Fox's Regimental Losses

Chapter V


       It was the greatest war of the century. On the Union side alone, 110,070 men were killed in battle, while 249,458 more died from disease, accidents, in military prisons, or from other causes. Including both sides, over half a million lives were lost. There have been wars which have lasted longer-- wars with intermittent and desultory campaigns; but, in this struggle the two armies for four years never let go their clutch upon each other's throat. For four years the echo of the picket's rifle never ceased.
       It is hard to realize the meaning of the figures, 110,070 men killed; and that, on one side only. It is easy to imagine one man killed; or ten men killed; or, perhaps, a score of men killed. With some effort of the mind one can picture a hundred men stretched, lifeless and bloody on the ground. The veteran recalls, as if in a dream, the sight of many more lying on some battle field; but even he is unable to comprehend the dire meaning of the one hundred thousand, whose every unit represents a soldier's bloody grave.
       The figures are too large. They will be better understood, however, and a more intelligent idea will be formed if they are compared with the losses of other wars. A better idea will also be obtained of the great struggle which occurred within our own borders, and with it will come a fuller recognition of American manhood.
       The Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 was one of the greatest of European wars. Larger armies were never assembled. The Germans took 797,950 men into France. Of this number, 28,277 were killed, or died of wounds-- a loss of 3.1 per cent. In the Crimean war, the allied armies lost 3.2 per cent. in killed, or deaths from wounds. In the war of 1866, the Austrian army lost 2.6 per cent. from the same cause. But, in the American Civil War the Union Armies lost 4.7 per cent., and the Confederates over 9 per cent.; and this despite the greater area of country, which required a large share of the troops to protect the lines of communication. There are no figures on record to show that, even in the Napoleonic wars, there was ever a greater percentage of loss in killed. In fact, all the statistics pertaining to the earlier wars of the century are loosely stated, and bear on their face a lack of accuracy. The historians of that period give all battle losses in round numbers, the killed, wounded, missing, and prisoners being lumped together in one amount. Each writer treats the casualties as an unimportant part of his story, and seems to have made no effort to arrive at anything like an accurate or classified statement. Perhaps, the facts were not attainable and the historians were obliged to accept the wild, exaggerated stories of which there are always a plenty, and which soon crowd out of sight the truthful narratives.
       The two great battles of the age, in point of loss, are Waterloo and Gettysburg. Between them there is a remarkable similarity, both in numbers engaged and extent of casualties.
       At Waterloo, the French numbered 80,000 men, and 252 guns; the Allies numbered 72,000 men, and 186 guns. At Gettysburg, the Union Army numbered 82,000 men, and 300 guns; the Confederates, 70,000 men, and 250 guns. At Waterloo, Wellington's army lost 23,185; at Gettysburg, Meade's army lost 23,003. The loss of the French at Waterloo has never been officially announced, but has been estimated at 26,300; the Confederate loss at Gettysburg, as officially reported by the Confederate Surgeon-General, was 20,448, to which must be added 7,077 wounded and unwounded prisoners whose names were omitted from his lists, but whose names appear on the records at Washington. In short, the battles of Waterloo and Gettysburg were fought with from 70,000 to 82,000 men on each side, and the combatants lost about 23,000 men each.
       In the Franco-Prussian war, the greatest loss occurred at the battle of Gravelotte, where the Germans lost 4,449 killed (including the mortally wounded), 15,189 wounded, and 939 missing; total, 20,577, out of 146,000 troops engaged, exclusive of 65,000 reserves. At Gettysburg, Meade's army sustained a greater loss with half the number engaged.
       It may be suggested that the Franco-Prussian war was, comparatively, of brief duration, and hence a comparison of the aggregate casualties cannot properly be made. But, in the American Civil War, during the six months following May 4, 1864, the various Union armies sustained a greater loss than the German armies did during the whole Franco-Prussian war. The total loss of the German army in that war was 28,277 killed or mortally wounded, 85,482 wounded, and 14,138 missing; total, 127,897.
       All historians agree that Borodino was the bloodiest battle since the introduction of gunpowder. The casualties in that battle have been variously stated: The Encyclopedia Brittannica puts the Russian loss at 30,000 in killed, wounded, and prisoners, and the French loss at "considerably above 20,000." Allison gives the losses at Borodino in round numbers only, placing the French loss at 50,000, and the Russian at 45,000. The most credible statement is found in the Journal of The London Statistical Society, which places the number of killed and wounded in the French army at Borodino at 28,085, out of 133,000 troops present on the field. The Russian army numbered 132,000 at that battle, and there is nothing to show that its loss was greater than that of its antagonist. Although the number of killed and wounded at Borodino was greater, numerically, than at Waterloo and Gettysburg, the percentage of loss was very much less.
       The largest armies were marshalled at Leipsic, "the battle of the Nations." On that field the allies concentrated 330,000 men ; Napoleon's army numbered 175,000. The statements of the casualties as made by various historians are so conflicting, and are so loosely stated, that no definite idea of the loss can be obtained. It was greater, probably, than at Borodino.
       In the American Civil War, the Union Armies lost 110,070 killed or mortally wounded, and 275,175 wounded; total, 385,245, exclusive of the missing in action whose number has not, as yet, been officially stated. Of the 110,070 deaths from battle, 67,058 were killed on the field; the remainder, 43,012, died of their wounds. This loss was divided among the different arms of the service as follows:

