Special Report

The Population of Every State Before and After the Civil War

A poll of U.S. adult citizens conducted in August 2022 by the Economist and YouGov found that two out of five respondents said they thought a civil war was at least somewhat likely in this country in the next decade. Other surveys, including one published in October by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, showed similar results.

But if the U.S. is headed toward declaring war on itself, again, it would have to be unimaginably bloody to come close to what happened more than 160 years ago. The American Civil War, which lasted from April 1861 to April 1865, cost the lives of approximately 620,000 soldiers, or about 2% of the country’s population at the time. Adjusted for population, this would be equivalent to six million U.S. fighters dying in battle over a four-year period. (These are the wars that killed the most Americans.)

The American Civil War took place as the country was expanding geographically and demographically. People were heading out west in droves, toward states like Missouri and Illinois where many settled while others continued onward to lands Mexico ceded to the United States in 1848.

Between 1860 and 1870, the population of the country grew from 31.2 million to 38.1 million. By 1870, state populations ranged from 4.4 million in New York to just 42,000 in Nevada (up considerably, though, from the mere 7,000 residents it had in 1860, before it became a state). Washington, D.C., had only 132,000 people. California had just over a half million people, while the population of Texas was barely more than 800,000.

To compile a list with the population in the U.S. before and after the Civil War, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Bicentennial Edition: Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970” to find the population of the District of Columbia and all 33 states that were part of the country in 1860, then compared those numbers with similar data from 1870. 

Click here to see the population of every state before and after the Civil War

The top four most populated states remained unchanged from 1860 to 1870 and are still among the top 10 today: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois.

Among the top 10 most populated states in 1860 and 1870, Missouri moved from eighth to fifth place over that decade as its population grew by nearly 46%. Virginia, home to the Confederate capital of Richmond, dropped from seventh to tenth place, with almost no change in population. The populations of three other states – New Hampshire, Maine, and South Carolina – were also virtually unchanged. At the same time, the number of states with more than a million residents increased from 11 to 15 over the ten-year span. (Can you answer these real “Jeopardy!” questions about the U.S. population?)

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