Lifespans of the “400”

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.

Disabled Discharges

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.

Deserters

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.)

Conclusions

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.

How Old Were the “400” When They Enlisted in the 5th New Hampshire?

How old were the volunteers who signed up for the 5th New Hampshire? As this image of an unidentified solider in the regiment indicates, many were extremely young. One imagines that this young man—or boy, rather—had his image taken shortly before the regiment left for Washington, DC, in late October 1861. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

In today’s post, I’ll discuss how old the members of the “400” in the 5th New Hampshire were when they enlisted. Keep in mind that the data are not exact and that they pertain to men who survived the war. As I have mentioned earlier, there are many limitations in my source material. For one thing, much of the information I gathered in various documents was self-reported, and throughout their lives, men lied frequently about their age for various reasons. For another, I often do not have birthdates for these men; most of my information has come from census records which recorded how old subjects were on a given date. That can lead to some uncertainty. For example, if a man said he was 20 in the 1860 Census, that means he could have been born in either 1839 or 1840.

Only men between the ages of 18 and 44 were eligible to volunteer, so anybody younger or older than that range who wanted to join up had plenty of reasons to lie. Even men within this range lied for many reasons. I tended to mistrust enlistment papers. Instead, I looked at census records to establish true ages because folks had less incentive to give false information on these forms. Nonetheless, I’m positive I did not catch everybody who gave a false age. In some cases, a dearth of information compelled me to accept the age on the enlistment forms.

The graph below represents what I found.

If you want an exact breakdown by age, I’ve reproduced it in the tables below.

Age 15 16 17 18 19 TOTAL
Number 3 15 24 32 38 112

 

Age 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 TOTAL
Number 29 25 20 28 16 16 16 16 9 12 187

 

Age 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 TOTAL
Number 11 6 7 8 5 6 10 6 3 5 67

 

Age 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 TOTAL
Number 5 1 4 2 2 3 3 4 3 1 28

 

Age 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 TOTAL
Number 1 1 1 3 0 2 1 9

What I can say about this topic will be somewhat limited because age does not reveal much unless it’s combined with others variables. In later posts, then, I will have occasion to bring up the way age intersects with various topics. For now, it suffices to point out that the average age upon enlistment of men in this pool (remember, these were men who survived the war) was 25.8. The median age was 23 (meaning half the regiment was 23 or younger).

Of the 403 men in the sample, 42 (10.4%) were 17 years old or younger (underaged). Another 23 (5.7%) were over the age of 44 (that is, too old to enlist). In other words, about one-sixth of the regiment was not legally eligible to volunteer. If I had to guess, I’d say that the number of underaged men (or boys) was even higher; I’m sure I didn’t catch all the youngsters (a number of whom were abetted by their parents) who added a couple of years to their age to make themselves 18.

Nonetheless, the figures I have indicate that the regiment consisted mainly of young men; just under three quarters of the regiment was 29 or under. The reason that the average age was on the high side is because of the long “tail” of men in their 40s and 50s.

Several things follow from the fact that so many men were young. Most were unmarried. Of the 242 for whom I have a date of first marriage, only 98 (40%) were married in 1861 or earlier. Not surprisingly, according to the Census of 1860, over 60% of the sample was living in the households of parents, an uncle, or an older male employer. According to records from the Census of 1860, the vast majority of the young men in this sample possessed only small amounts of money or property of their own (as opposed to what belonged to, say, their fathers).

The graph indicates that enlistment fell off as men reached their mid-20s. I think these figures indicate that married men were much less inclined to volunteer than others (the average age of marriage during this period hovered around the early to mid-20s).

