Dimitri Rotov was blogging about numbers and wondering if Federal Generals had available the 1860 population figures for the South. Data that might support large numbers for a Confederate field army. At least in retrospect.

Well it’s not central to any argument, but I was curious. So I asked the nice folks at the US Census Bureau when the results of the 1860 Census were published, and when/if the President and Army officers might have had an advance peek. The answer’s just in:

A preliminary report of the 1860 results was printed in May 1862. The final report of the 1860 census was contained in four volumes: population (1864), agriculture (1864), manufacturers (1865), and mortality/miscellaneous statistics (1866).

Data were likely available before publication of the final reports. The preliminary report was approved by Congress and printed within the same month (May 1862), so any advance look at the data may have been measured in days.

History Staff

So there you are. Army commanders would have had access to Southern population figures after May 1862. Doesn’t help much in 1861 or earlier in ’62, of course.

These preliminary numbers did break out population by place, race, and gender, but not by age. A military-aged (white) male population could be estimated or calculated by formula, but is not expressly given.

It’s interesting that the data were available, but it would be more meaningful to know if anyone actually used census data for the purpose of evaluating or confirming enemy numbers. Anybody got any evidence for this, either way?

Was this kind of analysis taught at West Point or otherwise known before the War, such that McClellan or any other senior officer was likely to do it?

Inquiring minds.

3 Responses to “1860 Federal census hits the street”

  1. Brian Downey says:

    On 30 October Dimitri posted these results and linked back here. Again, he states that commanders were reading census data (albeit 1850’s). Is this an assumption or is there evidence of this?

  2. D. W. Plezia says:

    Wasn’t Sherman quoted as reading the Census and commenting “Where 1,000,000 georgians lived I won’t starve” or words to that effect?

  3. Brian Downey says:

    Thanks for the hint, DW –

    I did a quick check online just now, and found a reference to this in the New Georgia Encyclopedia in which Sherman “carefully studied census records” to find a path through the state which would provide enough food and forage. Some fine-grain analysis of this scenario is found on GIS software company ESRI‘s website.

    Good call – this is just the kind of thing I was asking about.

    So we have something in 1864–although not directly related to assessing enemy strength–which does show military use of census data.

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