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Original Civil War Casualty Numbers Were Wrong

Fort Sumter, South Carolina (Andy961@Flickr)

Today marks the 152nd anniversary of the start of the bloodiest four years in American history. For more than 100 years the estimated death toll of the American Civil War stood at just under 619,000. It’s hard to believe but that number is nearly as many American soldiers killed in all the other wars this country has fought combined – World Wars One and Two, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexican War, Spanish American War….just an incredible number of lives lost….Americans killing Americans.

What even more incredible, there’s been a revised casualty number.  Research at Binghamton University showed that figure was too low.  20% too low.  The new figure is closer to 750,000.

It all began when Confederate forces on shore opened fire on Union soldiers at Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Bay on this date in 1861. The Confederates cut off any chance of reinforcements or additional supplies arriving at the fort and after 34 hours Union soldiers surrendered. Two days later President Lincoln sent 75,000 soldiers to settle what at that time was called an “insurrection.”

Slavery was one of the major issues of the Civil War, but southern states had been considering breaking away from the United States as early as 1858. South Carolina was the first to break away followed by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. South Carolina then began systematically seizing forts and other military installations across the state and finally Fort Sumter.

I had an opportunity to visit Charleston, South Carolina a few years ago and it’s hard to imagine such an awful war could have begun in such a beautiful city. Many of the downtown buildings are just as they were during the Civil War and Charleston Bay is absolutely picturesque. We only had just a few hours there, but I plan to return one day.


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