In April '03 , this curious post appeared on an Antietam discussion group. I clipped and saved it:
Many of you know that for the last 6 years I have been indexing every single Federal casualty at Antietam by name, and in many cases have the wound, hospital etc. I'm done, and have over 12,600 names. I have also found virtually every Federal field hospital site-about 130. And I have the documentation; now I'm looking for a publisher! (Wish me luck-most publishers want text, not statistics). What am I doing now? Going after the rebs! I have over 5000 so far...Just wanted to update this info, for those of you who remember this effort...John Nelson
What great work, I thought. Today I see that Nelson's material has been released on CD.
His total Federal casualty count for Antietam: 12,651. The National Park Service estimates 12,400. Nelson generously compliments Gen. George B. McClellan's early estimate of 23,000 combined losses.
Why go through eight years of research to prove estimates are close to reality? That is a question only a round-numbers person could ask. Let it be known that there are readers who despise estimates and hate round numbers. This blogger is one of them and John Nelson is another.
The tragedy of round numbers is that the rounding never stops; the contexts are trashed and apples tend to get mixed into oranges. This compote is then read for sweeping moral and professional judgements. That process applies to battle estimates; I think it fair to say that on the casualty side, the Civil War reader simply does not care about the last few hundreds or thousands. Casualties do not advance the story. And as to desertions and shirking, the ACW reader tends to be utterly and willingly blind.
Numbers. The stories are in the numbers; the better the numbers, the better the stories. And ultimately an actual personality, a soul, is linked to every number.
Two weeks ago, a correspondent asked me why I could not be satisfied with the figures given in the OR. I picked myself off the floor and swore to remember the general aversion to counting.
Nelson is travelling down the noble and lonely road blazed by Fox and Livermore. Tip of the hat to him.