Service Officers Enlisted Men Total Ratio of Officers to Men
Infantry 5,461 91,424 96,885 1:16.7
Sharpshooters 23 443 466 1:17.7
Cavalry 671 9,925 10,596 1:14.7
Light Artillery 116 1,701 1,817 1:14.6
Heavy Artillery 5 124 129 1:24.8
Engineers 4 72 76 1:18.0
General Officers 67 ---- 67 -----
General Staff 18 ---- 18 -----
Unclassified ---- 16 16 ----
Total 6,365 103,705 110,070 1:16.3

The losses in the three principal classes of troops were:


Class Officers Enlisted Men Total Ratio of Officers to Men
Volunteers 6,078 98,815 104,893 1:16.2
Regulars 144 2,139 2,283 1:14.8
Colored Troops 143 2,751 2,894 1:19.2
Total 6,365 103,705 110,070 1:16.3


Class Officers Enlisted Men Total Ratio of Officers to Men
Volunteers 2,471 168,039 167,510 1:66.7
Regulars 104 2,448 2,552 1:23.5
Colored Troops 137 29,521 29,658 1:215.5
Total 2,712 197,008 199,720 1:72.6

       The total number of men enrolled during the four years of the war was 2,778,304. But a large proportion of them enlisted for ninety days, six months, one year, or two years, and reŽntered the service upon the expiration of their term of enlistment. Thus, the names of many soldiers appear two or more times upon the rolls, and in different regiments. Reduced to a three years' standard of enlistment, the total enrollment of the Union Army would equal 2,326,168 men. Using this as a basis for computation, the following percentages are obtained:


Class Enrolled Killed %
Volunteers 2,080.193 104,893 5.0
Regulars 67,000 2,283 3.4
Colored Troops 178,975 2,894 1.6
Total 2,236,168 110,070 4.0


Class Enrolled Died %
Volunteers 2,080,193 167,510 8.0
Regulars 67,000 2,552 3.8
Colored Troops 178,975 29,658 16.5
Total 2,236,168 199,720 8.5


Class Enrolled Killed %
Volunteers 2,080,193 316,883 15.2
Regulars 67,000 5,798 8.6
Colored Troops 178,975 36,847 20.5
Total 2,326,168 359,528 15.4