Augustus J. Hoyt (or Hoitt) (1845-1920) is the youngest soldier in the “400” for whom I have a photo. Hoyt was born in Northwood, NH, the son of a cordwainer. In the fall of 1861, he found his way to Concord, NH, and enlisted in Company A of the 5th New Hampshire. He re-enlisted on January 1, 1864 and was wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor (June 3, 1864). In October 1864, he was promoted to Captain of Company I. The Revised Register neglects to mention that somewhere along the way between private and captain, Hoyt was a sergeant—which is the rank he holds in this image (a promotion straight from private to captain would have been unlikely). Whatever the case, Hoyt was lucky; he made it to the end of the war in one piece and mustered out in June 1865. After the war, Hoyt moved to Lynn, MA (then on its way to becoming the shoe capital of America), and held a position as foreman in a shoe factory. He later worked, interestingly enough, as a pension agent and eventually moved into real estate. I have seen claims that he was city marshal and post master in Lynn, as well as the commander of the local GAR post (I haven’t been able to substantiate these claims yet). His death certificate declares that he died at Weirs Beach in Laconia, NH, even though his residence was still Lynn, MA. This last fact leads me to wonder if he died at the New Hampshire Veterans’ Association’s complex while vacationing there. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

Just for fun, I thought I’d compare the smooth chins against the grey beards in a variety of categories. All of the overaged men were discharged disabled with two exceptions—one man deserted and another transferred to another unit (the Invalid Corps, not surprisingly). Among the underaged men (n=42), only 16 were discharged disabled. What is truly impressive is that 15 of these young men were mustered out. Ten of these men left at the conclusion of their three-year term and another five, who had re-enlisted in 1864, lasted until war’s end. Another three were discharged disabled after 43 months of service (that is, they left the regiment just one month shy of the war’s end). That record is a true mark of endurance; only a small proportion of men in the 5th New Hampshire lasted that long in the ranks.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the average length of service for the old men was shorter (11 months) than it was for the young ones (25.5 months). Such was the resilience of youth.

Interestingly enough, the older men tended to be wounded with less frequency: only 26%. Among the younger group, the figure was a great deal higher: 44%. This discrepancy might have to do with the fact that the younger men, on average, served for a much longer period of time. The average for the pool as a whole was 39% (and the average length of service was 19.5 months).

There is one category, however, where the overaged had the underaged beat: lifespan. The old men, on average, lived to be 69.8 years old. The young died at 63.4. I have entertained all sorts of theories about why that was, but I don’t want to try my readers’ patience, so I will leave well enough alone.

All I will add is that I remember years ago reading accounts of anxious underaged teenagers enlisting in volunteer regiments at the beginning of the war. There was always “a nod and a wink” air about these vignettes in which the worldly wise recruiter who knew the score guided an awkward hobbledehoy toward the “correct” responses during the enlistment process. When I think about how these recruiters helped throw boys into the carnage at Fair Oaks, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor, it makes me feel a bit queasy. It also distresses me that parents  sometimes lied to recruiters to get their children into the army.

Maybe these adults—recruiters and parents alike—would have acted differently if they’d known what was in store for the 5th New Hampshire. Maybe they were wicked or callous people. Maybe they were driven by difficult circumstances or inspired by motives that we cannot fully grasp from the perspective of our own time. Maybe—and this is quite possible—their notions concerning childhood and adulthood were quite different from ours.

Another very young recruit from the 5th New Hampshire poses for the camera. Like the image at the top of the post, this photograph must have been taken very early in the war, possibly before the regiment left New Hampshire. This boy wears the Whipple hat that was the original (and unpopular) headgear of the regiment. One wonders what book he holds in his hand. One also wonders if he understood what soldiering would really be like. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

“The 400”: Investigating Veterans of the 5th New Hampshire through the Numbers

As I’ve indicated on several occasions, about a year ago, I used FamilySearch to start collecting biographical data on a random pool of 5th New Hampshire veterans (all of whom were original volunteers from when the regiment was first organized). I first started doing so because one of my students was interested in doing a statistical analysis of the life outcomes of these men. Although she did not proceed with the project, I continued because I thought collecting data would provide some important insights into the experiences of the soldiers who fought with the regiment. Moreover, as I kept going, I realized that my investigation was uncovering some interesting stories that I could pursue in the future. By the time I finished collecting data over a week ago, I had obtained information about 403 veterans. (I refer to them now as “400,” partially for convenience’s sake and partially as an allusion to the Spartan “300.”) That information is now transcribed in a 579-page, single-spaced document in 10-point Calibri font.

