more conflict and more lost lives would give him a better position.

It is consistently the case that "easy to see territorial compromise" is either not enough for Napoleon or the "compromise" means allowing the nation losing vast chunks of territory to still exist... or installing one of Napoleon's brothers as the ruler of that nation, making it a French puppet.
 

Sbc

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Location
Easley, South Carolina
Lest we forget, in this thread previously I stated a proposition (casualties not counting prisoners should be higher in the Civil War) which you agreed with, and then once I provided an example that refuted that proposition you said you didn't agree with the proposition at all.

I want to be absolutely certain that I am refuting the right thing first.

So.

Is your argument relating to an army being able to sustain a large % of casualties (with or without MIA) and to continue fighting, thus becoming the victorious army?
Reread post 130
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Reread post 130

Here's post 130:
Yes I agreed after reading too quickly and believing you actually saw the light. When I realized your tack I saw that it was a trap. No dice mate. Gave you plenty of examples to refute. Crickets
Which demonstrates that you read what I said, and agreed with it, and then - after I had gone to the trouble of providing a counterexample - reneged because "it was a trap".*

Surely you must understand that, given this, I must verify exactly what your position is - and give you a cooling-off period to confirm - before I go for counterexamples?

Instead, what you can do is to link where you have previously stated your argument, and the example you wish to use for it. I may then end up asking clarifying questions.


* of course, the whole point here is that I'm trying to see if your position can be refuted. That's how discussion and debate works.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I think to be honest that to some extent this trivializes the wars in Europe, and that's probably going too far. For the Spanish in the Peninsular War it was very much a war of national survival, and against Napoleon "an easy to see territorial compromise" for the states in question was no compromise at all - it meant having to pay heavily for the upkeep of French armies, to provide large drafts of manpower as French armies themselves, to lose large quantities of terrain (often to give royal titles to Napoleon's favourites, or his relatives, or to be used to pay off other powers).
For Britain meanwhile it was well understood that Napoleon intended to invade if he had the chance.

There is a reason why the powers of Europe were consistently willing to go to war against Napoleon over and over again, despite repeated defeats and harsh peace, and it is that they could see that a compromise with Napoleon was not truly possible - Napoleon would always double down and always seek to push.

Let us not forget that in 1806 Napoleon demanded territory from Prussia under threat of force, then tried to bribe Britain into neutrality with the promise of more Prussian land. That is the background under which Prussia goes to war; conversely, Napoleon was offered France's pre-war borders in 1814 (and his confirmation as Emperor) but refused, expecting that more conflict and more lost lives would give him a better position.

It is consistently the case that "easy to see territorial compromise" is either not enough for Napoleon or the "compromise" means allowing the nation losing vast chunks of territory to still exist... or installing one of Napoleon's brothers as the ruler of that nation, making it a French puppet.
Which goes a long way to explaining the escalation of Napoleon's assaults on Europe and the stiffening resistance to his rule, and great cost in lives and treasure. My tweet applies more to the previous wars in which the US was involved, and wars between equal monarchs.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Here's post 130:

Which demonstrates that you read what I said, and agreed with it, and then - after I had gone to the trouble of providing a counterexample - reneged because "it was a trap".*

Surely you must understand that, given this, I must verify exactly what your position is - and give you a cooling-off period to confirm - before I go for counterexamples?

Instead, what you can do is to link where you have previously stated your argument, and the example you wish to use for it. I may then end up asking clarifying questions.


* of course, the whole point here is that I'm trying to see if your position can be refuted. That's how discussion and debate works.
You're having a bit of fun with him now. 😎
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
You're having a bit of fun with him now. 😎
Not really. I would much rather have a solid, well stated proposition and see whether it holds up under examination. The questions would be to make sure I understood it in detail, and so that I don't end up trying to refute something that the other side of the conversation doesn't believe in the first place.
 
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