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Diseases Killed More than Bullets in the Civil War

Civil War Hospital
Civil War Hospital

It is a commonly known fact that many more men died from disease in the Civil War than from all the bullets fired. Historians point out that perhaps as many as 3/5 of the Union deaths and 2/3 of the Confederate deaths were from disease rather than on the battle field. The numbers are staggering. The most quoted numbers of death by disease are as follows: Union—249,458; Confederate – 164,000.

Dysentery alone is thought to have killed as many as 95,000 men. Typhoid fever killed probably another 65,000 soldiers. Soldiers died from malnutrition, scurvy, measles, parasites, virus, poor diet, malaria, pneumonia, whooping cough, mumps, chicken pox and others.

The key was that at the time, no one understood the importance of proper hygiene. Surgeons often used the same amputation saw for several operations without giving any thought to actually stopping and wiping it off in between. Water supplies were often contaminated. Camps had no knowledge of the need for even the simplest forms of sanitation common today.

Food supplies were woefully inadequate. The standard soldier’s diet consisted of coffee, hardtack and pork – hardly substantial enough to sustain the soldiers’ energy needed for miles and miles of marching.

In both Union and Confederate prisons, deaths by disease increased due to overcrowding and lack of POW rations.

Doctors of today say that in most cases, diseases know to be fatal during the Civil War do not often kill patients today, due to modern medicine and sanitary procedures.

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