Just a couple of days ago, I finished transferring much of the data to an Excel spreadsheet so that I could sort and search the information in various ways. I am now ready to start looking at what the numbers reveal about these veterans.

How the “400” Were Selected

Several years ago, I got my hands on Augustus D. Ayling’s Revised Register of the Soldiers and Sailors of New Hampshire in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866. The Revised Register has a brief service record for every New Hampshire serviceman who fought in the Civil War. In the case of the 5th New Hampshire, Ayling’s book has the records of some 2500 men. A couple of student researchers and I (thank you Greg Valcourt ’19 and William Bearce ’19) spent a number of months transferring the information for these soldiers to an Excel spreadsheet.

When the student who was interested in doing a statistical analysis of the 5th New Hampshire’s veterans approached me, I thought it would make sense to limit the study to the original volunteers who enlisted in September and October 1861. First, they would be easier to find on FamilySearch since the vast majority were native-born and very few deserted. Second, I had to limit the project in some fashion, and the 1000-odd men who were the first members of the regiment seemed easier to deal with than the entire 2500 who passed through the unit’s ranks during the war.

I created an Excel spreadsheet with information exclusively associated with the original volunteers and, moving in alphabetical order, started collecting biographical information about every man on that spreadsheet who survived the war. After assembling about seven or eight biographies, I realized that I had undertaken an enormous task. I asked one of my colleagues in Sociology who has an affinity for statistics if I could take a shortcut. Would it be possible, I wondered, to collect information about a smaller pool of men (randomly selected from among the 1000) that would still yield statistically useful information? She thought the minimum size of the pool should be about 300. To get to that number, we agreed that I should proceed by alphabetical order, picking every other soldier on my Excel spreadsheet. If I landed on somebody who had not survived the war, I would have to go to the next person who had survived. And that’s what I did, except for one thing: I kept the information on my spreadsheet about the first seven or eight survivors in a row that I collected before I spoke to my colleague. The whole process, though, seems sufficiently random to me. And as we shall see, for a variety of reasons, we should keep in mind that the data are not exactly characterized by great exactitude.

What I Learned about the Data

So why are the data not characterized by great exactitude? Perhaps the most important reason is that most of the information was self-reported, and self-reported information is unreliable. For example, men often changed their names or misrepresented their occupations, and when you throw in careless (or overworked?) census-takers into the mix, matters become very complicated. Among other things, people in those days often seemed pretty cavalier about reporting their age with any accuracy. And if there’s one thing I discovered, throughout their lives, men lied about their age. They lied to the recruiting officer because they were either too young or too old to volunteer for the army. They lied when they got married, especially if their 16-year-old wife was less than half their age. They lied when they got old so that they would appear more venerable and respected. They lied for reasons known only to themselves.

For that reason, I often had to make educated guesses about when men were born (especially since I found so few birth records from this period). The documents I located were not always helpful because those compiling them often did not ask for a man’s birthday—rather, they asked for his age. That mode of proceeding led to certain problems. If a man was truthful when he told the recruiting officer that he was 21 in 1861, he could have been born in either 1839 or 1840.

This is the top portion of a page for the 1860 Census in Ward 2 of Worcester, MA. Freeman Hutchins (aka Moses Freeman Hutchins), who appears on this page, served only briefly with Company E of the 5th New Hampshire; he was discharged disabled on January 10, 1862 after having been with the regiment for less two and a half months. Later in 1862, Hutchins served with the 12th New Hampshire for just under three months before he was discharged disabled again.  Here we see the one of the biggest problems with census records; aside from the fact that all of the information was self-reported, the form only indicates the ages of the respondents on the date of the census (in this case, June 14, 1860). Hutchins claimed he was 23 on that day. Was he born in 1836 or 1837? Or was he lying about his age and born in some other year?

For that reason, my unit of measurement was years instead of anything more precise, and that meant ages often got rounded up. For example, a man born in December 1830 who died in February 1896 was only 65 years and 3 months at the end of his life, but since I was dealing in years, I had to enter his lifespan as 66. I suppose this phenomenon may have exerted some upward pressure on my calculations regarding lifespan, but I found accurate birthdays so infrequently that there was nothing I could do about it. At the same time, I rounded to the month for the soldiers’ length of service; it didn’t seem to make sense to me to use a more accurate unit of measurement.

