Follow by Email

Friday, March 11, 2016

William F. Fox, "Regimental Losses in the American Civil War"

Recently, I mentioned this book in passing, but it deserves a post by itself.  Fox ascertained regimental losses, principally of Union regiments, but to a lesser degree of Confederate regiments.  He has selected 300 Union regiments on the basis of either 130 killed or mortally wounded or ten percent killed or mortally wounded, and he has designated them as the Fighting 300.  His numbers aren't infallible.  I've observed what appears to be at least one omission on his part, the 155th New York of the Corcoran Legion in Gibbon's division, despite its loss of more than ten percent killed or mortally wounded.  Still, they give a good idea of which regiments shed the most blood.  Later in the book, Fox provides a table of Confederate regiments that lost more than forty percent in individual actions.  Because data on Confederate regiments was harder to find, his table is not exhaustive.  I'm currently working on the history of a regiment (12th Virginia Infantry) that lost more than forty percent on at least two occasions (Crampton's Gap, September 14, 1862, and Globe Tavern, August 19, 1864) yet does not appear on the table.  I'm sure plenty of other Confederate regiments belong there too.

Fox does not confine himself entirely to regiments.  He has tables on brigade losses and he devotes some time to larger units.  For example, he identifies Richardson's division of the Second Corps as the Union division with the heaviest losses.  He achieves this by keeping separate Birney's and Humphreys' divisions of the Third Corps even though they were consolidated under Mott before the war's end.  (By that time they had been merged into the Second Corps.)  Fox does not point this out, but the Second Corps (including the consolidated Third) accounts for a full quarter of the Fighting 300 regiments of the Union army.  Mott's division, the consolidation of the old Third Corps divisions in the Second Corps, had a full half of the Fighting 300 regiments of the entire Second Corps.  However you slice that, the Second Corps was in Fox's terms the fightingest corps in the Union army.

If there's a downside to Fox's book, it's that it dwells on the passive side, taking it rather than dishing it out.  The latter is what's important, because to paraphrase General Patton, we don't want to die for our country, we want our opponent to die for his country.  Livermore and Dupuy provide better indices of dishing it out, Livermore in the short term and Dupuy over longer periods.  The pinnacle of hits per thousand inflicted by Union forces occurred at Ezra Church (310), Chickamauga (292) and Gettysburg (272).  Confederates inflicted their highest hits per thousand when behind fortifications--Port Hudson (438 and 460), and Fort Wagner (631).  Dupuy would divide those Confederate results by 1.6 for fortifications, but Fort Wagner still exceeds anything else on Livermore's charts.

I was drafting this post when I did a chart on my 12th Virginia manuscript that called into question the accuracy of Fox's estimate of the average Confederate regiment's losses at almost ten percent.  I had read the H. E. Howard histories of the 6th, 16th and 41st Virginia, which surprised me.  These regiments belonged to the same brigade as the 12th Virginia but suffered significantly fewer casualties.  To some degree, this is because the letters, diaries and memoirs from the 12th reveal casualties that do not appear in the H. E. Howard rosters.  But the 12th suffered 10.3% losses, while the 6th and 16th lost 7.5% each.  (I haven't yet calculated the 41st Virginia's loss percentage, but I counted 105 killed or mortally wounded in the roster as opposed to 159 in the 12th.)  I think some of the difference comes from the 12th being first in the brigade's line of march and the rest of the difference from sheer chance.  The 12th had the worst casualties in the brigade at Second Manassas, got the worst assignments at Chancellorsville, was the farthest out front in the Wilderness, was out in front again at Bradshaw's Farm, and got chewed up worse than the rest of the brigade at Globe Tavern and Hatcher's Run.

Even more surprising was the Howard history of the 9th Virginia of Armistead's Brigade.  The author of the Howard history found seventy-three killed or mortally wounded of 1,901 men on the rolls in the first 1986 edition.  He found seventeen more men and three more combat fatalities in the second edition, 1988.  I subtracted 241 men who transferred out of the regiment with their companies before the fighting started.  The 9th lost 4.5% killed or mortally wounded of 1,677 on the rolls, less than Fox's estimate for the average Union regiment, much less the average Confederate regiment.  I suppose somebody must be below average, but I would not have expected that of a regiment that began its combat career at Seven Pines near the 12th and 41st Virginia.  Fox could still be right about the average killed or mortally wounded for each side, but H. E. Howard certainly did Civil War scholars a signal service when he started publishing the Virginia Regimental Series.  They give a pretty good idea of the losses suffered by Virginia units.