David Blood, Economics
The Civil War has often been described as a “rich man’s war-poor man’s fight,” suggesting that the war was waged with disproportionate human losses to the lower class. The losses suffered by the nation were huge, but the charge that such losses were disproportionately born by the poor or the immigrants as a result of some Intentional discrimination makes such losses even more tragic and unjustified. Since the beginning of the Union draft, this question has been an issue of debate. In 1863, the debate was highly partisan, with the Democratic party accusing the current Republican majority and administration of discriminating against the poorer classes by Instituting commutation. Today, the debate continues In history texts and other academic circles.
Several studies have been undertaken to test the validity of the Civil War as a “poor man’s fight.” Since the current debate revolves almost exclusively around possible discrimination at the recruitment level, previous literature and studies emphasize this issue. Although the approach differs with each study, an interesting methodological issue seems consistent throughout. Those studies which argue in favor of the traditional view of the war as a “poor man’s fight” use as support, personal interpretation based upon the Enrollment Act, congressional debates, and public opinion of Civil War contemporaries. However, each study that utilizes quantitative analysis has concluded that there Is little significant evidence to support the charge of a “poor man’s fight.”
A Model to Test
In order to test the validity or fallacy of the “poor man’s fight” argument, I tested for discrimination both in recruit-ment and on the battlefield. The data used for this project is taken from a sample of 45 Ohio Union companies that is a sub·sample of 331 companies, representing almost 40,000 recruits, which is part of an on-going research project of the National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc. (Fogel 1992, 15).
By comparing occupation, immigrant status and value of estate of a sample of Ohio recruits, to the same characteristics of the northern male population, It appears that the recruits sample is representative of the general population. If anything, within the recruit sample immigrants and farmers are under-represented. However, the wealth of the recruits’ families closely mirrors that of the general population, in mean and distribution, when age and location differences are considered. Therefore, it appears that Civil War recruits represented all classes of wealth and occupations.
In addition to looking at possible discrimination In recruitment, The possibilities of discrimination on the battlefield were examined. Even though there appears to be no discrimination In recruitment, once the soldiers entered the battlefield, such discrimination may have occurred. In order to test for battlefield discrimination, Several logistic models were set up that test the correlation between independent variables of age, occupation, immigrant status, height, term of enlistment, initial rank, value of property and real estate and reported illiteracy; and dependent variables of war-time death, hospitalization for wounds, captured and hospitalization for illness.
The results of these regressions suggest that there was a significant correlation between differences in occupation and wealth in illness; however, the analysis shows no significant difference in battle related wounds or death as a function of occupation levels, estate holdings, or immigrant status. Rather, every test suggests significant increases in the probability of battle related death or injury as a function of age, number of battles fought, and term of enlistment-all non-discriminatory variables.
This conclusion does not suggest that the war did not place a large burden on the lower class. It Is important to note that this was a war that was very costly to the entire U.S., both in terms of lives and money. These results suggest, however, that every socioeconomic group was represented, in very close proportion to the population in recruitment, and that there was no significant difference in battle wounds by socioeconomic group. The analysis of this study agrees with the conclusion that there Is little evidence to support the argument that the Civil War was a “poor man’s fight.”
A complete explanation of this analysis is found in the honors thesis entitled The Civil War: A “Poor Man’s Fight?”.
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