There are other problems too. Much of the medical information in my records is suspect for a variety of reasons. For example, it’s unclear how determination of cause of death was made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And, of course, medical science was not what it is today. Moreover, it was not always clear how good country doctors in New Hampshire were at distinguishing one illness from another, let alone the veterans themselves or the census-takers in 1890. Moreover, the same terms were used differently over a 100 years ago. And yet, despite these problems, the medical information is still useful in some ways (but that’s for a future post).

This is the entry for Stephen L. Stearns in the records of the Eastern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Togus, ME. Stearns, who was admitted on September 5, 1889, had served in Company G, 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, from October 1861 to November 1863. According to this entry,  Stearns claimed he contracted diabetes at the Battle of Fair Oaks. While such a claim may seem odd, some research suggests that trauma or stress can trigger the onset of diabetes among those who are predisposed to the illness.

Finally, there are holes in the data. Some types of data were easier to collect than others, and some men proved easier to track than others (deserters, immigrants, and those moving far away from New England often proved most difficult to locate). But I did find enough information about enough men to make some generalizations.

This is Only the Beginning

My collection of information and my analysis of it are works in progress and will be so for quite some time. Yes, I’ve probably made some errors in transcription and similar such mistakes. I caught some of these in the as I transcribed information to the Excel spreadsheet that contains information about the “400.” But beyond that, in looking at what I’ve collected, I’ve made the obvious realization that data prompt as many questions as they answer. Data alone means little without interpretation, and interpretation either requires bringing different analytical tools to bear or the collection of even more data for the sake of contextualization. (For example, with the help of several more students [Steve Hanabergh ’21, Will Small ’21, and Connor O’Neill ’22] I’ve started collecting data about soldiers from the 5th New Hampshire who died from illness or combat to see if they differed in any noticeable way as a group from the men who survived.) As I wrestle with the data in the next series of posts, you’ll see me thinking “aloud” and thrashing about in one direction or another as a try to find the message in the noise.

When I completed the spreadsheet with the data for my 403 men, I exclaimed to my wife, “I’m finished!” But this is not an end; it is really a beginning. Over the coming weeks and months, I will play with the data on this blog and see what they reveal. So why not follow me on the journey?

Lifespans of 5th New Hampshire Veterans Part 1

In my last post, I explained that, having accumulated information on 300 veterans of the 5th New Hampshire (randomly selected from among the 1000 original volunteers), I was stopping briefly to take stock of what the data revealed about their lives. Eventually, I will push forward and collect information on about 400 men and report my results at a later date. Whereas the last post looked at how old soldiers were when they volunteered for the 5th New Hampshire, this one will look at data about the lifespans of veterans of that regiment.

The Pool (Average Lifespan: 63.2 years)

Of the 300 veterans from the 5th New Hampshire in my pool so far, I was able to figure out how long 268 of them lived. The average lifespan for these men was 63.2 years, and the median was 65. The shortest lived veteran only reached the age of 21 (James P. Milton, who died in 1866) while the longest-lived veteran died at the age of 98 (Oscar Collins who lived to see 1940). The chart below records how many died at which point in their lives.

Age

20s 30s 40s 50s 60s 70s 80s

90s

Number

12 14 31 34 72 64 36 5

Below, I’ve added what amounts to a Gantt chart of lifespan. The lifespans at the top are the men who were oldest when they enlisted (led by Jeremiah Atwood, born in 1809). Those at the bottom are for the youngest (Frank B. Camp, born in 1846). I’m not quite sure what to make of this data yet, but I’m very proud that I could hack Excel to produce a Gantt chart.

What I’d hoped or thought this chart would reveal was that the men born earlier generally experienced shorter lifespans, and while that does seem to be the case, the difference does not appear to be all that great. What I’d really have to do is create a plain bar graph to figure that out.

