Civilian Casualties in the Civil War?

About a million soldier casualties (killed/wounded) in the Civil War, give or take. I was asked by one of my students what of civilian casualties? I had included in my lesson some information and quotes from Gen Curtis in Arkansas, and soldier quotes, describing the horrific conditions in that state alone. So when the question was asked I was not sure what to say. Having looked at the Trans-Mississippi region in my studies, I would be shocked in civilian deaths as a result of the war were not significant.

So the question in my mind, how do we determine collateral damage during the Civil War? Does the starvation of civilians or their murder by bushwhackers count as “casualties”? I would argue it does.

In June of 1862 Gen. Curtis described the situation in eastern Arkansas, “I leave nothing for man or brute in the country passed over by my army,” he informed his superiors, “except a little saving to feed the poor, which will hardly save them from suffering.”

Confederate bushwhackers and guerrillas brutally targeted suspected Union sympathizers and burned cotton wherever they found it, causing civilian morale to “plummet” throughout the state. The combined effect, according to one historian, was economic “collapse, social upheaval,” and the general “collapse of social institutions,” according to William L. Shea.

“Women and children are houseless,” wrote a soldier with the Second Wisconsin Cavalry, “with little to eat or wear.”

There is no way to know at this point without further research what the true effects of the war were on civilians and what kind of price they truly paid.

Does anyone know of any reliable studies that try to estimate civilian casualties and what about collateral damage, do I have a valid argument?

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4 Responses to Civilian Casualties in the Civil War?

  1. Drew W. says:

    Fellman’s “Inside War” roughly estimates 10,000 Missouri civilians were killed during the war, but IIRC offers no methodology or documentation. Unfortunately, I can’t find my copy to give you the page number.

    Just estimating these kinds of things at the county level would probably be tough enough, let alone state or national.

  2. Chris says:

    Interesting. I wonder if the best way would be local newspapers at the time, death records, ect. But even then the amount of civilian deaths not recorded… problematic.

  3. Page Ciesemier says:

    I read a Washington Post Article that named, in late 2006, “excess”
    civilian death (compared to pre invasion death rates) at 600,000. I read that Prime Minister Malaki mentioned as of this year, one million. This is where our army has been careful to avoid civilian death. Lincoln’s administration deliberatly targeted civilians, and safe to say, conditions where far less advanced medically then. So the estimate I read in “War Crimes Against Southern Civilians”, from David Aikens, editor of “A City Laid Wate” – at 2 million, including the 620K military – leaving about 1.4 million dead – intuitively seems conservative

  4. april says:

    sorry I dont have the answer to you question, but rather one for you, Do you know anything about civilian causualty’s in Pennsylvania durning late June 1863? Im a novelest, or aspire to be at least, and it for somthing Im writing. Im not completly unresearched, I know of the battle of Gettysburg, between July 1st and 3rd, and my settings just outside Hagerstown. Anyway, I was just wondering if perphaps you knew if the confederates attacked any wagon bands or anything on the march down there, thanks.

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