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.

Marriage and the Experience of the 5th New Hampshire Part 1

George Bucknam was 25 years old and affianced to Rose Smith when he enlisted in Company A of the 5th New Hampshire on September 6, 1861. At the Battle of Fair Oaks (June 1, 1862) Bucknam, to use his own words, was shot “in the lower part of my left side and back the ball striking me a little to the left of my back-bone.” After a long and painful recovery Bucknam rejoined the 5th New Hampshire in late November 1862. His letters reveal that he was much discouraged by his treatment in various hospitals and by the general course of the war. The one bright spot in his letters to his sister were his descriptions of his fiancée. “My Rose,” he wrote, “sheds forth an odour once in awhile which revives me. She has been very elven to me in the way of communication. She always answers my letters very promptly and generally they are worth reading. They are as bracing as the clear Scotch air, fragrant with flowers of speech, and sweet sentiments.” Sadly, Bucknam was never to see his Rose again. On July 2, 1863, during the second day at Gettysburg, while the 5th New Hampshire fought in the Rose Wood, Bucknam was struck in the head by a bullet and died almost instantly. Had Bucknam survived the war, how long would he have waited to marry Rose? How would they have fared together? (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

Today, I’ll be discussing the influence of marriage on the behavior of volunteers and the influence of the war on marriage. And just as I have over the last several weeks, I’ll use data garnered from the pool of 300 veterans from the 5th New Hampshire that I have thus far assembled.

Marriage by the Numbers

Out of the 300 men in my pool, I’ve found that 243 were married and 22 were never married (I cannot with any certainty determine the status of the remaining 35). The mid-nineteenth century was a different time, for sure, but it is impressive that 91.6% of the men whose status I could establish with certainty were married.

Of the 243 men who were married, I’ve been able to find the date of first marriage in 181 cases. Of these 181 men, 73 were married in 1861 or earlier. The war may have inspired several men to get married (I’ve found several who were married in September and October 1861—right when the original volunteers were recruited), but the numbers were not high enough to skew the results below. The number who were married in 1862 or after amounted to 108 men.

The Influence of Marriage on Volunteering

In an earlier post, I had remarked that in comparison to the great many teenagers and men in their early twenties who volunteered for the regiment in 1861, the number of recruits in their later twenties was substantially smaller. I speculated that perhaps marriage accounted for this pattern.

The average age of men who volunteered in 1861 and who survived the war was 25.4. The median age was 23.0.

The chart indicates that there were more 19-year-olds among the original volunteers than from any other age group. The number of volunteers in the second half of their twenties, however, tailed off substantially; the number of men in each cohort between the ages of 25 and 30 amounted to half of the number of 19-year-olds. Did marriage account for this phenomenon?

Among the men who survived the war and who were married in 1861 or earlier, the average age at first marriage was 24.0. Take a look at the chart again—that’s right at the age where volunteering tails off. It would take more research (I need to look also at the volunteers who did not survive the war to make sure they do not change the average), but the correlation is interesting. Was marriage a significant inhibitor against volunteering? Was it among the most important?

The Influence of Marriage on Military Experience: The Men Who Married before 1862

There are also several interesting features associated with the men who were married before 1862. On average, they were quite a bit older when they enlisted (32.4) and they were wounded at a lower rate than the unmarried men (of the 73, only 22 were wounded—that’s 30% compared with the average for surviving veterans of the regiment at 41.3%). The relatively low number of wounded men in this group was not due to a substantially shorter length of average service; the men married before 1862 served, on average, for 18.9 months (slightly less than the regiment’s average of 19.8). The foregoing makes me wonder: were older, married men more risk-averse than their younger, unmarried comrades? Or is there some other means of explaining these discrepancies?

The Men Who Married after 1861: The Impact of the Civil War

For obvious reasons, the men who survived the war who married after 1861 present a very different profile. These men were much younger when they enlisted: 20.5 years old, on average, which was well below the average age of marriage at the time. Of the 108 men in this group, 50 were wounded (46.3%). The most stunning difference between these veterans and those married before the war is that the former, on average, were married for the first time at 28.9. This discrepancy is worth stressing. Veterans married before the war, on average, said their wedding vows at age 24. Those who married during or after the war waited until they were about 29. That’s almost a five-year difference.

The length of service alone cannot explain this difference; the veterans who married after the war served, on average, 22.2 months (almost 2 ½ months longer than the regiment’s average). In other words, wartime service accounts for only a third of the five-year difference. It appears that one can detect here an important and lingering impact of the conflict on men’s lives. It seems fair to speculate that soldiers returning from the war needed time. They needed time to recover from wounds or illness. They needed time to pick up where their old lives had left off—or to start a new path in life. And they needed time to reforge connections with family, friends, and potential marriage partners.

The war maimed and sickened men, and it also tortured their minds. Anybody who has studied Civil War veterans knows that. But here is evidence that the experience of conflict gave young men a much later start in life than they would have otherwise experienced.

The Men Who Never Married

And what of the 22 men who never married? Almost all of them were quite young when they enlisted, and their average age upon volunteering was 22.3 (two years older, roughly, than those who married after the war). Their average length of service was 18.6 months. Ten of them, or 45.5% of the total, were wounded. In other words, they were wounded at roughly the same rate as the men who married after the war, but over a shorter length of service.

The most stunning fact I could discover about this group, though, is that they had an average lifespan of 43.7 years—that is, their lives were 19.4 years shorter on average than those who were married (63.1 years). As always, determining cause and effect is difficult. I must admit that six of the men in this group died before the war was over and a seventh died in 1866 (which suggests they must have died of a war-related illness or wound after their discharge). Even if we remove these men from the pool, we find an average lifespan of 52.9 years which is still almost ten years below the average of married men. We are left, as usual, though, with the same type of chicken-and-egg question that we have encountered before. Did they not marry because they were disabled by the war (which obviously seems to be the case with the men who died during the war or shortly thereafter), or did they suffer from shorter lives because they didn’t marry, or both? This pool of unmarried men is rather small, so I hesitate to make any larger claims until I’ve completed my study.


NOTE: The quote in the caption to the image above comes from the following: George H. Bucknam to Susan Bucknam (sister-in-law), March 28, 1863, Bucknam Family Papers, Box 1, Folder 5, University of New Hampshire Special Collections and Archives.

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?