In any event, I can’t decide if 63.2 years is long or short. Historical demographers are not much help; they can’t seem to agree on what average life expectancy for people was in this period. I suppose that, considering the circumstances, a lifespan of 63.2 years was pretty good. At least two-fifths of my sample had been wounded. On top of that, a large number obtained disabled discharges for various illnesses that became chronic (e.g malaria).

Having calculated the average of the pool, I started thinking about the way different factors could influence lifespan, and the results of that thinking are below.

Teenage Enlistees (Average Lifespan: 62.8 years)

During this period, male teenagers had not reached full maturity (I’ve found that teenage enlistees were often several inches taller when they re-enlisted in 1864). I wondered if those who volunteered before reaching the age of 20 adversely affected their lifespan by undergoing war trauma at a relatively young age. I found 75 veterans in the pool who had enlisted as teenagers (between the ages of 15 and 19) for whom I had birth and death dates. I discovered that their average lifespan was 62.8 years—four-tenths of a year shorter than the pool as a whole. I don’t think that’s a statistically significant discrepancy, but it’s worth thinking about.

Of these men, 31 had been wounded during the war (41.3%, which is exactly the same as the pool as a whole), so that was probably not a factor in reduced life expectancy—unless, of course, getting wounded had a greater impact on younger men than older ones. The average length of service in this group was 22.4 months, slightly more than the pool’s average of 19.8. Perhaps we can attribute the slightly lower lifespan to greater length of service? Then again, maybe the ability to serve for a slightly longer time indicated greater robustness and resilience.

We must keep in mind that a great deal of variations lurks beneath our averages. When he enlisted in the fall of 1861 as one of the original volunteers in the 5th New Hampshire, Frederick Barrett was one of those teenaged recruits we have been discussing. Born in 1842, he was only 19 when he signed his enlistment papers. Barrett had been born in Hinsdale, NH, but his family soon moved to Winchester, NH. At some point before the war, Barrett’s father, a moderately prosperous farmer, died. According to the 1860 Census, Barrett’s mother, Olive, was the head of household and oversaw the family farm. Upon mustering in, Barrett was appointed corporal. He was wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg but recovered and was mustered out in October 1864. After the war, he returned to Winchester, NH, to become a farmer. In 1874, at the relatively late age of 31, he married Laura M. Nutting. The couple moved with Olive to Framingham, MA, where Barrett bought a new farm and had two sons (Frederick and Robert). Laura died in 1889, but Barrett did not lack company; for the rest of his life, he lived with his son Frederick’s family. Barrett eventually assumed the job of farm superintendent, and as he grew older, he became a simple farm laborer. He died in May 1929 at the ripe age of 87—far older than the 62.8 years that was the average lifespan of teenage volunteers. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

Deserters (Average Lifespan: 67.9 years)

I next thought of deserters. I find them interesting largely because they are not as well researched as other soldiers. I located 18 deserters in the pool for whom I could establish a lifespan. Their average age on enlistment was slightly lower than the pool as a whole (23.3 years versus 25.0). Their average lifespan was 67.9 years—appreciably higher than that of the pool. A somewhat smaller proportion of these deserters were wounded than the average for the pool (33.3% versus 41.3%). Deserters also averaged a shorter length of service than the pool as a whole (17.0 months versus 19.8). Do these factors account for their longer lives? Or is the pool of deserters far too small to make any judgments?

Wounded Men (Average Lifespan: 64.8 years)

Before I write anything else on the subject of wounded men, I have to admit that Ayling’s Revised Register probably undercounted the number of men who were wounded. I’ve found several old soldiers in the “Veterans’” Census of 1890 who claimed wounds that do not appear in Ayling. Determining definitively who was wounded and who wasn’t from among 400 men (let alone 1000) would be a terrible chore, so I will just have to accept Ayling’s figures for now.

Out of the 268 men in the pool for whom I’d established lifespans, Ayling lists 112 who were wounded (41.3%). These men had been slightly younger than the average upon enlistment (24.4 years versus 25.0). Surprisingly, they lived, on average 64.8 years—slightly longer than the pool as a whole. I can reach for no straw to explain this fact.

