The Big Killer In The Civil War Was Not The Bullet. It Was Disease.

by Daniel Russ on July 22, 2011

Civil War Hospital 1865, Location Unknown

The causes of death in the Civil War were not limited to soft lead bullets entering and shredding tissue, or cannon fire. The American Civil War was a tragedy of technological imbalances. The science of weaponry far outweighed the science of medicine at the time. Military tactics also did not reflect the advantages that the new weapons could produce. For example, rifled bullets have an effective range of about three times what a smoothbore musket had. Yet most Civil War soldiers marched shoulder to shoulder and fired as mass infantry, not unlike the bloody conflicts of Frederick II, or Prussia’s Joseph Radetzky. That said, most of the wounded actually died later of infection or shock or some other easily treatable ailment under current emergency medical technology. One in 65 Federals died. One in 45 Confederates died.


Cause of Death U.S. C.S.A.
Small Arms or Cannon Fire 54,000 67,100
Wounds 40,000 43,700
Dysentery 50,000 45,000
Typhoid 30,000 34,800
Prison 26,100 31,200
Pneumonia 17,000 20,000
Malaria 20,000 10,000
Small Pox 8,000 7,000
TB 7,000 7,000
Measles 6,000 5,200


More Americans died of Typhoid in the Civil War than died in Korea. The numbers here are astounding. Consider that 94,000 Union soldiers died from combat and 164,100 died from disease or other causes. The Confederates lost 110,700 soldiers from combat but 160,200 died from disease or other causes. In every major conflict in the history, disease is the big killer during warfare.


The problem with these figures is that the official combat death toll of the Civil War is 623,000. This adds up to 529,000. That said, the difference might have resulted from civilian fatalities to the final count.


Source: Wikipedia, The History Buffs Guide to the Civil War, Thomas R. Flagel, Cumberland House, 2003. With Courage And Delicacy: Civil War On The Peninsula: Woemn And The U.S> Sanitary Commission, Nancy Scripture Garrison, 2003; Wikipedia


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Louis September 5, 2017 at 6:49 am

The picture of the hospital at the top is clearly one far behind the lines, and has been scrubbed clean for inspection. The ones just behind the battlefields would probably not look this clean I suspect

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