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I heard something like that once on some TV documentary, but I'm second guessing that there must have been a caveat for just the Americas, or otherwise qualified it as, "in modern history", or as a percentage of population or something.

I know that the newly industrialized machinery was a key factor (e.g. lever-action repeating rifle, developed by the Union late in the war.)

What are other known civil wars across history that had more casualties?

Edit:

After many hours of Civil War documentary review trying to find the source (much of the Ken Burns series and others), I found it. Death and the Civil War (2012) (PBS: “The American Experience”: 9/12/2012).

“Never before and never since, have so many Americans died in any war, by any measure or reckoning.”

That's not inline with the original question header – but I tried to acknowledge it to be a false memory – but having now just watched the show again, you'll have to forgive me. The entire show is hyper-maudlin, and about the ugly details of mass deaths, how it was realized and processed, and the theretofore unimaginable scale of it.

If only all wars were as well-served in documentary format; vs. various forms of thinly-veiled heroic glorification.

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I think the Russian civil war was most certainly bloodier...and had greater scope –  Bak1139 Jul 30 at 15:13
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I do think however that this all is a part of a US-centrlized approach, even though US history is not as important if compared to european one. –  Bak1139 Jul 31 at 6:28
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I very recently red an article about how the high death toll during the Civil War was due largely to malaria and poor living conditions, and that this death toll was not unusual for war at that time. I can't remember where it was (I did some desperate Googling to no avail) but it seemed relevant. The discrepancies in the numbers was due to the distinction between "died in the war" and "died specfiically due to armed conflict." –  ssdecontrol Aug 2 at 12:01

9 Answers 9

up vote 42 down vote accepted

The American Civil War doesn't even pass the test of the bloodiest civil war in the Americas. This dubious honor is held by the Mexican Revolution of 1910, with between 1 and 2 million casualties. It also isn't even the bloodiest war in American history if only combat casualties are considered - 214,938 Civil War combat casualties vs. 291,557 during WWII per Wikipedia.

Other than the Russian Civil War and Chinese Civil War mentioned by Oldcat, some others to add to the list would be the Taiping Rebellion, most likely the Korean War (although casualty figures are hard to come by for the north), the Vietnam War, the Cambodian Civil War, and the Second Sudanese Civil War. I'm sure this list is by no means exhaustive.

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Taiping had 20 million? Holy kung-pow Batman! I guess that's going to take the cake. +1 to all the other answers too! –  ipso Jul 29 at 5:20
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don't forget the Rwanda civil war in the 1990 that had an estimated at least half a million casualties (some estimates are as high as more than a million). –  jwenting Jul 29 at 7:37
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@jwenting ... which is huge compared to the total population of Rwanda (10-12 million, currently). –  David Richerby Jul 29 at 8:07
    
@DavidRicherby as well as compared to the numbers listed for other supposed highest victim count in civil wars that are 50-75% lower... Of course you can go higher depending on your definition. E.g. the USSR may have killed as many as 100 million (numbers vary depending on source, lowest estimates talk about 10-20 million) of its own people during its existence, which might be termed a war of its government against its own population. –  jwenting Jul 29 at 12:17
    
Let's add the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) with around 500.000 casualties en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  leonbloy Jul 31 at 2:53

The bloodiest civil war I can think of is the Taiping Rebellion in 19th century China. That conflict is generally thought to have a death toll of 20 million.

Note that this is an estimate made by western observers. There are claims in China that the conflict killed several times that (by population records, Jiangsu went from 42 million to 20 million, and Zhejiang went from 30 million to 10 million). Actual figures are difficult to determine - those extraordinarily high numbers seem quite dubious.

However, what is certain is that it was an extremely bloody conflict where both sides massacred civilians regularly. Chinese records of the time is replete with phrases like:

  • 但有黃篙白骨,並無居民市鎮,竟日不見一人: "I see white bones scattered about and no residents or citizens; no one was seen the whole day."
  • 不聞雞犬聲 違見餓民殭斃於道: "there is no sound of chicken or dogs, only the stiff bodies of people starved to death.
  • 屠駐防嬰孺無遺,復驅隱匿之婦女出聚寶各門盡于橋上殺之,河水皆赤: "The whole garrison of youngsters were slaughtered without survivors; then they drove the women who had hidden onto a bridge for execution, and the river ran red."
  • 數百萬生靈,城初破死者蓋已不下數十萬矣: "Of the several million souls who resided there, by the time the city had fallen several hundred thousand had already died."
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+1 Those extracts are like something out of a horror story. The term 'Horrible Histories' has rarely ever been so apt. –  Pharap Aug 1 at 10:00

The Russian Civil War (1917-23) and the Chinese Civil War (1930s-1949) have it beaten handily.