Amputees

Of course, not all wounded men were equal. Some suffered from grievous wounds that badly damaged life outcomes. In my pool, I could only find five men who had undergone a serious amputation—that is, one that included an arm, hand, leg, or foot (a fairly large number of thumbs and fingers were amputated in this group, but I did not count those). There may be more than these five, but this is all the information I have at the moment. Not one of these amputees attained a lifespan equal to that of the pool’s average.

  • Private William Delury (1837-1890) underwent an amputation of his left leg after the Battle of Ream’s Station. An Irish immigrant, he had been a common laborer before the war in Concord, NH. Unlike a great majority of his comrades in the regiment, he never married. He died of “hematemesis” (vomiting blood).
  • Born and raised in Amherst, NH, 2nd Lieutenant George Washington George (1832-1875) lost his left leg at the Battle of Antietam. Married before the war, he became a clerk in Washington, DC. I could find no cause of death in his case.
  • Private George G. Leslie (1840-1883) had his right leg amputated at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Born in Lowell, MA, he was a painter by trade. He too never married. He spent some time at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Togus, ME. A couple of years later, he was found frozen to death in the woods between North Chelmsford, MA, and Tyngsborough, MA.
  • Born in Vermont but living in Concord, NH, upon the outbreak of the war, Private Benjamin F. Morse (1836-1898) lost his left foot at the Battle of Antietam. Only 17 when he joined the 5th New Hampshire, he became first a machinist and then a barber after the war. He was also married, but it is not clear whether he had children or not. He died of “organic disease of heart.”
  • Private Peter Murphy (b. 1836) also lost a foot at the Battle of Antietam. I have very little information about him aside from the fact that he was an illiterate, married laborer from Ireland living in Dover, NH, before the war. After he was hospitalized, he was discharged disabled in February 1863.

Commissioned Officers (Average Lifespan: 60.3 years)

In my pool, I found 21 men who at one time or another served as commissioned officers (lieutenants, captains, majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels). Just over half (11) started the war without a commission; that is, they rose from the ranks (the 5th New Hampshire promoted almost exclusively from within). This group tended to be somewhat older upon enlistment (27.6 years) than the regiment as a whole which makes sense. This group also suffered from an appreciably shorter lifespan (60.3 years). Part of the explanation might have to do with the greater frequency with which they were wounded; 47.6% were injured during the war. What is interesting, of course, is that wounded veterans as a whole had a longer lifespan than veterans who had been officers. Was it the stress of command that explains the difference?

Non-Commissioned Officers (Average Lifespan: 68.4 years)

This group includes all men in the pool who at one time or another became a corporal or sergeant of some sort. How did they fare? I found 40 in the pool. Surprisingly, they were younger upon enlistment than the rest of the pool (23.8 years). They also tended to serve for a much longer period of time than the average of the pool (29.1 months). Finally, 24 of them (60%) were wounded over the course of the war. So it’s surprising that despite all these marks against them they tended to live about five years longer than the average of the pool (68.4 years).

Long-Serving Soldiers (Average Lifespan: 64.8 years)

Did long periods of service affect lifespan? I located all the men (76) for whom I had lifespan information who served for 36 months or longer. This group enlisted, on average, at a relatively young age (23.4). Their average length of service was 38.6 months in the 5th New Hampshire (my accounting did not include the 88 veterans who served in other units after being discharged from the regiment). A total of 42 men (55.3%) in this group were wounded. That would make sense; the longer one served, the greater the chance of getting wounded. What doesn’t make sense is that this group, which had surely seen a great deal of arduous service and been wounded at higher rate than the rest of the pool, lived on average for 64.8 years.

Soldiers Who Served for a Short Period of Time (58.3 years)

So if soldiers who served for a long period of time lived slightly longer than the average of the pool, what about men who experienced much shorter periods of service? I found 35 men for whom I had birth and death dates who also served six months or less. Although there was a smattering of deserters in this group, the great majority had been discharged for disability (and almost all of these had been for illness). This group had an average lifespan of 58.3 years which was five years below the pool’s average—a substantial difference. As usual, one is presented with a chicken-and-egg question. Did these men obtain disabled discharges because they contracted illnesses that shortened their lives? Or did they suffer from pre-existing conditions that made them less robust in the first place?

