Chapter 1: the casualties of war — maximum of killed in Union regiments — maximum of percentages.
Wars and battles are considered great in proportion to the loss of life resulting from them.
Bloodless battles excite no interest.
A campaign of mancoeuvres is accorded but a small place in history.
There have been battles as decisive as Waterloo
; but they cost few lives and never became historic.
Great as were the results, Waterloo
would receive but little mention were it not for the terrible cost at which the results were obtained.
Still, it is difficult to comprehend fully what is implied by the figures which represent the loss of life in a great battle or a war. As the numbers become great, they convey no different idea, whether they be doubled or trebled.
It is only when the losses are considered in detail — by regiments, for instance — that they can be definitely understood.
The regiment is the unit of organization.
It is to the army what a family is to the city.
It has a well known limit of size, and its losses are intelligible; just as a loss in a family can be understood, while the greater figures of the city's mortuary statistics leave no impression on the mind.
The history of a battle or a war should always be studied in connection with the figures which show the losses.
By overlooking them an indefinite, and often erroneous, idea is obtained.
By neglecting them, many historians fail to develop the important points of the contest.
They use the same rhetorical description for different attacks, whether the pressure was strong or weak; the loss, great or small; the fight, bloody or harmless.
To properly understand the relative importance of the various movements on a battle field, the student must know the loss of life at the different points of the line.
He will then see where the points of contact really were; where the pressure was greatest; where the scenes of valor and heroism occurred.
There is no better way of doing this than by noting the place in the line held by the various regiments and ascertaining the loss of life in each.
There were over two thousand regiments in the Union Armies
On some of these the brunt of battle fell much heavier than on others.
While some were exempted from the
dangers of active service, others were continually at the front.
While some were seldom called upon to face the enemy's fire, others were repeatedly ordered into the thickest of the fight.
While in some regiments the number of killed was small, in others the Roll of Honor was unequaled in the records of modern wars.
Who were these men who fought so well in defense of their flag?
What were the names and numbers of their regiments?
What were the losses in these regiments?
What limit is there to the toll of blood exacted from a regimental thousand during a long and bloody war?
The one regiment, in all the Union Armies
, which sustained the greatest loss in battle, during the American Civil War
, was the Fifth New Hampshire Infantry.1
It lost 295 men, killed or mortally wounded in action, during its four years of service, from 1861 to 1865.
It served in the First Division, Second Corps.
This division was commanded, successively, by Generals Richardson
, and Miles
; and any regiment that followed the fortunes of these men was sure to find plenty of bloody work cut out for it. The losses of the Fifth New Hampshire occurred entirely in aggressive, hard, stand — up fighting; none of it happened in routs or through blunders.
Its loss includes eighteen officers killed, a number far in excess of the usual proportion, and indicates that the men were bravely led. Its percentage of killed is also very large, especially as based on the original enrollment.
The exact percentage of the total enrollment cannot be definitely ascertained, as the rolls were loaded down in 1864 with the names of a large number of conscripts and bounty men who never joined the regiment.
The second highest in the list of infantry regiments having the greatest number killed in battle, is the Eighty-third Pennsylvania, which lost 282 officers and men who died while fighting for the Union
This was a Fifth Corps regiment, serving in Morell
's — afterwards Griffin
's--First Division. Two of its Colonels
were killed, and a third was badly wounded and crippled for life.
It was a splendid regiment, well officered and well drilled.
It suffered a severe loss in killed, by percentage, as well as in numbers.
The next regiment on the list is the Seventh Wisconsin Infantry, of the famous Iron Brigade, Wadsworth
's (First) Division, First Corps.
This gallant regiment stands high in the list, because of its many battles and the persistency with which it would hold its ground in the face of the deadliest musketry.
By glancing at the table of percentages, it will be seen that the Seventh occupies an honorable place in that list also.
Next, among the regiments sustaining the greatest loss in action, stands the Fifth Michigan, of the Third Corps, in which 263 were killed; and next, comes the Twentieth Massachusetts, of the Second Corps, with a credit of 260 killed in battle.
The following table will show clearly the relative position of the leading infantry regiments in point of numerical loss.
It embraces every infantry regiment in the Union Armies
which lost over 200 men, killed or mortally wounded in action, during the war. In all, there are forty-five:
Killed or died of wounds.
|5th New Hampshire
|69th New York
|15th New Jersey
|40th New York
|48th New York
|121st New York
|111th New York
|18th U. S. Infantry