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Civil War death toll being reconsidered

– Nearly 150 years after the last fusillade of the Civil War, historians, authors and museum curators are still finding new topics to explore as the nation commemorates the sesquicentennial of America’s bloodiest conflict.

Even the long-accepted death toll of 620,000, cited by historians since 1900, is being reconsidered.

In a study published late last year in Civil War History, Binghamton University history demographics professor J. David Hacker said the toll is actually closer to 750,000.

“That number just sat there – 620,000 – for a century,” said Lesley Gordon, a professor at the University of Akron and editor of the journal, a 57-year-old publication considered the pre-eminent publication in its field.

Now, that figure “doesn’t feel right anymore,” said Gordon.

The buzz Hacker’s new estimate has created among academic circles comes in the second year of the nation’s Civil War sesquicentennial, a five-year period during which new ways to educate and inform America about its most devastating war are being presented in various forms, including fresh exhibits and living history events that highlight the role Hispanics, blacks and American Indians played in the war.

Among the published material are articles and books that look at guerrilla warfare in the border states, an overlooked battleground where civilian populations often fell victim to the fighting.

Such work represents “the new direction” some are taking in an effort to offer fresh Civil War topics for Americans to examine, Gordon said.

“They think about Lincoln, they think about Gettysburg, they think about Robert E. Lee,” Gordon said. “They don’t think about this often brutal warfare going on in people’s backyards.”