The numbers multiply into new questions and ideas for how to think about three days in July, 1863. Count on it!

In early July, 1863, troops from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia (the Confederates) met up with a patrol of Union cavalry on the outskirts of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Over the next three days, this encounter grew into a turning point of the Civil War. Lee’s forces battled against General Meade’s Army of the Potomac (the Union). When the battle was over, Lee’s army was defeated, and his aim of taking Civil War fight into the north had ended. The war would continue for another eighteen months, but Gettysburg changed the course of the conflict.


What were the Civil War dollars and cents?

Military Pay

Horse Tale

Aiming Higher?

War Cost

Compare to today’s US Army:
• Private base pay plus hazardous duty pay: $1692
• Colonel pay range runs from $6065--$10,736 monthly, average $8400 per month.
• General pay range from $8182--$19,567 monthly. Average $13,875 per month.

What would a soldier need to buy for himself?
How much would a Civil War private’s monthly pay purchase?
How much does it cost today in your town to buy the same basics?

Sources for this information:
The Inflation Calculator
Soldier's Pay In The American Civil War
How Much Do Active Duty Soldiers Make?
Military Pay Scale Chart

The price of a horse during the Civil War was around $150. Today, a police horse costs around $3000.

How many weeks/months pay did it take for a private to buy a horse?
How does that compare with the pay it takes for a private today to buy a basic car?

Sources for this information:
Transportation and Commerce In The Civil War
Welcome to the Mounted Patrol Unit

A 1861 Springfield Rifle cost $20 from the factory at the time. To buy one today, would cost between $1500 and $3000 depending upon its condition. Today’s US Army M16 costs around $500.

By what percentage, if at all, has the value (in today’s dollars) of an 1861 rifle gone up?
Why do Civil War rifles have such value today?

Sources for this information:
Springfield Model 1861
Civil War Rifles For Sale
United States Military Weapons of War

Estimating the total dollar cost of a war is—excuse the pun—a “moving target.” Estimates are revised as the government adds in costs that come later, such as the amount spent on veteran benefits and pensions. These later costs well exceeded the Civil War’s original pricetag.

Estimates of the Civil War costs to the Union ranged from $2.5 million daily (1863 mid-war estimate) to $6,190,000,000 (1879 estimate) and even higher as of 1906. There are separate estimates for Southern costs and pensions, paid by Southern states and private gifts and charities.

Final official estimates for the various wars shared here come from the U.S. Congressional Research Service, totaling them many years later.


What else could you buy today with the amount the Union spent on the Civil War? How many cars, houses, or school buildings could it buy?
What could you buy with the same money to improve life for people in your town or state? How much does the current U.S. military spend in three years?

Sources for this information:
Cost Of The American Civil War
Costs of Major U.S. Wars


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