How many died?: New thoughts on the cost of the war

For much of the last several decades, the accepted figure for the number of dead was 620,000, making the Civil War the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history. Now, that figure is being questioned. Initially reported in September, the December 2011 issue of the journal Civil War History (not affiliated with this blog) has an article dedicated to this subject. If you have access to a library, I urge you to check it out.

Using census data, some historians now believe that the war actually cost more in dead than we have thought, by almost twenty percent. According to these new studies, the number of dead ranges anywhere from 750,000 to as much as 850,000, which is much more staggering than the 620,000 we have accepted for so long.

This poses the biggest historical question, why is this important? First, it is important because it illustrates the problems of how we accounted for our war dead as a nation. Particularly, the case of African-American dead, as around 180,000 served in the war (I am not getting into a debate about black Confederates on this). Second, it brings a whole new significance to the war in American history in terms of its effect on population. That twenty percent or more died than previously believed means that a higher percentage of the population was killed and otherwise affected by the fighting. It also means that if we place such a figure against our contemporary population figures, the death toll becomes even more stark, as the new figures are almost three percent of the wartime population, which translates to roughly nine million dead in today’s figures. Finally, it raises questions as to whether all the dead from the war have been accounted, as while it may not seem important 150 years later, it is important to understanding how the military has handled the dead, both good and bad, from America’s conflicts.

Our understanding of death and the war was greatly aided by the publication of Drew Gilpin Faust’s marvelous book This Republic of Suffering (2008). Faust examined how death and the carnage of war influenced society and is one of the more groundbreaking studies within recent Civil War historiography. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for such findings to become accepted and how long before textbooks change the figures, but if the methods hold up, this will shape how this war is remembered for years to come.

Digital history and the Civil War

As I have been working this semester on a digital history project on the fiftieth anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library at UND, I decided to take a few moments to consider the applications digital history has for the Civil War. As new technology changes life in many ways, history also must adapt to the faster pace of a digital world.

I have posted on several digital collections devoted to the war in the past, but want to share with you the possibilities that digital history provides for the war. Beyond digital collections placed online by various research libraries and institutions, digital tools provide endless possibilities for those interested in the war and here are some examples:

Omeka is an open-source collection management software that allows users to upload various items onto a digital archive, organize them into collections, and make them available to the world. The cool thing about this resource is that if you have a personal collection of documents and objects related to the war, you can create an online museum devoted to them, with metadata that is useful to researchers.

Using online tools to collaborate with others in the field is one of the best ways digital technology improves our understanding of the war. Search engines allow us to access materials from anywhere, and software, like Zotero, which is a free citation management program, let scholars organize information and retrieve it quickly. I have a bibliography devoted to my thesis topic (Civil War soldiers) that I try and update to keep abreast of new materials. Also, using a Twitter feed offers the chance of posting a question to your followers and receiving an answer quickly.

One of the best ways to use digital tools is blogging, as it allows you to showcase your interests and research and gain a following in the digital world. This is one reason I blog, and there are several other scholars on the war that have blogs (Civil Warriors, Crossroads, and Renegade South come to mind). So, if you are interested, get out there and start a blog, or ask to join one as a guest writer.

I will leave you with a couple great posts by two professors at the University of North Dakota who are much more knowledgeable about this subject than I. Dr. Bill Caraher wrote a post on his blog, which is cross-posted to Teaching Thursday, and Dr. Tim Pasch shared his insights into digital tools as well, which while they are more to improve workflow, they have great uses in researching the war, in terms of organizing information and retaining it. It will be amazing to see how much of a role digital history plays during the 150th anniversary, and who knows what will be going on for the bicentennial. Until next time, keep researching.

A great site of digital collections on the Civil War

Hat tip to my colleague Joe Camisa for making me aware of this new site that links digital Civil War collections from a several prestigious libraries in the South. Civil War in the American South is a project put out by members of the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL), which include libraries at Duke, Clemson, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi State, Virginia, and the UNC system. A cursory glance shows several promising collections on a variety of subjects. I urge my readers to check it out and explore this research tool.

Scholars in hot water

It looks like a presidential historian and his assistant are in some legal trouble, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Barry Landau and his assistant Jason Savedoff are charged with federal theft and conspiracy charges on top of state charges for allegedly stealing several documents from various institutions, including documents associated with Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Benjamin Franklin, all worth many thousands of dollars. The two face several years in prison on the charges. Thanks to one of my Facebook followers for the tip.

