Recounting the Civil War dead

ATLANTA -- Over the last 150 years, Civil War History has undergone a lot of revision. There has…

Georgia (Oct 13, 2011) — Now something else is rising, a revised number of war dead.  


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ATLANTA -- Over the last 150 years, Civil War History has undergone a lot of revision.

There has always been one constant -- the number of dead.

We were all taught in school, 618,000 men died in battle.

New estimates based on census data indicate the toll was significantly more -- at least 850,000 men killed.

Under gray skies Wednesday afternoon at Oakland Cemetery, the Confederate Obelisk stands 65 feet above 6,900 soldier burials, 3,000 of whom are unknown. Sixteen are marked graves of Union soldiers buried alongside Confederate soldiers. For years, this was the tallest structure in Atlanta.

"I think it's changed because…record keeping was so spotty especially on the Confederate side," said Brian Wills.

Wills is a historian, author, UGA grad, and Director for Kennesaw State's Center for the Study of the Civil War Era.

Like many historians, Wills is talking about a New York Times piece last month illustrating a recounting of the civil war dead, from 618,000 men to 850,000 men.

"The price paid is so much greater than what we reckoned with and came to understand," Wills said. 

This is not the first time for a war dead recount. In his memoirs, President Grant thought the Confederacy's army was undercounted from the beginning.

"Keep in mind, memoirs are always a reflection of what you've had time to process and think about after and that can be good and bad," Willis said. "It can be good where you can put things in context but we have a tendency to clean things up when we put them into context."



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