GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina's claim that it lost the most men during theCivil War is getting a recount from a state historian who doubtsthe accuracy of the accepted, 144-year-old estimate.
"The time has come to get it right," said Josh Howard, aresearch historian with the Office of Archives and History inRaleigh. "Nobody has gone through man by man looking for thedeaths."
Howard is reviewing the military records of every Tar Heel whoserved in the 1861-65 conflict, as the state prepares to mark itssesquicentennial, The News & Record of Greensboro reportedMonday.
Since shortly after the war ended, North Carolina has boastedthat it sacrificed more men to the Confederate cause than any otherstate, at 40,275. That's more than twice the death toll of SouthCarolina, where the war's first shots were fired. It suffered thesecond-highest toll at 17,682.
"This has sort of been the North Carolina badge of honor," saysKeith Hardison, director of the Division of State Historic Sitesand Properties. It was "held out as gospel, and it may be gospel.If it is, we need to have the figures to back it up. If it is not,we need to correct it."
Since 1866, the number of Civil War deaths has been attributedto a federal study by Gen. James B. Fry, the U.S. provost marshalgeneral. Fry and his clerks examined Union and captured Confederatemuster rolls and regimental reports to determine the toll fromfighting, disease, accidents and those who died in prison.
But Fry's figures were "incorrect and misguided," Howard said,because clerks relied on incomplete records, sometimes counted thesame case twice, and identified units as being from North Carolinawhen they were from another state. Additionally, some records werelost and some casualty reports may have been exaggerated.
"Officers did that to keep the enemy in the dark," Howard said."Or it showed you were in the thick of the fight."
If North Carolina's numbers are wrong, then the numbers forother states are wrong as well because they all come from the samefaulty sources, he said.
Howard is basing his review on a 17-volume roster of Tar Heelswho served on either side of the conflict -- a project that waslaunched in the 1960s to commemorate the war's 100-year anniversaryand continues with the state history office. For units not yetcollected in the series, Howard will rely on military servicerecords in the National Archives. He expects to examine the recordsof more than 140,000 men.
By Friday, Howard had confirmed 29,418 North Carolina wardead.
While many died in battle for the Confederacy, most died ofdisease. Others died from drowning, lightning strikes, suicide, barfights, train wrecks, riots, execution for desertion, accidentalshootings, collapsing buildings, insect and snake bites, falls, orbeing run over by wagons.
The research also found that about 2,000 North Carolinians,black and white, died during service in the Union army. No cases ofblacks who died while serving in North Carolina's Confederate rankshave been found, although some have argued that blacks did fightfor the South.
Howard is getting help from members of the Garner chapter of theSons of Confederate Veterans, which had separately started its ownstudy.
"We are going to compare our lists. We are coming at it from twodifferent angles," said Charles Purser, a retired Air Force mastersergeant who led the veterans' group's research.
The study is unlikely to change the fact that a third of thestate's men of military age died during the Civil War.
"I don't think it matters if it is 30,000 or 40,000," said TomBelton, curator of military history and the North Carolina Museumof History in Raleigh. "It's a significant number of NorthCarolinians who gave their lives for a cause they thought was worthdying for."
Information from: News & Record,http://www.news-record.com
On the Web: http://www.nccivilwar150.com
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