Sunday, October 05, 2014

Internet Research – Proceed with Caution

Did Iowa send more troops into Union armies, per capita, than any other state? I have no idea.

Internet research is becoming more and more viable as access to reliable information expands exponentially. Nowadays one can easily access a broad array of digitized primary source material and supplement it with indispensable reference works like the Official Records. And yet, the internet researcher must be more vigilant and discriminating than ever—because sadly, unreliable information may be expanding at an even greater clip.

Consider the astonishing example of a Virginia fourth-grade textbook which relied on ahistorical, neo-Confederate propaganda on the internet to perpetuate the fiction that thousands of black men fought in Confederate armies. 

If one of the major tenets of Lost Cause mythology—that the war was not about slavery, which is ultimately what the myth of Black Confederates aims to underscore—can fly so easily under the radar and even find its way into state-sanctioned texts, we can safely assume that more innocuous misinformation takes root on servers every day with nary an objection from the public. I was reminded of this recently when trying to find a quick and dirty confirmation of a claim I had read somewhere—the claim that the state of Iowa sent more soldiers per capita into Union armies than any other state of the Union. It seemed like a simple enough assertion to corroborate, but not so fast. A Google search on the subject instantly uncovered a virtual warren of interconnected rabbit holes. . . Click on the state names below to link to the online sources for each quote. 

IOWA:Nearly 80,000 Civil War military men were from Iowa, the largest number of soldiers per capita of any state participating during the war.”

Fair enough, but then I remembered that Dave, one of my friends in the Civil War Forum, made a similar claim about Vermont. 

VERMONT:Vermonters believed passionately in the war. The state contributed more soldiers per capita than any other Northern state but Michigan.”

Any other state but Michigan?  Maybe Vermont is Number Two. 

MICHIGAN:Michigan sent 90,000 men to fight in the Civil War including specialized regiments of sharpshooters and engineers, and more cavalry per capita than any other northern state.”

Just more cavalry? What about Ohio. Surely Ohio was a major contributor.  .  .

OHIO:Faber’s claim was that more than 300,000 Ohioans served in the Civil War and that the per capita enlistment was the highest in the nation. The Ohio Historical Society, the state’s official archive, backs his claim. On the Truth-O-Meter, it rates True.”

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "what about Maine?"

MAINE:Maine contributed more soldiers per capita than any other state to the Union Army during the Civil War.” 

I know a webmaster in Illinois who takes issue with that claim.

ILLINOIS:By war's end, Illinois sent more men per capita into the army than any other state.”

That's all well and good, but New York was the most populous state in the Union, right?

NEW YORK:New York sent more troops per capita than any other state in the Union to the Civil War.”

Kansas and Missouri each stake a claim, but they’re probably counting soldiers who went South as well.

KANSAS: Per capita, Kansas sent more soldiers to fight in the Civil War than any other state” — MISSOURI:Missouri sent more men to war, in proportion to her population, than any other state. The total number of Missouri Volunteers who served was 199,111.”

I'm tired of the history of the Civil War giving such short shrift to the Cornhusker state. 

NEBRASKA:I am informed that, in proportion to population, Nebraska sent more soldiers into the army than any state in the union. The aggregate was 49,614 according to a report at the provost marshal general, without counting the medical corps or Red Cross enlistments.”

I’m going to settle this once and for all, and you can take this one to the bank:

CALIFORNIA:In all, over 17,000 Californians would join as soldiers; this is the highest per-capita total for any state in the Union.”


BorderRuffian said...

"...thousands of black men fought in Confederate armies..."

That's probably true.

In a study of black Confederate pension applicants (servants) in MS, James Hollandsworth found that 9% (of 1200) had been wounded in combat.

How many black servants were with the army over the course of four years of war? 50,000?

What's 9% of 50,000?

Dan said...

I view this sort of thing as akin to the postwar regimental disputes ("We lost the most!" "No, WE DID!" "No, you're both wrong..."). There's probably a slim kernel of fact (or factoid) that has been run through the Chamber-of-Commerce processor, in order to produce an award-winning soundbite.

Anonymous said...

You'd think it would be simple enough to calculate per-capita enlistments based on a state's population and number of troops, but you'd have to consider immigration during the war, the many men who enlisted in units formed outside their states, and naval enlistments, which can be hard to track down. But I research New York's involvement in the war and I'm pretty certain that the Empire State did not have the highest per-capita enlistment number; NY did raise the highest number of troops, but that was because it had the highest population and because high bounties attracted men from other states.
Will Hickox

Mark H. Dunkelman said...

Here's another one. In the introduction to the Rhode Island Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration Commission's website, Commission Chair Frank J. Williams states, "Rhode Island's contribution in manpower exceeded any other state proportionately, with 13% of its population of 174,620 enlisting. " (I serve as the Commission's secretary.)

dw said...

Thanks for adding to the list Mark. That's a good one.


dw said...

BorderRuffian -- sorry, your assumptions don't hold up. For starters, those blacks who filed for a pension did so as noncombatants. And those who answered that they were wounded under combat conditions do not describe going into battle as Confederate solders.

Rather, they talk about things -- as Hollandsworth put is -- "artillery over-shots or stray rounds landing among the wagons and horses held in the rear." Some wounds would have been received while closer to the front, but as servants, not soldiers. Lastly, Hollandsworth points out that the pension files are useless when it comes to determining motivation.

So what you're left with is the fact that some of the slaves who accompanied the armies got wounded, since the armies they accompanied were engaged in combat.

Your "9% of 50,000" projection is absolutely meaningless, because it doesn't establish that even one, single black person was wounded "fighting" for the Confederacy.