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429Antietam Death Toll article (long)

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  • rotbaron@aol.com
    Dec 27, 2001
      From Hagerstown Herald-Mail (December 27, 2001)...


      As difficult as it's been to determine how many people died in the World
      Trade Center collapse, a lack of accurate records created a similar dilemma
      for historians of the Battle of Antietam. Almost 140 years later, no one
      knows for sure exactly how many soldiers died in the bloody Civil War battle.

      Officially, the National Park Service says there were 23,110 casualties on
      Sept. 17, 1862. Of those, 3,650 were killed, 181 were missing in action and
      the rest were wounded, Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent John
      Howard said. While the numbers are reasonably accurate, they represent an
      educated guess gleaned from decades of studying incomplete military records.
      "We're still working on it to this day," Howard said. The ambiguity of the
      numbers resonates today, as New York City officials try to pin down the
      number of dead or missing in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

      Shortly after the Twin Towers fell, New York City officials were estimating
      that as many as 10,000 people died. Since then, the number of dead has
      steadily declined. In September it was 6,700. As of last week, the official
      tally was 2,992. New York City officials have said there are several reasons
      for the drop, including: names listed more than once on missing-person
      reports, overestimates from some foreign consulates and families that filed
      early missing reports but neglected to notify police when loved ones were
      found alive.

      At Antietam, the number of deaths was revised as recently as 1989, after a
      farmer plowing a field unearthed the remains of four soldiers on the
      battlefield, Howard said. Although historians believe they know who they are,
      only one could be conclusively identified. The body was that of a former
      stone mason, whose bones showed signs of expected arthritis and who wore a
      Celtic cross that bore the name of his hometown. His name was moved from the
      list of the missing to the list of the dead.

      Total casualty numbers were derived through hospital and military records
      from both sides, Howard said. Both Confederate and Union generals kept
      records of those soldiers who didn't muster the next day. Names of Union
      soldiers who died were reported to the War Department, which investigated the
      claims to make sure the survivors were entitled to a pension, Howard said.
      Names of the wounded were put on medical lists.

      But the records aren't entirely reliable, said George Wunderlich, director of
      education for the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md.
      "Unfortunately, there are a million reasons why records do not exist. It's
      not really as precise a science as most historians would like," Wunderlich

      Many of the Confederate Army's war records, in particular, were burned, moved
      or lost in the shuffle. Makeshift hospitals in homes and churches did not
      keep standardized records of their patients, he said. "They were made up as
      they went," he said. In some cases, patients came to the hospital unconscious
      and died before a doctor could confirm their names.

      Records also are flawed because soldiers enlisted using fake names. Some were
      women disguising themselves as men. Others were trying to avoid bounty
      hunters. The first casualty numbers from the war were reported in 1879,
      fourteen years after the war ended, Wunderlich said. Around the turn of the
      century, researchers published an 18-volume set on Union casualties alone
      that reported different numbers from every federal government agency. Some
      were off by hundreds of thousands, he said.

      Historians still are uncovering new records. Ninety boxes of
      never-before-reviewed information about the battle recently were found in a
      New York City library, Howard said. "After 140 years, you'd think we'd know
      everything there is to know about it," he said. Despite the uncertainty about
      the numbers - and the enormity of this year's Sept. 11 attacks - Antietam
      remains the single bloodiest day in American history. As much as Wunderlich
      likes history, he says it's not important to determine the exact number of
      casualties at Antietam. For historical purposes, one only needs a number
      accurate enough to compare with casualties of other conflicts, he said.

      The World Trade Center is different because there are survivors who
      desperately need to find out what happened to their loved ones. "Now, all of
      a sudden, it's not a historical event anymore. Your friend is in that rubble
      somewhere and you want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt. We have a much
      more important stake," he said.

      POSTED BY: Tom Shay