Tall Men (Average Lifespan: 62.5 years)

According to recent research, shorter people enjoy greater longevity than tall ones. So, for the sake of sheer curiosity, I thought I’d look up the lifespan of veterans who were 5′ 10″ or taller. There were 53 who in the pool who fit this criterion. On average, they lived 62.5 years (seven-tenths of a year less than the pool as a whole). Of these men, 25 were wounded (47.2%), so maybe that explains the discrepancy.

Veterans Who Lived to 80 Years or More

Having paused a spell to contemplate the question of the war’s impact on lifespan, I had a sudden flash of inspiration: why not look at the veterans who enjoyed long lives? Did they share anything in common that might provide some insight into the way war trauma shortened other men’s lives?

Alas, the answer is, more or less, no, not really. I found 41 men in the sample who lived to be 80 or older. They enlisted, on average, at the age of 25.6 which was a smidgen above the pool’s average. Their average period of service was 21 months which was slightly higher than the pool’s average. In this group, 16 men were wounded (39%). This percentage is slightly below that of the pool (41.3%). The difference doesn’t seem sufficient to account for the greatly enhanced lifespan. There is only one substantial difference that I can see so far which sets this group apart from the rest of the pool. Of the 41 men in this group who lived to 80 or more, 11 of them were non-commissioned officers (31.7%) which is an extraordinarily high number (NCOs constituted 14.9% of the sample). In thinking about this phenomenon, we ought to remember that veteran non-coms in general enjoyed longer lifespans than any other rank. Still, this fact along does not explain why these men lived for so long.

Conclusions

I hesitate to draw any hard and fast conclusions, partly because I still haven’t finished assembling my pool and partly because the data are difficult to interpret. It is hard to disentangle cause from effect. Did veterans who enlisted as teenagers suffer from shorter lifespans because the type of person who enlisted as a teenager tended to be somewhat reckless? Or were these young volunteers more susceptible to the trauma of war than their fellow soldiers?

The same question can be applied to what I see as the great surprise of this preliminary foray: the longevity of non-commissioned officers. I hardly think that simply wearing stripes on one’s sleeve allowed men to reach a great age. It seems much more likely that the qualities that marked them out for promotion must also have been associated in one way or another with a longer lifespan. But what exactly were these qualities?

How Old Were Volunteers in the 5th New Hampshire? Part 1

As I’ve explained elsewhere, one aspect of the 5th New Hampshire that I’ve been working on is what became of the veterans after the war. To what degree did the war experience affect their life outcomes? I started looking at this question about a year-and-a-half ago when one of my students who had an aptitude for statistics indicated an interest in investigating this issue. I thought that if we collected enough information on a large number of soldiers, we could subject this information to statistical analysis and detect some interesting patterns. After all, few regiments experienced as much combat trauma as the 5th New Hampshire; maybe, I thought, a close analysis would capture the impact of this trauma. I must admit that I am not a statistician, but I’m not too proud to ask my colleagues for help. I spoke to Tauna Sisco in the Sociology Department at Saint Anselm College, and she suggested that I assemble a randomly selected pool of at least 300 men. Several decisions followed from this suggestion. First, I resolved to focus on the original 1000 volunteers. I figured that it would be easier to track these men than the substitutes who joined the regiment starting in 1863 (many of whom were immigrants and many of whom deserted). Second, I determined to pick every other man who survived the war. And so slowly but steadily, I used FamilySearch to collect as much information as I could on my pool. By December 2019, I had found data and written biographies on 300 veterans. Since I’ve made my way through about three-fourths of the first thousand volunteers, it looks like by the time I’m done I will have eventually compiled information on 400 soldiers.

