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[540]

Chapter 14: the greatest battles of the war — list of victories and defeats — chronological list of battles with loss in each, Union and Confederate.

Gettysburg was the greatest battle of the war; Antietam was the bloodiest. The largest army was assembled — by the Confederates, at the Seven Days; by the Unionists, at the Wilderness.

Gettysburg may be considered as the greatest battle for various reasons. The strategic issues involved were the most important; it was the turning point in the fortunes of the Confederates; the contending armies were not only large, but were at their best in point of discipline and experience; while the loss of life exceeded that of any other battle field of the war.

Antietam was the bloodiest battle. More men were killed on that one day than on any other one day of the war. There were greater battles, with greater loss of life, but they were not fought out in one day as at Antietam. At Gettysburg, Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania, the fighting covered three days or more; at the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, Shiloh. Stone's River, Chickamauga and Atlanta the losses were divided between two days of fighting; but, at Antietam, the bloody work commenced at sunrise, and by four o'clock that afternoon it was over.

At the Seven Days battle, Lee's army numbered 94, 1381 effective men actually engaged. exclusive of non-combatants. There were present, 194 regiments and 16 battalions of infantry; 8 regiments and 6 battalions of cavalry; and 59 batteries of light artillery,--equivalent, in all, to 220 regiments. The casualty lists show that each of these commands was engaged, and they specify the loss in each. It was a grand army, composed of the flower of Southern manhood, and Lee never led its like again.

At the Wilderness, Gen. Grant's army, including the Ninth Corps, numbered 118, 7692 effective men and 316 pieces of artillery. It included 236 regiments and 3 battalions of infantry; 35 regiments of cavalry; and 64 batteries of light artillery. They were veteran regiments, whose riven banners had waved amid the smoke of many hard fought fields.

But these figures represent the fighting men only, and the armies of Lee and Grant, as a whole, were really larger than these figures indicate. On April 30, 1864, there were in the Army of the Potomac 19,095 men on “extra or daily duty,” and 931 more in arrest, all of whom were present with Grant's army at tihe Willderness, in addition to the number who [541] were “present for duty equipped.” The Army of the Potomac, according to the morning report of April 30, 1864, had an “aggregate present” of 127,471, not including the Ninth Corps.3

As regards the loss in the Union armies, the greatest battles of the war were:

Date. Battle. Killed. Wounded. Missing. Aggregate.
July 1-3, 1863. Gettysburg 3,070 14,497 5,434 23,001
May 8-18, 1864. Spotsylvania 2,725 13,416 2,258 18,399
May 5-7, 1864. Wilderness 2,246 12,037 3,383 17,666
Sept. 17, 1862. Antietam4 2,108 9,549 753 12,410
May 1-3, 1863. Chancellorsville 1,606 9,762 5,919 17,287
Sept. 19-20, 1863. Chickamauga 1,656 9,749 4,774 16,179
June 1-4, 1864. Cold Harbor 1,844 9,077 1,816 12,737
Dec. 11-14, 1862. Fredericksburg 1,284 9,600 1,769 12,653
Aug. 28-30, 1862. Manassas5 1,747 8,452 4,263 14,462
April 6-7, 1862. Shiloh 1,754 8,408 2,885 13,047
Dec. 31, 1862. Stone's River6 1,730 7,802 3,717 13,249
June 15-19, 1864. Petersburg (Assault) 1,688 8,513 1,185 11,386

As before, the missing includes the captured; but the number missing at Fredericksburg and Cold Harbor may be fairly added to the killed and wounded, as it represents men who fell in an unsuccessful assault.

In connection with these matters the question naturally arises,--Which were victories, and which were defeats?

To answer fairly and without prejudice would only invite bitter and senseless criticism from both sides. It is too soon to attempt any discussion of this much vexed topic. Still, there are certain conceded facts relative to this matter which one might venture to recall to mind. They may be premised with the military axioms,--that when an army retains possession of the battle field and buries its enemy's dead, it certainly cannot be considered as a defeated army; and that when an army abandons the field, either slowly or in rout, and leaves its dead and wounded in the hands of the enemy, it certainly should not claim a victory.

In the following named battles the Union armies remained in undisturbed possession of the field, the enemy leaving many of their wounded, and most of their dead unburied:

Rich Mountain, W. Va. Antietam, Md. Gettysburg, Pa.
Williamsburg, Va. South Mountain, Md. Magnolia Hills, Miss.
Crampton's Gap, Md. Kernstown, Va. Raymond, Miss.
Mill Springs, Ky. Baton Rouge, La. Champion's Hill, Miss.
Fort Donelson, Tenn. Iuka, Miss. Stone's River, Tenn.
Shiloh, Tenn. Corinth, Miss. Missionary Ridge, Tenn.
Pea Ridge, Ark. Chaplin Hills, Ky. Fort Stevens, D. C.
Roanoke Island, N. C. Resaca, Ga. Opequon, Va.
New Berne, N. C. Atlanta, Ga., July 21-22. Cedar Creek, Va.
Carter's Farm, Va. Piedmont, Va. Five Forks, Va.
Prairie Grove, Ark. Bentonville, N. C. Sailor's Creek, Va.
Nashville, Tenn. Tupelo, Miss.  

[542]

The Union armies were successful, also, in the following assaults. They were the attacking party, and carried the forts, or intrenched positions, by storm.

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