The loss in the Second Wisconsin indicates the extreme limit of danger to which human life is exposed in a war similar in duration and activity to the American Civil War
. It shows the chances which a man takes when he enlists.
The figures, however, are the result of the weapons and mode of fighting of twenty years ago. Since then, muzzle-loading rifles have been dispensed with.
Still, in the Franco-Prussian war, in which the troops were armed with breech-loaders, there was no increase in the percentage of casualties.
In fact, the old muzzleloaders loaders were capable of delivering a hotter fire than any body of troops could withstand.
At Marye's Heights
and Cemetery Ridge
, the bravest of assaulting columns recoiled from their fire; breech-loaders could have done no more.
There was a limit of punishment beyond which endurance would not go, and the old Springfield
rifle was capable of inflicting it.
But the figures of the Second Wisconsin, and of the other regiments as well, fail to show the full percentage of loss: the actual percentage was much larger.
The figures given are based upon the total enrollment of the regiment, and necessarily include the non-combatants — the the musicians, teamsters, company cooks, officers' servants, Surgeon
's assistants, and Quartermaster
's men; also, the sick, the detailed men, and absentees of all kinds.
If the percentage were based on the number of men who were accustomed to follow the colors into action, the figures would be still more startling.
But there is no place to draw a dividing line, and so the total enrollment must be taken.
As all regiments were pretty much alike in respect to the number of non-combatants, it shows fairly their relative positions in point of loss.
These figures, let it be remembered, include only the killed and mortally wounded.
To understand their full significance, one must bear in mind the additional loss of wounded men who survived their injuries — many of them surviving only to drag their marred and crippled lives along a lower plane of existence.
In the Second Wisconsin nearly 900 men were killed or wounded, leaving but few unharmed of those who carried arms.
In stating the total enrollment of a regiment, the statistician is often in doubt as to what figures may be fairly used.
In the Second Wisconsin there were two companies K.
The first one remained with the regiment but a few weeks and was then permanently detached.
Its place was taken by another company which was recruited in October, 1861.
It would, manifestly, be unfair to include both companies in the enrollment, and so the first was not counted.
Yet, the first company K was with the regiment in the battle of First Bull Run
, and lost in that action one man killed and two missing. As this loss is included in the figures given for the Second Wisconsin, absolute accuracy would demand their subtraction before calculating the percentage.
The regiment would, however, still remain at the head of the list in the table of percentages.
In the case of the First Maine Heavy Artillery a careful discrimination was also necessary.
The enrollment given here includes the original regiment, together with all recruits received prior to the close of the war. But, in June, 1865--two months after the war had closed — the regiment received a large accession from the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Maine Infantry.
These latter commands had been mustered out, upon which the recruits with unexpired terms of service were transferred to the First Maine Heavy Artillery.
These men — transferred after the war had ended — are not included in the enrollment, as they formed no part of the body under consideration in the matter of percentage of loss.
Their number had already entered into the calculation of the regiments in which they had previously served.
A careful examination of the rolls of the First Maine Heavy Artillery, name by name, shows that 2202 men only were enrolled prior to the surrender at Appomattox
A similar case is found in the Fifty-seventh Massachusetts, which carried 1052 names, officers and enlisted men, on its rolls up to the close of the war. On the 9th of August, 1865--four months after the fighting had ceased — its rolls were increased by a transfer of the