"Numbers on Top of Numbers": Counting the Civil War Dead

The assumption that the government has an obligation to name and count the military dead only emerged in the United States as a result of the Civil War experience. A massive postwar reburial program dedicated to identifying and reinterring every Union soldier was paralleled by intensive public and private efforts accurately to number the war's losses, which had not been carefully compiled by either North or South during the conflict. In an era of increasing preoccupation with statistics, an enumeration of the dead came to seem imperative to understanding the Civil War's unanticipated scale and destructiveness.