Death by Sun in the Dog Days of June 1863

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Tom Elmore

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Between June 15 and 18, two weeks before a shot was fired at Gettysburg, it is estimated that upwards of a thousand men died or were permanently disabled in the armies of Meade and Lee, due to a common enemy – sunstroke. Several times that number were temporarily put out of action from heat exhaustion, and we know that not all of them recovered in time to participate in the battle.

The following accounts describe the nature of that struggle, with sufficient data to make rough estimates of overall losses (with the help of June 30 strength numbers from Busey and Martin’s Regimental Strengths and Losses).

Temperature and humidity data between June 15 and 18 may be unavailable, but a hint was provided by Almeron W. Stillwell of the 5th Wisconsin, who reported a temperature of 112 degrees on June 16. How he obtained this information is unclear, but the reading was probably taken in direct sun, which is reportedly 10-15 degrees hotter than the shade, where modern readings are taken. It suggests afternoon highs for this period hovered around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but of course the soldiers were not marching in the shade. On the contrary, the major macadamized roads in that region reflected heat. Besides, we cannot determine heat index effects that certainly made it feel considerably hotter. In view of the many soldiers who were stricken during this period, the heat index must have reached the “extreme danger” category. None of this was well understood by armies of that era; in fact, commanders exacerbated the situation by forced marches when they precluded stops to refill empty canteens.

June 15

Crossed the Rapidan, very hot and dusty. Many men fainted down by the roadside. (Diary of William J. Garrett, Company I, 3rd Georgia)

Oppressively hot, many of the men fainted and fell by the wayside, while many others were prostrated by sunstroke to rise no more. (Papers of Thomas Claybrook Elder, Quartermaster of Col. David Lang’s Florida brigade)

Lt. Blanchard and others sun struck - Collier and Bovier of Co. C. Only 7 enlisted men with company when halted. Lost with above men 4 guns and full equipment, 240 cartridges. (Diary of N. S. Baker, 86th New York)

18 men died from the effects of the heat. (Diary of Battery A, First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery, p. 91)

The men were so tired in the afternoon from the fatigue, for the sun poured down upon us with intense heat that they lay down along the road by dozens, many men were sunstruck. I was never so tired before as that afternoon. (June 17 letter of William Remmel, 121 NY)

Resumed our march, come to Dumfries, very tired. Most of the regiment fell out, many were sun stroke. (Diary of Henry H. Chaffee, 4 VT)

15 men died in Geary’s division alone of fatigue and sunstroke. (Itinerary of the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry, ed. and comp. by Lawrence Wilson) [15 out of 4,397 equates to 0.34%]

Toward Manassas Junction. Very hot all day, a good many of infantry sun stroke. Some died, said to be 11 in one regiment. (Diary of H. A. Hartman, Battery H, 1st Ohio Artillery)

June 16

Towards night I got overheated and fainted … [by the] side of the road, so that yesterday I was so weak that I had to ride in an ambulance, and I think that I shall ride today. It is so awful hot that a lot get sun-struck every day. (June 18 letter from George H. Patch, 19 MA)

Stannard’s Vermont brigade lost 7 from sunstroke. (Letter of Private Royal D. King, D/14 VT) [7 out of 3,396 equates to 0.21%)

Very dry and tedious and terrible. Coats, blankets, knapsacks are dropped by the wayside and many of the boys having to succumb to the warm embrace of Old Saul are falling with sun stroke. (Diary of Almeron W. Stillwell, E/5 WI)

Nearly 60 men have fallen out from sun-stroke today out of the 3rd Division. (C.A.G., 10 MA) [58 out of roughly 5,737 equates to 1.01%]

June 17

To Stephensburg, day was oppressively hot and a large number of men fell exhausted from the heat. (Diary of Chaplain Francis M. Kennedy, 28 NC)

We were marched so hard we all very nearly gave out. Six or seven of our division died from over-heat. (Letter of Robert J. Montgomery, Company I, 12th South Carolina, Pender’s division) [6.5 out of roughly 7,120 equates to 0.09%]

Captain Adolphus W. Gill of I Company fell from sunstroke, and it is reported that several have died from the effects of that march. The day afterward, ambulances were sent out to pick up the men thus affected. (14th Brooklyn, Soldier Correspondence to New York Mercury)

