Chapter 5: losses in the battles of the Civil War, and what they mean
Men of the famous ‘Vermont brigade,’ all from the one state, which suffered more heavily than any other Federal brigade during the war—within a week at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, it lost 1,645 out of 2,100 effective men|
The regiment that sustained the greatest loss of any in the Union army the first Maine heavy artillery drilling in Fort Sumner, on a winter's day of 1863
In the assault on Petersburg, June 18, 1864, these boys from Maine, serving as infantry, sustained the greatest loss of any one regiment in any one action of the war. Before the site where Fort Stedman was subsequently built 635 men were killed and wounded out of nine hundred engaged, a loss of over seventy per cent. in seven minutes. Such slaughter has never been paralleled in any warfare, ancient or modern.
Of all the regiments in the Union armies this regiment lost most during the four years. Twenty-three officers and 400 enlisted men were killed and mortally wounded, and two hundred and sixty died of disease.
The First Maine Heavy Artillery was organized at Bangor, and mustered in August 21, 1862.
It left the State for Washington on August 24th.
This section of the tremendous regimental quota—eighteen hundred men—is drilling at Fort Sumner in the winter of 1863.
The men little imagine, as they go skilfully through their evolutions
in the snow, that the hand of death is to fall so ruthlessly on their ranks.
From the defenses of Washington they went to Belle Plain, Virginia, on May 15, 1864, as a part of Tyler's Heavy Artillery Division.
Four days later, at Harris's Farm on the Fredericksburg Road, the first of their great disasters fell upon them.
In this engagement their killed numbered eighty-two, their wounded 394, and their missing five. Less than a month later came the awful slaughter at Petersburg.
The remnant of the regiment served until its fall, April 2, 1865.
After taking part in the Grand Review at Washington and remaining in its defenses till September 11th, the organization was mustered out, and ordered to Bangor, Maine.
On September 20, 1865, the survivors of this ‘fighting regiment’ were mustered out. The Second Wisconsin Infantry lost a greater percentage in killed during its whole term—19.7 per cent. as against 19.2 per cent. in the First Maine.|
Statistics of losses in battles do not furnish an unfailing test of courage.
Mistakes of officers, unavoidable surprises—these, now and then, occasion losses that soldiers did not knowingly face, and there are sometimes other reasons why the carnage in a particular command in this battle or that does not with accuracy indicate steadfast bravery.
Such statistics, however, as all military experts agree, do tell a graphic story, when exceptional instances are not selected.
, in his Bird's-eye view of our Civil War,
exhibits statistics showing the percentage of losses in the most notable battles fought since 1745, and from them deduces this conclusion, ‘It thus appears that in ability to stand heavy pounding, since Napoleon
's Waterloo campaign, the American
has shown himself preeminent.’
would have been justified in going much further.
itself, the most famous of the world's battles, does not show such fighting as Americans
did at Sharpsburg
, or Chickamauga
In Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War,
by Lieutenant-Colonel G. F. R. Henderson
, a British military expert, is a complete list of killed and wounded in great battles from 1704 to 1882, inclusive.
, 1807, there has been no great battle in which the losses of the victor—the punishment he withstood to gain his victory—equal the twenty-seven per cent. of the Confederates
in their victory at Chickamauga
tables give the losses of both sides in each
Men of the fifth Georgia: more than half this regiment was killed and wounded at the battle of Chickamauga.
Lounging beneath the Stars and Bars are eight members of an Augusta, Georgia, company—The ‘Clinch Rifles.’
Their new paraphernalia is beautifully marked ‘C. R.’
They have a negro servant.
In a word, they are inexperienced Confederate volunteers of May, 1861, on the day before their company became a part of the Fifth Georgia Regiment.
Pass to November, 1863; imagine six of the soldiers in the group lying dead or groaning with wounds, and but three unhurt,—and you have figured the state of the regiment after it was torn to shreds at the battle of Chickamauga.
It was mustered in for twelve months at Macon, Georgia, May 11, 1861, being the last regiment taken for this short term.
The Sixth Georgia and those following were mustered in for three years or the war. The Clinch Rifles were sent to garrison Pensacola, Florida, where General Braxton Bragg would occasionally come from his headquarters, eight miles away, to drill them.
The ten companies were all from towns, or cities, and nicely uniformed, though each in a different style.
This led Bragg to name them his ‘Pound Cake Regiment.’
In July and August, 1862, the Fifth marched from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Bardstown, Kentucky, thence to the eastern part of the State, and down through Cumberland Gap to Knoxville, 800 miles in all. It lost heavily in the battle of Murfreesboro.
At bloody Chickamauga, September 19 and 20, 1863, its killed and wounded were more than 54 per cent. of the regiment—surpassed by few organizations in history.
It suffered again at Missionary Ridge, and in the spring of 1864, when it stood against Sherman through the Atlanta campaign.
The regiment fought on through the campaigns from Savannah, Georgia, up to North Carolina, and in the last combat at Bentonville, North Carolina.
It surrendered at Greensboro, April, 26, 1865.|
battle, but indicate the percentage of those suffered by the victors only.
These show fighting losses.
In losses by a defeated army, those received in retreating cannot be separated from those received in fighting.
If, however, a defeated army is not routed, but retires, still in fighting condition, and the foe is so crippled that he cannot make effective pursuit, as was the case at Chickamauga
, or if the defeated army does not leave the field at all, until, say, twenty-four hours after the battle, as was the case with the Confederates
, the losses on both sides are to be counted as fighting losses, and their percentage is a fair measure of ‘capacity to stand pounding.’
Gaged, then, by this standard, which for large armies in a great battle is absolutely fair, Waterloo
is eclipsed by Gettysburg
is eclipsed by Sharpsburg
, and Sharpsburg
eclipsed by Chickamauga
Here are some of Colonel Henderson
's percentages, which tell the story, the percentage of the Federal
losses at Chickamauga
being calculated from Henderson
, the victors' loss was twenty per cent. At Gettysburg
, the victors lost also twenty per cent. But, at Waterloo
, the French
army dissolved; at Gettysburg
, the Confederates
held to their position nearly all the following day, and the majority of the Confederates
did not know they had been defeated there until after the war.
, their victory cost the Federals
not twenty, but twenty-three per cent., and the Confederates
held fast to their position all the next day.
, their victory cost the Confederates
twenty-seven per cent., and the Federals
, inflicting this loss, retreated; but General Thomas
, the ‘Rock of Chickamauga
,’ still held fast to prevent pursuit, and Rosecrans
' army was ready to fight the next day. At Waterloo
, the entire loss in killed and wounded, of the French
, was thirty-one per cent.