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New Research Revises NC's Civil War History

New research from the North Carolina Office of Archives and History has cast doubt on a long-held Tar Heel distinction regarding the Civil War. For generations, North Carolina has claimed to have had more of its soldiers die in the war... than any other Southern state. But researcher Josh Howard has found that North Carolina's estimate of 40,000 dead soldiers, was too high. Howard says he didn't set out to disprove anything. Instead, he was commissioned by the state to do the recount as it prepared for the war's 150th anniversary. "We want to know: how many men did we lose? How many men did we send? What are the demographics of those who were sent? How many Union soldiers did North Carolina send?" Howard says. North Carolina's initial support for the war was tepid. But many Tar Heel soldiers were drawn into battle early on because of the state's proximity to the busy Virginia front. Howard thinks the previous estimate of total dead - which was made right after the war - overestimated North Carolina's total by as much as 20 percent. As a result, Howard says no one can say for sure which Southern state lost the most soldiers. "When we get to the questions of who lost the most - if people still want to hold onto those claims - we won't know until every single Confederate state goes back through and looks through its records," Howard says. Howard says North Carolinians shouldn't be too disappointed if it turns out another state lost more soldiers. At least the numbers will finally be accurate. "It's important for us to have historical facts which are correct," Howard says. "And I think in any society in studying anything you want to have it as accurate as possible." Howard's research also discounts the long-held belief that a soldier from Tarboro was the first confederate to die in the war. He says it was a captain from Virginia named John Marr who was actually the first to be killed. Howard says Marr died in a skirmish with Union soldiers at the courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia. That casualty came nine days before the death of North Carolina Private Henry Lawson Wyatt.