It remains the bloodiest war in American History, partly because both sides were Americans.

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Yes the Civil War has thus far been the bloodiest war in American history in terms of American casualties. Approximately half of all war time casualties are from that era.

civil war deaths

Q. How many soldiers died in the Civil War as compared to other American wars?

Roughly 1,264,000 American soldiers have died in the nation's wars--620,000 in the Civil War and 644,000 in all other conflicts. It was only as recently as the Vietnam War that the amount of American deaths in foreign wars eclipsed the number who died in the Civil War.

-civilwar.org

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@talmu At the time fdb left that comment, the answer did not contain the text "...in terms of American casualties." –  Max Nanasy Jul 30 at 20:11
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Correct. This is one of annoying things about this site. You are allowed to change your questions to make the answers look stupid. –  fdb Jul 30 at 22:48
    
@fdb: That's the Stackoverflow way, that's why it shows an edit history. At any rate, I think you have some bias in your mind because I didn't read it the way you described. Apparently you have a chip on your shoulder about the whole thing. The North Vietnamese killed a lot of South Vietnamese too. –  staticx Jul 31 at 13:36
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The issue here is whether this answers the question. If you ask whether so-and-so is "the bloodiest civil war in history" you do not expect someone to tell you that so-and-so was the bloodiest war (civil or otherwise) in the history of one particular country. "History", unless otherwise qualified, means history of the world. –  fdb Jul 31 at 15:27

Rwanda: as many as 1 000 000 in just 100 days. That is surely a record.

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I suspect the reason "bloodiest" is used to coin the American civil war has more to do with the changing technology and the impact it had on the conflicts rather than on actual casualty numbers. At the beginning of the war, most firearms were cap and ball muskets. Later, the minieball or conical bullet was adopted as well as rifled muzzle loaders and wounds drastically increased in number and severity. Later, as you mentioned, even cartridges and repeating arms were used. It is often called the first "modern" war because of the technology.

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I believe the original poster may have mis-remembered the "TV documentary" statement. I've often heard/read it claimed that the American Civil War was the bloodiest war in U.S. history, but I've never seen it claimed that it was the bloodiest civil war (ever) in history. However, even the claim that it's the bloodiest war in U.S. history is debatable. The figures usually quoted for "American" Civil War casualties are a sum of U.S. and C.S. casualties. By that type of measure (U.S. + enemy casualties) quite a few wars in which the U.S. has since participated were bloodier. In terms of U.S. casualties alone, then WWII has been the United States' bloodiest conflict to date.

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A very good answer. –  fdb Jul 31 at 15:22
    
@sixtharmy - good answer ..except with “U.S. casualties alone”, as you say, it seems more died in the Civil War than in WWII; by a fair margin. (Most accounts seem to have WWII at around ~400,000 total and the Civil War at ~650,000+ But what does “C.S.” stand for? –  ipso Jul 31 at 17:06
    
Also - me knowing I misremembered it was admitted, and the whole point of the question. Sorry if that was not clear. –  ipso Jul 31 at 17:14

Absolutely the US Civil war is not close to being the bloodiest, there were none of the indiscrimate massacres of civilians that were a feature of most civil wars

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Yes, despite the language people use about Sherman's "total war" in Atlanta and South Carolina "targetting civilians," there was no wholesale massacre of civilians. Sherman's troops burned buildings and livestock, but they didn't line up civilians and shoot them. –  JimZipCode yesterday

In just war casualties in soldiers, the U.S. Civil War had more dead then all U.S wars combined. Accurate Civil wars totals are impossible to pin down - between 625,000-650,000 is a pretty good estimate. As far as deaths per square mile on one battlefield, the Roman battle at Cannae against Hannibal had over 100,000 deaths in one day, per square mile this is incredible for hand-to-hand combat. Must have been a sight of pure slaughter.

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Sources would improve this answer and get my upvote –  Mark C. Wallace Aug 3 at 18:59

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