Monday, May 12, 2008

For all you hardcore historians out there

I have had the following article stored in my Favorites for a couple of years now. In Rivers of Blood, author Phil Andrade does some gruesome arithmetic by breaking down the numbers and percentages of dead, died of wounds, wounded, and missing that accompany the aftermath of a battle. His ultimate aim is to answer the question of which war of the 19th Century was the deadliest? Your choices are the Napoleonic War, the Crimean War, and the American Civil War.

For me, Andrade's most shocking revelation is the upgraded numbers of dead from battles of the Civil War. If you peruse the common history books on the subject, you will see the same numbers repeated. Let's take the Battle of Gettysburg as an example. From that largest of Civil War battles, fought in the first three days of July, 1863, the common number given for the Union dead and wounded is 23,000, while Confederate dead and wounded were 28,000. First off, notice I said dead and wounded. I have read articles that talk about 23,000 Union soldiers being killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. Wrong. Actually the official tally after the battle's end was 3,155 Union soldiers killed. Estimates of Confederate dead range from 2,600 to 3,900. What Andrade has done is to account for deaths that were not accounted for that would end up almost doubling the number of dead from both sides of the battle. The 3,155 Union dead were the soldiers splayed out on the battlefield; their lifeless, bloated forms appearing in so many famous black and white photographs you have probably seen. But what about the wounded soldier who was taken off the battlefield alive, but died a few days later from his wounds? Those deaths were often not counted towards the battle's final toll. Neither were the so-called missing, which usually comprised a huge number of the listed casualties. Along with the 3,155 killed, the Union army at Gettysburg officially suffered 14,529 wounded, and 5,365 missing. How many of those 14,529 died of their wounds? How many of those 5,365 missing were dead or dying of wounds rather than being marched to a prisoner of war camp? After doing a detailed count of regimental rolls, the actual number of Union soldiers who were killed at the Battle of Gettysburg is not 3,155; the number is more along the lines of 5,291! After applying the same research to the Confederate side, the number of dead who were wearing gray or homespun butternut was not the previous high of 3,900, but more like 5,779. Added together, the number of dead from the Battle of Gettysburg exceeded 11,000 men!

Andrade gives this mathematical treatment to several other battles. He also compares losses from various battles according to the percentage of total number of men engaged. It's a long read and your head will be swimming with numbers, but I find the article to be a highly fascinating historical read.

Good Day to You, Sir

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