10 Bloodiest Civil War Battles

The Civil War Battles That Resulted in the Most Casualties

The Civil War lasted from 1861–1865 and resulted in the deaths of more than 620,000 Americans, soldiers on both the Union and Confederate sides. Each of the hard-fought battles on this list is said to have had more than 19,000 casualties including those who were either killed or wounded.

Counting the Dead

The numbers of people who died during the Civil War are only estimates. In 2011, American historian J. David Hacker reported research he had conducted comparing male and female survival rates in U.S. censuses between 1850 and 1880. Based on that, he has credibly argued that the traditional statistic of 620,000 deaths is an underestimate of actual Civil War deaths by approximately 20%. Hacker believes, and his assertions have been supported by other historians, that the most probable number of deaths attributable to the Civil War is 750,000, and that the number may have been as much as 850,000. Hacker found that 10% of white men of military age died between 1860 and 1870—one in ten in the United States.

That number includes not just battle casualties but also people who died from their injuries, as well as mortality from diseases, malnutrition, and exposure from the large numbers of black and white refugees from the South, and even for those civilians who did not become refugees. The 620,000 statistic was revised upward several times after the original numbers estimated during post-war Reconstruction. In particular, Confederate losses were greater than reported, in part because General Lee's commanders were pressured to under-report.

The Civil War was devastating for the United States. Despite the pinpoint accuracy of some of the numbers listed below, they are almost certainly too low.

01
of 10

Battle of Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg in 1863
Stock Montage/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Gettysburg was by all accounts the most destructive battle of the Civil War. Conducted between July 1–3, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the battle resulted in a reported 51,000 casualties of which 28,000 were Confederate soldiers. The Union was considered the winner of the battle.

02
of 10

Battle of Chickamauga

Lt. Van Pelt defending his battery in the battle of Chickamauga during the American Civil War
Rischgitz/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Battle of Chickamauga took place in Georgia between September 19–20, 1863. It was a victory for the Confederacy that resulted in a reported 34,624 total casualties of which 16,170 were Union soldiers.

03
of 10

Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

Dead of Ewell's Corps, Battle of Spotsylvania, May 1864

LC-DIG-ppmsca-32934 / Library of Congress / Public Domain

Occurring between May 8–21, 1864, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House took place in Virginia. There were 30,000 casualties reported of which 18,000 were Union soldiers. The battle is considered to have ended in a stalemate.

04
of 10

Battle of the Wilderness

Battle of the Wilderness
Keith Lance / Getty Images

The Battle of the Wilderness took place in Virginia between May 5–7, 1864. The Confederacy won this battle, and Union losses in the battle were reported as around 17,666, while the Confederates were approximately 11,000. 

05
of 10

Battle of Chancellorsville

Battle of Chancellorsville in the American Civil War

LC-DIG-pga-01844 / Library of Congress / Public Domain

The Battle of Chancellorsville took place in Virginia from May 1–4, 1863. It resulted in 24,000 casualties of which 14,000 were Union soldiers. The Confederates won the battle.

06
of 10

Battle of Shiloh

Battle of Shiloh in the American Civil War

LC-DIG-pga-04037 / Library of Congress / Public Domain

Between April 6–7, 1862, the Battle of Shiloh raged in Tennessee. Approximately 23,746 men died. Of those, 13,047 were Union soldiers. While there were more Union than Confederate casualties, the battle did result in a tactical victory for the North.

07
of 10

Battle of Stones River

Monument at the Battle of Stones River Battlefield

LC-DIG-cwpb-02108 / Library of Congress / Public Domain

The Battle of Stones River occurred between December 31, 1862–January 2, 1863, in Tennessee. It resulted in a Union victory with 23,515 casualties of which 13,249 were Union soldiers.

08
of 10

Battle of Antietam

Dead at the Battle of Antietam

LC-DIG-ds-05194 / Library of Congress / Public Domain

The Battle of Antietam occurred between September 16–18, 1862 in Maryland. It resulted in 23,100 casualties. While the result of the battle was inconclusive, it did give a strategic advantage to the Union.

09
of 10

Second Battle of Bull Run

African-Americans fleeing from Virginia after the 2nd Battle of Bull Run.

LC-B8171-0518 DLC / Library of Congress / Public Domain

Between August 28–30, 1862, the Second Battle of Bull Run was fought in Manassas, Virginia. It resulted in a victory for the Confederacy. There were 22,180 casualties of which 13,830 were Union soldiers.

10
of 10

Battle of Fort Donelson

Print depicting soldiers in the American Civil War

LC-USZ62-133797 / Library of Congress / Public Domain

The Battle of Fort Donelson was fought between February 13–16, 1862 in Tennessee. It was a victory for the Union forces with 17,398 casualties. Of those casualties, 15,067 were Confederate soldiers.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Faust, Drew Gilpin. "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War." New York: Random House, 2008. 
  • Gugliotta, Guy. "New Estimate Raises Civil War Death Toll." The New York Times, April 2, 2012. 
  • Hacker, J. David. "A Census-Based Count of the Civil War Dead." Civil War History 57.4 (2011): 307-48. Print.
  • ---. "Recounting the Dead." The New York Times, September 20, 2011.
  • Neely Jr. Mark E. "The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction." Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  • Siegel, Robert. "Professor: Civil War Death Toll May Be Really Off." All Things Considered, National Public Radio, May 29, 2012.