previous next

Chapter 3: percentage of killed in regiments in particular battles — comparison of such losses with those of European regiments.

The loss sustained by a regiment in any battle can be properly estimated, only when the number of men engaged is known and taken into consideration, The small battalion in which fifty men were killed must not be classed, in point of loss, with the large regiment losing the same number. The 31 men killed in the One Hundred and Forty-first New York, at Peach Tree Creek, was as severe a loss as the 102 killed in the Eleventh Illinois at Fort Donelson. The percentage of loss in each case was the same, and the one faced as hot a fire as the other.

In proportion to the number engaged, the greatest loss sustained by any regiment, during the war, was that of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. This regiment was then in Harrow's Brigade, Gibbon's Division, Second Corps. On the afternoon of the second day at Gettysburg, the Union line was driven back in confusion from its position along the Emmettsburg road. While Hancock was “patching” up a second line, he perceived a column of the enemy (Willcox's Brigade) emerging suddenly from a clump of trees near an unprotected portion of his line. The First Minnesota, alone and unsupported, was in position near by, and Hancock, desirous of gaining time until reenforcements could be brought forward, rode up to Colonel Colville and ordered him to take the enemy's colors.1 A desperate fight ensued, in which the enemy was forced back, leaving their colors in the hands of the First Minnesota. Speaking of this affair afterwards, General Hancock is reported to have said:

There is no more gallant deed recorded in history. I ordered those men in there because I saw that I must gain five minutes time. Reenforcements were coming on the run, but I knew that before they could reach the threatened point the Confederates, unless checked, would seize the position. I would have ordered that regiment in if I had known every man would be killed. It had to be done, and I was glad to find such a gallant body of men at hand, willing to make the terrible sacrifice that the occasion demanded.

The regiment took 262 officers and men into this affair.2 It lost 50 killed and 174 wounded, total, 224 casualties, nearly all of which occurred in this fight. A remarkable feature of this loss is that none were missing. Seventeen officers were killed or wounded,

1 “Dashing up to the Colonel, and pointing to the Confederate column, he exclaims: ‘Do you see those colors? Take them!’ ” (Gen. Francis A. Walker: Hist. Second Army Corps.)

2 The morning report of the First Minnesota for June 30th--the last return made before the battle — shows 27 officers and 358 men “present for duty,” not including a company of sharpshooters attached (Co. L), which was not present, having been detailed as a support to Kirby's Battery. This number--“present for duty” --included the non-combatants, the Chaplain, Quartermaster, three Surgeons, Quartermaster-Sergeant, Commissary-Sergeant and his assistants, Hospital Steward and assistants, from ten to twenty musicians, ten company cooks, officers' servants, and other details. Some, also, may have fallen out on the forced march to the field.

The regiment took eight companies into this affair of July 2d. Company C was on duty at Headquarters as a provost-guard, and Company F had been detailed elsewhere on the field. Colonel Colville states that “the loss on the 2d was 215 killed and wounded, out of 262” ; and that on the 3d, “Companies F and C, having rejoined, brought the number in that day's fight up to about 100 men.” --(Letter to Major H. D. O'Brien, published in the “Picket Guard.” ) The casualties on the 3d increased the loss to 221. There were 8 officers and 91 men for duty at the close of the third day's battle. The number present in action on the 2d (262) is the one on which the percentage of loss should be based, or at least the loss for that day. The sharpshooters (Company L) did not rejoin until after the battle; neither their number present nor their casualties have been included.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Hancock (3)
William Colville (2)
Willcox (1)
Francis A. Walker (1)
Steward (1)
H. D. O'Brien (1)
Kirby (1)
Hist (1)
William Harrow (1)
John Gibbon (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
July 2nd (1)
June 30th (1)
3rd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: