Monday, December 20, 2010

Close to official: 34,000 from North Carolina died serving Confederacy

Slow to secede, North Carolina eventually sent nearly 135,000 men in gray to Civil War battlefields across the land.

For years, many in the state boasted that at 40,000, the Tar Heel state lost more men than any other Confederate state. (Click image at left)

Two recent studies -- one by the state, and the other by a camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans – have found that the 40,000 figure bandied about for generations is too high.

Josh Howard, a research historian for the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, told the Picket that the North Carolina Civil War Death Study is almost complete.

Howard and Purser estimate that 34,000 Rebel troops from the Tar Heel State perished.

“It’s still a horrible figure and it still ranks as the highest toll for any Southern state,” said Howard, placing Virginia (24,000-25,000) and South Carolina (about 18,000) in second and third places.

Charles Purser of the SCV camp in Garner, N.C., has led the chapter’s own research and came up with similar figures.

Driving Howard’s research is an upcoming Civil War atlas, a map-driven project that will look at all kinds of North Carolina demographics by county. He expects the book to be published by 2013 or 2014.

Howard's research includes newspaper accounts, cemetery searches and, primarily, a 17-volume set of rosters, based on National Archives records.

“North Carolina records are pretty complete for most of our regiments, mostly in Lee’s army,” said the military historian (right), who is the co-author of two books about the Revolutionary War.

“We won’t know everyone who died,” Purser said, including he has looked at unit records from more than 70 regiments and is down to three.

Howard explains in detail on the state’s Civil War sesquicentennial website why he is completing the project. Mostly, it’s about the integrity of the record.

“North Carolina is stepping and looking at our figures and are making sure we have done as good as we can,” he tells the Picket.

Howard estimates perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 North Carolinians who served in the Union died, but he is still researching the number. Purser’s estimate is lower, at perhaps a few hundred.

Researchers are still finding North Carolina troops who died in the Civil War.

“I hope it opens the eyes of people of the sacrifices,” Purser says of the death counts. “It [the war] affected every family.”

The retiree has used grave records,, rosters and other sources to count the Tar Heel dead.

“My and his [Howard’s] thinking were kind of on the same line,” Purser said. “He wants to do the statistics. We want the names.”

The SCV honors those who served and died across the South.

Purser estimates 2,400 North Carolinians died in the Gettysburg campaign and about 6,000 succumbed as POWs or “under Union control.”

The SCV Garner Camp a few years ago researched 1,400 Confederate dead in Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery.

They found the graves of two Union soldiers wrongly identified as Confederate.

Upon finding the second grave, Purser contacted friend Bob Farrell of the John A. Logan Camp #4 of the Sons of Union Veterans in Raleigh.

“’You’re never going to guess what I found,’” Farrell says Purser told him. “’I found another Yankee on the hill.’ ”

Separate ceremonies were held for the pair of Union soldiers and their graves received appropriate new headstones.

Like Purser, Farrell said the SUV has an important mission.

“The purpose is to honor and respect your descendants.”

Farrell, a New York transplant, said seven North Carolina regiments, three of them African-American, served the Union.

“You had a huge portion that was against secession and was pro-Union,” he says of the state’s wartime population.

Estimates of men serving in blue range from 5,000 to 7,000.

Farrell, who founded a Civil War roundtable in Raleigh, said about 80 percent of its 160 members have Confederate ancestors.

“There is no harsh conversation on North vs. South,” Farrell said. “The same rain falls on friend and foe.”

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