Quite a number of men fell down sun struck, also some officers. I came near being sun struck. … Lt. Col. Gleason died on the march, buried him at 6:30 p.m., died from extreme sunstroke I guess … Welleaux (sp?) says 25 men dropped dead on the march. (Diary of Capt. George Lockley, A/1 MICH)

Heat was excessive and water very scarce … it was reported that 27 men died from sunstroke during the day … in our division. (Musket and Sword, by Edwin C. Bennett, 22 MASS) [27 out of 4,556 equates to 0.59%]

June 18

Men fell by scores and several died in the road from exhaustion. (Diary of Chaplain Francis M. Kennedy, 28 NC)

Thursday, the hottest day I ever felt. I think there was 27 men in the division dropped dead in the road. (B. F. Hammond, Company D, 1st South Carolina Rifles (Orr’s), Pender’s division) [27 out of roughly 7,114 equates to 0.39%. Adding to the previous day’s loss comes out to 0.46%]

Other comments:

June 22, hard marching last 10 days, 70 died from sunstroke in our [First] corps. (Civil War Letters of Charles Barber, Private, 104th New York, Livingston County Historical Museum, Geneseo, New York) [70 out of 14,417 equates to 0.49%]

J. W. Spaulding of the 19th Maine was compelled for the first time to leave the ranks owing to the extreme heat and clouds of dust, and lay down under a bush. That night, a comrade, chum and messmate [named] Dave, came back for Spaulding and coaxed him into camp. (Second Reunion of the Nineteenth Maine Regiment Association, p. 10)

The weather was hot beyond endurance … We moved out early in the morning and continued a rapid march with but few minutes rest during the entire day … 800 fell in the ranks [Second Corps?] from exhaustion and the excessive heat of the sun; 100 of these never recovered. (Daniel Bond, 1st Minnesota, Civil War Manuscripts at the Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois) [100 out of 13,613 equates to 0.73%]

Tally:

Figuring one-half of one percent for permanent losses due to heat stroke in both armies, for the period June 15-18, yields:

Died or permanently disabled in the Army of the Potomac (USA): 566
Died or permanently disabled in the Army of Northern Virginia (CSA): 402

The battle claimed at least 7,786 lives, on which enough has been written to fill a library. Sunstroke, on the other hand, took perhaps a thousand lives during the campaign, and is rarely mentioned.

See also, https://civilwartalk.com/threads/heat-casualties-–-the-other-opponent-at-gettysburg.151581/#post-1925970
 

NH Civil War Gal

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You know, I'm really surprised that the commanders kept them marching like that with them falling like that. That heat, duration, and deaths was really unusual. Yet, you don't hear about the horses and mules collapsing or perhaps we aren't reading in the right places OR maybe more care was taken of them.
 

lelliott19

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McLaws' division lost about 100 to sunstroke in one day during the march to Gettysburg - unfortunately, the writer doesn't tell us which day. :confused:

"The troops suffered very severely on this march from the excessive heat; so great was it indeed that as many as one hundred cases of sun-stroke occurred in the division during one day." [Heroes & Martyrs of Georgia, p.18.]
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eBrowne

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June 15 - "The heat was excessive, the roads dusty beyond description, springs and water sources all dried up and the woods on fire in many places on both sides of the road...The two or three slow running and almost stagnant runs which we crossed, although thoroughly stirred up and muddied by the hundreds of horses which were ridden into them to water, were welcomed gladly and the miserable water was swallowed by cup-fills...During the day eleven men in the 5th corps, comprising only two divisions, died of sun stroke and exhaustion." Wanderer (William Ewing - Battery H 1st Ohio), Toledo Blade, June 23, 1863.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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This is the first time I've seen numbers mentioned, thank you! You knew they had to be high and that heat as a backdrop isn't frequently discussed. We've had discussions here on wool uniforms- someone said they weren't as awful as it would seems but I have a hard time thinking ' wool ' and ' summer '. Good thing no one dreamed up polyester by 1863, can you imagine?
 

Cavalier

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It has been my impression that they wore long underwear in those days, even in the summer. Does anyone know if that's correct?

@Tom Elmore. I have read references to this frequently in campaign accounts but I have never seen it quantified, (not sure if that's a real word?), before. Thanks very much for posting this.
 
