While it may be assumed that most causes of morality during the Civil War were due to battlefield injuries, it is statistically proven that disease was the number one killer during this time. According to “The Impact of Disease on the Civil War” by Intisar K Hamidullah, 3/5 Union troops died of diseases. 63% of Union fatalities were due to disease, 12% due to wounds, 19% of Union deaths were due to death on the battle field. Likewise, 2/3 Confederate troops died of infection. It was also found that more men died throughout this 4-year period than in any other war experienced in the U.S. Over 600,000 soldiers died during the Civil war whereas 400,000 died during WWI. (7) The image below reveals the month sickness rates of 1861 and 1862 in the distinct regions.
The soldiers had a 1 in 4 chance of surviving because of poor medical care. At the beginning of the war, the North had 98 doctors and in 1865, they had 13,000. For the confederacy, at the beginning of the war, the South had 24 doctors and in 1865, they had 4,000 doctors. (6)
It was found that between May 1st 1861-June 30th 1866, federal armies reported about 6,455,000 casualties, but more than 6 million of those incidents were for bouts with diseases. More than 157,000 Northern troops died from disease, compared to 38,115 death from battle or non-battle injury. (6)
While illness rates dropped in 1864, as soldiers who came from rural areas were now succeptible to urban childhood disease, the fatality rates didn’t improve. (10) The vast majority of casualties lived to go home and probably felt their hospitalization had been a positive influence on that outcome. (6)
According to an article written by Michael R. Gilchrist titled “Disease and Infection in the American Civil War”, causes of death among Union prisoners at Andersonville Prison From March 1-August 31, 1864 are as follows: typhoid/typhus- 199 deaths, malaria- 119 deaths, smallpox/measles/scarlet fever- 80 deaths, diarrhea/dysentery- 4,529 deaths, scurvy- 999 deaths, bronchitis- 90 deaths, inflammation of the lungs- 266 deaths, other disease- 844 deaths, wounds- 586 deaths. Likewise, the article by Gilchrist lists the causes of death of Confederate prisoners in Northern prisons as follows: typhoid/typhus- 1,100 deaths, malaria- 1,000 deaths, smallpox/measles/scarlet fever- 3,500 deaths, diarrhea/dysentery- 6,000 deaths, scurvy- 351 deaths, bronchitis- 133; deaths, inflammation of lungs- 5,000 deaths, other- 1,700 deaths. It is clear that disease trumps battlefield casualties at this time period. (6)
Out of the seven mentioned diseases, diarrhea was the greatest killer, which eluded approximately 20% of all deaths caused by disease, followed by 14% of the deaths for pneumonia and 13% for typhoid. It was also found in the article by Hamidullah that 60,000 soldiers died from diarrhea or dysentery in both the Union and Confederate armies. (7)