Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Thoughts on Demography and the Civil War

I am reading This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust. I also saw a related public TV program, Death and the Civil War from American Experience. As a former Health Planner, it occurred to me to put the book in a broader context.

Mortality Rates

This Republic of Sufferng focuses not on deaths in the United States but on military deaths during the Civil War -- a subset of all deaths. It is estimated that there were 620 thousand military deaths and the population of the country was about 31 & 1/2 million at the start of the war. Thus about two percent of the population died in the armed forces, or an average of half a percent of the total population per year.

I could not find the mortality data from the 1860 census, but here is that from the 1850 census. (starting on page 40 of the very long document).

It suggests that 1.46% of males of all ages and 1.32% of females died in 1850. Thus the death rate of soldiers during the Civil War was perhaps one percent of all males and less than the death rate of all males before the war.

I wonder what the death rate was in women and children during the war, and for that matter, what the birth rate was. I would expect given the disruption of agriculture in the war zones, the disruption of trade, and the general chaos, there would have been a lot more malnutrition. There were raging epidemics in the military camps and contraband camps; would these not have spread diseases to the civilian population, many of whom would probably not have had an immunity. Would mosquito borne diseases have been more of a problem -- remembering that malaria was endemic as far north as the Great Lakes and that Yellow Fever was a significant threat in the 19th century?

The 1850 mortality statistics also indicated mortality in male infants was 9.29 percent and in female infants 7.94 percent. Thus one in 12 babies born died in the first year. Did this portion increase in the war as one might guess? What was the impact on soldiers of home folk dying as many must have done during the war?

Were attitudes toward civilian deaths affected by the carnage in the battles or the high death toll due to disease among soldiers?

Population Growth

The population census is a part of the U.S. Constitution, so that there are records of the size of the population, decade by decade, going back to 1790.

The rate of growth of the population exceeded 30% in every decade until 1880 except for 1860 to 1870 when it was 22.6%. Had the population growth been more in keeping with the trend, something like 3 million people would have been in the USA in 1870 that were actually counted.

Perhaps 620,000 were dead soldiers from the Civil War. What happened to the rest?

There may have been excess deaths, such as those of black civilians during and after the civil war, or excess mortality of white adults, children or infants.

There may have been a reduced birth rate during or after the war.

There may have been a reduced net immigration.

It is likely that all four contributed to the reduced rate of population growth in the 1860s.


John Daly said...

JP made this comment:

Your questions are thought provoking and should lead to a great discussion. It must be true that people in 1860's were more accustomed to premature death than we are. But it was an intimate experience surrounded by customs, sympathy and caring, not an anonymous event far from loved ones. It was that difference, I think, that made war death so unbearable for everyone concerned, and revolutionized the attitude in this country toward death. One of the things that Gilpin Faust talks about in her books is that the southern woman especially was bereft because she had expected to have a husband on hand to protect her and comfort her as she faced childbirth and a high probability of dying then. It was one of the few "rights" she had. The impact of the war was much harder on the south than on the north because a much larger percent (of the population) of the southern soldiers died, and more of them were never identified or even buried.

John Daly said...

BR made this comment by email.

The statistic that haunts me is the possible deaths of up to 25% of the African American population during the first generation following the Civil War.

John Daly said...

JC made this comment by email:

The CW years were an economic disaster in the CSA and the postwar years were not wonderful either, economic problems are associated with low birth rates. US debt rose rapidly during the war, but the economy boomed.

The immigration rate into the CSA was nearly 0 during the war years, so that had an effect. Immigration continued into the USA, but I would think that the war would have inhibited it, especially the draft.

Also, the expansion of the country may have had effect in some cases, such as 1810 when the USA was twice the size it was in 1800.

John Daly said...

RL made this comment by email:

I think in all armies in every war until the last century. gastroenterological diseases, diarhea (g.i. disease for GI's) was the biggest killer. I believe that there was no latrine discipline, where you dug, how deep... In the Civil War, it was called "Soldiers Disease".