       The number of deaths from disease was remarkable, being more than double the number from battle. Without including the deaths in Confederate prisons, or those caused by accidents, drowning, sunstrokes, suicides, executions, murders, or other causes, there were 199,-720 of the Union Army who died of disease-- in camp, in hospitals, or at home- before their term of enlistment had expired. Part of this extraordinary loss was due to the severity of the campaigns. The extent of territory marched over was immense; some of the campaigns were made under a tropical sun, and some of the battles were fought amid the snows of winter. The Ninth Corps fought on the Carolina Coast, and then moved a thousand miles westward to the fever-smitten camps at Vicksburg. The Twelfth Corps, after fighting for two years in Virginia, moved to Tennessee, from whence it fought its way through Georgia to Atlanta; marched from Atlanta to the Sea, and thence northward to its old battle grounds, having encircled half a continent. Men from the woods of Maine encamped two thousand miles distant along the bayous of Louisiana. Men from the prairies of the Northwest toiled and battled among the everglades of Florida, and along the Gulf. Human endurance was often tested to its utmost, and the restless, moving armies left in their wake a line of countless graves.
       And, yet, some of the greatest losses by disease occurred in regiments that were not subjected to the exposure of active service; regiments, which performed garrison duty only, and were provided with comfortable quarters and good food. The greatest loss by disease occurred in some black regiments which were doing garrison duty, and were stationed in the same district from which they had been recruited and where they had lived all their lives. Then, again, certain regiments among the white troops suffered from disease, unaccountably, more than others. The Vermont Brigade, while encamped in Virginia, in 1861, lost scores of men by disease, while the regiments in adjoining camps were entirely exempt; and, yet, these Vermonters excelled in physique, cleanliness and intelligence.
       The most striking feature of the mortuary statistics is that the regiments which incurred the greatest loss in battle are the ones which suffered least from disease. While, throughout the whole army, the deaths from disease were double those from bullets, the hard fighting regiments seldom lost even a like number. One-fifth of the deaths from disease occurred in regiments that never were in battle.
       In connection with this matter one must bear in mind, also, the ratio of mortality in civil life. Assuming the average age of the soldiers to be 23 years, the tables of the Life Insurance Actuaries indicate that three-fourths of the deaths from disease were due to the exposure of a soldier's life; and that the remainder would have occurred, just the same, if the men had remained at home.
       Of those who died from disease, one-fourth died of fever, principally typhoid; one-fourth died of diarrhea, or other forms of bowel complaint; nearly one-fourth died from inflammation of the lungs, or consumption, principally the former; the remaining fourth died of small-pox, measles, brain disease, erysipelas, and the various forms of disease common to the masses.
       The deaths in the Union Army, from all causes, as officially classified were as follows


Cause Officers Enlisted Men Aggregate
Killed, or died of wounds 6,365 103,705 110,070
Died of disease 2,712 197,008 199,790
In Confederate Prisons 83 24,783 24,866
Accidents 142 3,972 4,114
Drowning 106 4,838 4,944
Sunstrokes 5 308 313
Murdered 37 483 520
Killed after capture 14 90 104
Suicide 26 365 391
Military executions   267 267
Executed by the enemy 4 60 64
Causes known, but unclassified 62 1,972 2,034
Cause not stated 28 12,093 12,121
Aggregate 9,584 349,944 359,528

       The deaths from accidents were caused, principally, by the careless use of fire-arms, explosions of ammunition, and railway accidents; in the cavalry service, a large number of accidental deaths resulted from poor horsemanship.
       The number of the drowned may seem large, but the average is less than three men to a regiment. This loss was occasioned largely by bathing and boating. At times, some regiment would sustain a larger loss while fording rivers, or landing from small boats in the surf. The Seventy-fifth Pennsylvania, while crossing the Shenandoah, in April, 1862, lost 2 officers and 51 men, drowned by the swamping of a scow.
       Of the Union soldiers confined in Confederate prisons, 24,866 died of disease, exclusive of 2,072, who died of wounds while in the enemy's hands, and 3,218 others who died from various causes, known and unknown. As to what proportion of these 24,866 deaths was due to harsh treatment, instead of disease, it would be difficult to say. In the Northern military prisons, where the inmates were furnished with good food and quarters, the death rate was nearly the same; 30,152 Confederates died in Northern prisons. But these pages have nothing to do with the prison question other than the statistics.
       The principal place of confinement for Union soldiers was at Andersonville, Ga. Out of 45,613 prisoners confined there, 12,912 died- or, 28 per cent. the greatest number present at any time was 33,114-- on August 8, 1864. The greatest number of deaths in any one day was 127--on August 23, 1864. The daily average of deaths was 29.
       The largest military prison in the North was located at Elmira, N.Y. As at Andersonville, it consisted of an open stockade or prison pen. In it were confined 11,916 prisoners, of whom 5,994 died, or 25 per cent. The greatest mortality occurred in March, 1865, in which month 495 died at Elmira. Of the total number that died, 2,988 were buried in a field which has since been ploughed over and planted with wheat; and now the grain of summer and the snow of winter show no sign of the hapless Confederates who are laid at rest beneath its surface.