When I first started collecting data on veterans of the 5th New Hampshire, I thought that determining their lifespans would yield all sorts of revealing information. For example, lifespan is a proxy—albeit a crude one—for overall health. If I split the pool up into different groups, I reasoned, I’d be able to find important discrepancies that conveyed something about how the war experience had influenced these men’s lives. For the most part, such was not the case.
From the start, I knew that there were limits to what I could determine. For one thing, statistics often reveal correlations, not causes. For another, the sources I used vary in their reliability. I’m also conscious of the fact that I’m not a statistician, so there are probably problems that I’m not even aware of.
So without further ado, let us check the results.
The Pool as a Whole
Of the 403 men in the pool, I found lifespans for 361. The average lifespan was 64.1 years. The median lifespan was 66. According to my limited reading, historical demographers disagree on average life expectancy in 19th-century America, so it’s hard to say if these figures are high or low. At first, I thought that 64.1 years wasn’t bad considering that almost two-fifths of the sample had been wounded, but as we’ll see below, suffering wounds does not appear to have affected lifespan all that much.
If you want some contemporary perspective, an average lifespan of 64.1 is roughly the same as male life expectancy in Gabon, Yemen, Myanmar, or Ethiopia today.
Arthur H. Perkins (1844-1936) was born and raised in Danbury, NH. In the fall of 1861, he enlisted in Company I of the 5th New Hampshire as a private. Ayling’s Revised Register indicates Perkins was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in November 1863 but seems to have omitted the fact that he was a 1st Sergeant before then (as indicated by the chevrons and sash in this image). (Image courtesy of David Morin.)
Age upon Enlistment
I thought I’d divide the men into cohorts based on their age upon enlistment: men in their teens, twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties. The results are as follows:
- Teenagers (N=104): average lifespan: 64.2
- Men in their twenties (N=168): average lifespan: 62.8
- Men in their thirties (N=55): average lifespan: 64.5
- Men in their forties (N=25): average lifespan: 67.7
- Men in their fifties (N=9): average lifespan 74.6
The figures for the men who enlisted in their forties and fifties are remarkable. Indeed, this was one of biggest surprises I encountered. But I suspect that these men were generally a hale group for their age. Moreover, once a man reaches a certain age, his chances of living to be quite old are somewhat enhanced.
After the war, Perkins returned to Danbury, NH, and later moved to Franklin, NH, where he farmed. In 1936, Currier Studio in the latter town took this photograph, claiming that Perkins was the last survivor of the 5th New Hampshire. It so happened that when Perkins died the year this image was taken, there were three men in my pool who were still alive: Daniel E. Junkins (1844-1938), Charles N. Collins (1842-1939) (see below), and Oscar Collins (1842-1940) (no relation). (Image from the Library of Congress.)
Lifespan by Rank
Did rank make a difference with regard to lifespan among the veterans? In answering this question, I used the terminal rank of veterans.
- Captains (N=8): average lifespan: 64.6 years
- 1st Lieutenants (N=6): average lifespan: 61.0 years
- 2nd Lieutenants (N=11): average lifespan: 66.3 years
- Commissioned officers as a whole (N=25): average lifespan: 64.5 years
Not much to see there. I moved on to the non-commissioned officers, and this is what I found:
- 1st Sergeants (N=4): average lifespan: 60.8 years
- Sergeants (N=28): average lifespan: 63.6 years
- Corporals (N=23): average lifespan: 73.6 years
The last figure was shocking. I checked and double-checked my calculations. I actually looked at the ages, and what I found was stunning. A total of 16 men who completed their service at the rank of corporal (70%) lived beyond 70 and half of those men lived into their 80s. What that signifies—or if it is indeed significant—is unclear.
Lifespans of the Wounded
I wondered if suffering a wound appreciably lowered life expectancy. I was able to establish lifespans for 143 men who had suffered wounds and found that these men, on average, died at age 64.5 years. This figure is actually higher than the group as a whole.
I must add one qualification to this finding, though. I used Ayling’s Revised Register to determine whether men had been wounded or not. I have reason to believe that the Revised Register actually undercounted the number of wounds suffered by the regiment; other sources seem to indicate the number was actually somewhat higher.
Did men who earned a disabled discharge experience shorter lives than others? The answer seems to be, “Not by much.” I found the lifespans of 187 men who obtained such a discharge and found an average lifespan of 63.0 years.
Finally, I looked at deserters. I find this group very interesting because little research has been done on them. They are hard to track because they often do not leave much documentation (for obvious reasons). I was able to find the lifespans for 24 deserters (out of the 35 in my sample) and established the average as 63.8 years.
Charles N. Collins (1842-1939) lived longer than anybody else in the pool but one. Born in Concord, NH, the son of a farmer, he served in the 1st New Hampshire (a three-month regiment) before enlisting in the 5th New Hampshire as a private. He deserted at Point Lookout, MD, on December 29, 1863 (the regiment had just recruited a large number of substitutes in the late summer of 1863 and desertion spiked dramatically several months later). Collins surfaced in California in the late 1870s as a butcher and spent most of his remaining years in Santa Rosa. He eventually became a fruit farmer and served for a number of years as the town’s recorder. This newspaper article indicates that by the end of his life he’d become something of an institution. Interestingly enough, Collins obtained a pension in 1896. It was not until 1917 that the pension office realized that the Charles N. Collins who served with the 1st New Hampshire was the same Charles N. Collins who deserted from the 5th New Hampshire. His pension was revoked. Perhaps that’s why Collins never “waxed enthusiastic” over his Civil War service. (This clipping comes from the The Press Democrat [January 22, 1938], p. 3.)
With almost all the figures remaining pretty much in the same ballpark, I don’t know what to say. I was hoping that there would be substantial differences between different groups that would tell me something about the war’s impact on veterans. Then again, in the gross, maybe a couple of years at war, no matter how traumatic, can’t outweigh all the other factors that influence lifespan. In other words, the men who fought in the Civil War and survived were resilient. And perhaps that’s the point.