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thomas aagaard

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In view of the many soldiers who were stricken during this period, the heat index must have reached the “extreme danger” category. None of this was well understood by armies of that era; in fact, commanders exacerbated the situation by forced marches when they precluded stops to refill empty canteens.
The biggest battle of the 1st Sleswig war was on the 25th of july 1850.
Because of extreme heat (30+C / 100+F) in the week up to the battle and that both sides lost men to heatstroke, both sides tried to march at night/early morning. The battle also started at like 0300 in the morning for this reason.

If the danish army in 1850 knew not to march an army at the hottest time of day, I have a hard time imagining the US army (who had experience with a lot more extreme environments) not knowing to.

My guess is that the marching distances is the issue.
The danish government army could get a way with just marching for just a few hours in the early morning.
With only 37.000 "danish" government troops there is less waiting for the men in front to march and the operational area during the camping was real tiny compared to the area involved in the Gettysburg campaign.
And the rebels the same, with about 27.000 men.

In comparison the american soldier had to march way longer on a daily basic and as such there was no real way around marching during the hot part of the day.

My point is, Iam sure that men like Lee and Hooker/Meade and the corps commanders knew that doing this would result in looses, including deaths. But the military need made this just another price of war.
 
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eBrowne

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"The first part of the march was extremely severe and exhausting. The heat was intense and the air was filled with dense clouds of dust that were well-nigh suffocating.Added to these was the scarcity of water, and the suffering of men and animals was almost beyond endurance. Battery H marched with Sykes's Division of Regulars. In this corps alone eleven men died by the wayside the first day from heat and exhaustion." James Barnett in The James Barnett Papers, Battery H First Ohio Light Artillery, p. 73.
 

eBrowne

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From the Battery H accounts of 11 deaths in the 5th Corps one could figure out a rough percentage. The two 5th Corps divisions would be the 1st and 2nd. "The 3rd Division was made up of two brigades of Pennsylvania Reserves which had been on duty in the Washington defenses. It joined the Army of the Potomac on June 28." The 1st division per their monument had "strength: 3,420 men", the 2nd division had "strength: 4,020 men." So about .14 or .15 % for the day of June 15.
 
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Tom Elmore

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From the Battery H accounts of 11 deaths in the 5th Corps one could figure out a rough percentage. The two 5th Corps divisions would be the 1st and 2nd. "The 3rd Division was made up of two brigades of Pennsylvania Reserves which had been on duty in the Washington defenses. It joined the Army of the Potomac on June 28." The 1st division per their monument had "strength: 3,420 men", the 2nd division had "strength: 4,020 men." So about .14 or .15 % for the day of June 15.
Rather than engaged numbers, I used the 30 June totals, which were 4,529 for 1st Division and 4,723 for 2nd Division, total 9,252, so came up with the percentage of 11/9,263 or 0.12%). If we assigned 5 of those 11 deaths to the 1st Division on June 15, and add the reported 27 deaths in 1st Division on June 17, I calculate 32/4,561 or 0.70% for Barnes' 1st Division, 5th Corps over just those two days. That's close to the 0.73% estimate for the 2nd Corps. So the 0.5% rule of thumb may in fact be a bit conservative for the Union army.

On the other hand, I reconsidered that the Confederate army generally had less arduous marches once they entered Pennsylvania, so perhaps their total heat-related losses might have been under 0.5%, but then Laura's post regarding a claim of 100 sun-stroke cases in McLaws' division in one day makes me think the Confederate loss is not overstated after all.
 

eBrowne

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William Ewing of Battery H describes the march of June 15th, "Brigades dwindled to the size of Regiments, Regiments to mere Companies and so on. One Company of the 67th Regulars on reaching Manassas at 12 o'clock, had but seventeen men present; another Company of 59 could number only the Captain, one Sergeant and three men, four in all while the 146th New York, some 700 to 800 strong, had only twenty-five officers and men left on reaching the end of the march." Toledo Blade, June 23, 1863.
 

Belfoured

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Between June 15 and 18, two weeks before a shot was fired at Gettysburg, it is estimated that upwards of a thousand men died or were permanently disabled in the armies of Meade and Lee, due to a common enemy – sunstroke. Several times that number were temporarily put out of action from heat exhaustion, and we know that not all of them recovered in time to participate in the battle.

