Times Past, Pausing to Remember

The Long and the Short of It

We Americans are fond of citing statistics to prove things, and we are particularly attached to the concept of averages. We read about average incomes and average numbers of children and average voting records and average buying habits. Are you average? Do you want to be?

During the American Civil War, lots of records were kept, then as now, and some of them make for interesting reading. For instance, the average height of the Federal soldier was put at 5 feet, 8.25 inches. The tallest man authentically recorded was said to be Captain Van Buskirk of the Twenty-seventh Indiana, who stood 6 feet, 10.5 inches. The shortest man as far as records go was a member of the 192nd Ohio, and at the age of 24 he measured 3 feet, 4 inches in height.

Would you have wanted to be either one of those soldiers? In battle, the shorter man has the advantage; the tall guy is going to have a miserable time trying to hunker down behind that hastily built wall of stone, logs, or dirt. But call retreat, and those long legs will carry him out of harm's way a lot faster than his smaller companion.

In age, 98.5% fell between 18 and 46. The average age was slightly under 26 years at time of enlistment. There were 127 Northern soldiers recorded as being age 13; 330 age 14; 773 age 15; 2758 age 16. There were 2366 men age 50 or older.

In prewar occupations, some 48% of Yankee soldiers were farmers, 24% mechanics, 16% laborers.

In the Union Army, 25% of the soldiers were foreign born. There were half a million such soldiers, about 175,000 of them coming from Germany, 150,000 from Ireland, and 50,000 each from England and Canada.

One more statistic, and this is everyone's "best guess," is the casualty assessment. Both North and South together lost 623,026 men killed, and another 471,427 wounded, which adds up to 1,094,453 casualties.

Those are just statistics. They do, however, tell us things about this greatest upheaval in our Country's history, and invite us to look beyond the numbers and try to imagine what those times were really like for those who lived them.