Arthur H. Perkins (1844-1936) was one of the many underaged recruits to join the 5th New Hampshire when it was first organized in the fall of 1861 (he claimed he was 19 on his enlistment form). Starting out as a private, he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in November 1863. A year later, he was discharged. Perkins returned to his hometown of Danbury, NH, where he farmed for a number of years before moving to Franklin, NH. He died there in 1936 at the age of 91 of a gastric ulcer. This image was apparently taken shortly before the 5th New Hampshire departed for Washington, DC in late October 1861; the unusual Whipple hat on the table was the original headgear issued to the regiment. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

Having come this far, I thought I’d give a series of preliminary reports about what I’ve found with these first 300 men. Today, I’ll focus on the age of recruits upon enlistment (when I’ve looked through the entire pool and reach 400 men, I’ll probably report on this issue again—hence the “Part 1” in the title). I thought I’d start with this topic because, after all, my last post was about underage recruits.

I have to preface my findings by pointing out that some sources of information are much better than others. Ayling’s Revised Register lists ages for every man who enlisted. These numbers, however, are not always reliable because they are derived from enlistment forms where men reported their own ages. For a variety of reasons, volunteers frequently lied about how old they were. In as many cases as I could, I checked the ages indicated on enlistment forms against census records both before and after the war. Unfortunately, in some instances, I could not find much additional information and therefore had to rely on Ayling’s figures. In other words, while the ages I’ve assigned to most men are fairly accurate, there may be cases where I’ve erred.

According to my calculations, the average age for original volunteers was 25.4 years. The median age of enlistment was 23 on the dot. You can see a table and graph with the age distribution below.

Age 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33
# 2 10 19 24 29 24 20 12 19 14 12 13 13 5 11 10 4 5 4
Age 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52
# 5 5 7 4 2 5 3 1 2 2 1 2 2 1 2 1 1 1 2

There are several findings worth highlighting.

Under-aged Soldiers: 31 volunteers in the sample were underage when they enlisted (that is, under the age of 18). That amounts to just over 10% of the total sample, and I think that’s an undercount. It is likely that I was unable to catch all the boys who lied about their age.

Over-aged Soldiers: On the other end, 12 volunteers (4%) were legally too old to volunteer—that is, they were over the age of 44. Again, I think this is an undercount for the same reason as above.

The Youth of the Regiment: Much of the regiment was very young; indeed, 42% of the sample was 21 or younger. The reason that the average age in the sample was 25.4 was became there was a long “tail” of men who were in their 30s and 40s.

The Mystery of the Men in Their Late Twenties: Enlistment crested at the age of 19, popped back up at the age of 23, and then inevitably slid downward. Where were all the able-bodied men in the second half of their twenties? If you look at the figures closely, you’ll see that there were more 17-year-olds in the regiment than in any cohort between the ages of 24 and 29. In this context, it makes sense to remember that at least nominally, 17-year-olds were forbidden to volunteer. In other words, the legal bar to entry for this group was higher than for men in the latter part of their twenties. So we must ask again: where were all the men between the ages of 25 and 29?

I think marriage may explain this pattern. The men in my sample who married before 1861 did so, on average, at the age of 23.7 years (n=65). If this was the average age of marriage in general, is it not possible that the drop in volunteering associated with men in their late twenties was due to matrimony? Marriage was a huge step in mid-nineteenth-century America because it meant, almost invariably, starting a new family in a new home and launching oneself on a trajectory that led to the economic independence that was the goal of most young men (e.g. working for wages as a laborer until one could accumulate enough cash to buy a farm). It would appear, then, that during this important transition, men were understandably reluctant to volunteer.

To pursue this hunch, I studied the numbers in the following way. I looked at different age groups to see what proportion of volunteers were heads of household (according to the Census of 1860), and the figures seem revealing to me.

  • Volunteers between the ages of 20 and 24 (n= 57): 12 were heads of household (21.1%)
  • Volunteers between the ages of 25 and 29 (n=44): 23 were heads of household (52.2%)
  • Volunteers between the age of 30 and 39 (n=40): 35 were heads of household (87.5%)

Note that the numbers in each age group above are equal to the number of men for whom I could find information; that’s why they don’t match the figures in the table farther up the page.

It is entirely possible that other factors explained why men in their late twenties and their thirties did not volunteer in the same numbers as younger folks, but the influence of marriage on men in the second half of their twenties is interesting to contemplate.

In the future, I will not only finish compiling information about veterans in my pool, but compare their age of enlistment to soldiers who were less fortunate—those who died in the service from combat or disease.