Call for Papers for the Society for Civil War Historians Conference

CALL FOR PAPERS:

The Society of Civil War Historians will host a conference from June 14 through 16, 2012, at the Hyatt Regency in Lexington, Kentucky.  The SCWH welcomes panel proposals or individual papers on the Civil War era, broadly defined.  The goal of the conference is to promote the integration of social, military, political, and other forms of history on the Civil War era among historians, graduate students, and public historians.

The deadline for receipt of proposals is September 15, 2011. Proposals should include a title and abstract for the papers (approximately 250-300 words) and a short curriculum vitae of participants. Panel submissions should have an overall title and statement about the thrust of the session.

Proposals should be submitted as one PDF sent electronically to RichardsCenter@psu.edu.  For information, see the Society’s website:  http://scwh.la.psu.edu or contact the Richards Center at (814) 863-0151.  Final decisions on panels will be made at the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association in Baltimore.

Author’s Note: If you are not already a member, please consider joining, which you can do by clicking here.

Great article from Military History Quarterly on Fort Sumter

Check out this article from Drew Lindsay of Military History Quarterly that deals with the 150th anniversary of the bombardment of Fort Sumter. It includes some great photos.

Presenting back home and in class

As the semester nears its end, I decided to take a few moments to share what I have been up to in the last two weeks. On April 13, I departed Grand Forks for my hometown of Jerseyville, Illinois. It was a well-timed trip in light of the tornado that hit Lambert St. Louis International Airport on Good Friday, which is where I fly into. I had been selected to present a paper at the 2011 Illinois History Symposium in Carbondale. My advisor, Dr. Kim Porter, who also presented, informed me of the conference last fall, so I happily submitted, as it coincided with my mom’s birthday. I presented on the physical transition from civilian to soldier in Illinois Civil War camps of instruction, which was one chapter of my thesis. The panel was awesome, though I forgot my camera and have no pictures of it. I was also approached by a couple of folks from SIU Press who asked me to keep them in mind when I get around to writing the book on the subject. After the presentation, my dad and I traveled to Murphysboro, seven miles from Carbondale, and took in a reception at the John A. Logan Museum. It was quite fun, as Logan was the creator of Memorial Day, a past Commander-in-Chief of the GAR, which is special for me being in the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Murphysboro was also fun to visit, as it was impacted by the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, where almost 700 people across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana were killed in a single tornado. The town still holds the record for most fatalities in a single city from a tornado at 234. This crosses into one of my other quirky historical interests, which is natural disasters. The trip allowed me to visit my folks for a few days and relax a bit from the demands of teaching and class, as well as network for future job and publishing opportunities. Plus, I met James Swan, author of Chicago’s Irish Legion:  The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War, who came to my panel. I took the opportunity to purchase his book and have him sign it (the dust jacket tore a little in transit back to North Dakota, thanks Delta). I fielded a few good questions that opened up areas of inquiry that I had not considered before, so the rewards go beyond a line on the CV. All in all, it was a great trip and I encourage those in Illinois to consider the next symposium April 26-28, 2012 in East Peoria, with the theme “Contested Lands:  1673-1840.” The deadline for submission is October 15, 2011. For more information, contact William Furry at 217-525-2781.

Upon my return to Grand Forks (it snowed while I was away), I presented my lecture on Creating Armies in my History 103 class. I broke from the usual form of lecture and team-taught with my friend and fellow reenactor Stuart Lawrence. We used some of our reenacting equipment to conduct a object-based presentation on the lives of soldiers and what training was like for them, which allowed me to combine a bit of material culture and dress up in period attire. Whether it was effective in helping them understand remains to be seen, but I figure it is a nice change of pace and helps the visual and tactile learners anyway. I am working on some book reviews and will be again appearing on local talk radio to chat about the war on the same day as the next meeting of the Northern Plains Civil War Round Table, where I will present on the Camp Jackson Affair and Civil War Missouri. If you are in the Grand Forks area, come to the E. Grand Forks VFW at 7:00 PM on Tuesday, May 3 and join our group and listen to my talk.

Finally, I have joined the 21st century a bit more. Those of you with smart phones, which does not include me, can now access my blog via the QR that I placed in the sidebar. Until next time, keep researching and I will leave you with the paper that I presented in Illinois.