Sunken Road on Day of Battle, Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1863
Suggested Teaching Instructions
The Civil War was composed of 10,455 military engagements, including small skirmishes and large sieges. In January of 1863, the federal government estimated that the war was costing $2.5 million a day. In 1879, the final official federal costs were $6,190,000,000; Confederate costs were $2,099,808,707. Inflation also hit hard. During the war, $2.59 of Federal money was equal to $1 in gold. The Confederate rate was harsher, with $60-$70 Confederate dollars equaling $1 in gold. By 1906, the federal government had paid an additional $3.3 billion in pensions and veterans benefits to soldiers of the Union Army. The Confederate soldiers were dependent on private donations.
Soldiers died from a number of causes, besides combat including death in prison, drowning, sunstroke, killed after capture, suicide, sickness, accidents, wounds, and murders. Some were even executed. Combining these deaths plus combat deaths, a total of about 1,094,453 Americans died during the war. Combat deaths were at an estimated 620,000. These numbers do not include civilian deaths.
The highest number of deaths in one battle for one regiment of the Federal Army was at Gettysburg where 82% of the 1st Minnesota died. The number is equally staggering for the Confederates, where at Antietam the 1st Texas lost 82.3% of their men. Only 1,000 of the 7,000 soldiers enlisted in the Irish Brigade of New York ever made it home. Another example of the devastation was at Petersburg, where the 1st Maine lost 635 soldiers out of 900 in only seven minutes.
The costs of the Civil War, and the price of freedom, were ghastly. The monetary investment of both the Confederacy and Union was overwhelming. However, no other course of action seemed possible, to either Jefferson Davis or Abraham Lincoln. The sacrifices of the leaders, soldiers, and supporters were of such magnitude, that they are hard to comprehend now. There are plenty of statistics of death, destruction, and survival, but how often do we stop and examine the legacy of freedom that our ancestor’s sacrifices have given us?