Every story, even a statistical one, has its moral, and some suggestions pertinent to the subject seem proper here.
The official records of the Civil War
, though voluminous and rich in valuable information, are too often deficient in the facts essential to a proper statement of a regimental loss in action.
Only a few of the regiments, comparatively, made official reports for the actions in which they were engaged.
After a hard-fought battle the regimental commandant would, perhaps, write a long letter to his wife detailing the operations of his regiment, and some of his men would send to their village paper an account of the fight, but no report would be forwarded officially to headquarters.
Many colonels regarded the report as an irksome and unnecessary task; something to be avoided if possible, something to be attended to only when compelled by the repeated urging of a superior.
They were evidently not aware that their only chance to gain a place for their regiment in the archives of history was through the medium of such returns.
Of the official battle reports which were made by regimental commandants, but few gave the figures for their casualties.
Hard fighting and heavy losses were often claimed, but as these terms were used without discrimination they became meaningless.
Sometimes allusion was made to a nominal list of casualties appended, but its totals were not included in the report, and so when the accompanying list was lost, as was often the case, there was nothing to show what the colonel's idea of a heavy loss was.
Again, mention was seldom made of the number of men taken into action, without which any statement of casualties was, to a large extent, meaningless, and for purposes of comparison was worthless.
In the nominal lists of wounded men no distinction was made between the mortally, seriously, or slightly wounded; and the list of missing failed to show whether the men were captured or belonged to the class whose fate was unknown.
Too often, no return of casualties whatever was made.
As a result the statistics of our last war are, in many instances, meager and unsatisfactory; and, in some cases are wanting entirely.
At the close of a war the Government
should be able to publish the regimental losses in form similar to Dr. Engel
's “Verluste der deutschen Armeen im Kriege gegen Frankreich, 1870 und 1871,” an admirable official work which was given to the public by the Gernman Government
The Staff of the German Army
directed successfully the operations of a great war, but they still found time to supervise carefully the items of the “butcher's bill.”
In a conversation with the late Colonel Robert N. Scott
, U. S. A.,1
concerning these matters, that officer remarked, “We will do these things better in the next war.”
The question arises, will the “we” of the future do these things any better?
In the turmoil and excitement will not “these things” be again overlooked, and gallant regiments be again disbanded without leaving scarcely a trace to show how well they fought?
Will not History be again neglected or despoiled?
Is it asking too much that, now, in time of peace, the National
Military Academy provide in its course of instruction against any repetition of such neglect.
Or, if such provision belongs within the province of the Adjutant-General
's department, let the Blue Book
containing the United States Army Regulations include the blank forms and paragraphs of instruction necessary to such end.