The following accounts describe the nature of that struggle, with sufficient data to make rough estimates of overall losses (with the help of June 30 strength numbers from Busey and Martin’s Regimental Strengths and Losses).

Temperature and humidity data between June 15 and 18 may be unavailable, but a hint was provided by Almeron W. Stillwell of the 5th Wisconsin, who reported a temperature of 112 degrees on June 16. How he obtained this information is unclear, but the reading was probably taken in direct sun, which is reportedly 10-15 degrees hotter than the shade, where modern readings are taken. It suggests afternoon highs for this period hovered around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but of course the soldiers were not marching in the shade. On the contrary, the major macadamized roads in that region reflected heat. Besides, we cannot determine heat index effects that certainly made it feel considerably hotter. In view of the many soldiers who were stricken during this period, the heat index must have reached the “extreme danger” category. None of this was well understood by armies of that era; in fact, commanders exacerbated the situation by forced marches when they precluded stops to refill empty canteens.

June 15

Crossed the Rapidan, very hot and dusty. Many men fainted down by the roadside. (Diary of William J. Garrett, Company I, 3rd Georgia)

Oppressively hot, many of the men fainted and fell by the wayside, while many others were prostrated by sunstroke to rise no more. (Papers of Thomas Claybrook Elder, Quartermaster of Col. David Lang’s Florida brigade)

Lt. Blanchard and others sun struck - Collier and Bovier of Co. C. Only 7 enlisted men with company when halted. Lost with above men 4 guns and full equipment, 240 cartridges. (Diary of N. S. Baker, 86th New York)

18 men died from the effects of the heat. (Diary of Battery A, First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery, p. 91)

The men were so tired in the afternoon from the fatigue, for the sun poured down upon us with intense heat that they lay down along the road by dozens, many men were sunstruck. I was never so tired before as that afternoon. (June 17 letter of William Remmel, 121 NY)

Resumed our march, come to Dumfries, very tired. Most of the regiment fell out, many were sun stroke. (Diary of Henry H. Chaffee, 4 VT)

15 men died in Geary’s division alone of fatigue and sunstroke. (Itinerary of the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry, ed. and comp. by Lawrence Wilson) [15 out of 4,397 equates to 0.34%]

Toward Manassas Junction. Very hot all day, a good many of infantry sun stroke. Some died, said to be 11 in one regiment. (Diary of H. A. Hartman, Battery H, 1st Ohio Artillery)

June 16

Towards night I got overheated and fainted … [by the] side of the road, so that yesterday I was so weak that I had to ride in an ambulance, and I think that I shall ride today. It is so awful hot that a lot get sun-struck every day. (June 18 letter from George H. Patch, 19 MA)

Stannard’s Vermont brigade lost 7 from sunstroke. (Letter of Private Royal D. King, D/14 VT) [7 out of 3,396 equates to 0.21%)

Very dry and tedious and terrible. Coats, blankets, knapsacks are dropped by the wayside and many of the boys having to succumb to the warm embrace of Old Saul are falling with sun stroke. (Diary of Almeron W. Stillwell, E/5 WI)

Nearly 60 men have fallen out from sun-stroke today out of the 3rd Division. (C.A.G., 10 MA) [58 out of roughly 5,737 equates to 1.01%]

June 17

To Stephensburg, day was oppressively hot and a large number of men fell exhausted from the heat. (Diary of Chaplain Francis M. Kennedy, 28 NC)

We were marched so hard we all very nearly gave out. Six or seven of our division died from over-heat. (Letter of Robert J. Montgomery, Company I, 12th South Carolina, Pender’s division) [6.5 out of roughly 7,120 equates to 0.09%]

Captain Adolphus W. Gill of I Company fell from sunstroke, and it is reported that several have died from the effects of that march. The day afterward, ambulances were sent out to pick up the men thus affected. (14th Brooklyn, Soldier Correspondence to New York Mercury)

Quite a number of men fell down sun struck, also some officers. I came near being sun struck. … Lt. Col. Gleason died on the march, buried him at 6:30 p.m., died from extreme sunstroke I guess … Welleaux (sp?) says 25 men dropped dead on the march. (Diary of Capt. George Lockley, A/1 MICH)

Heat was excessive and water very scarce … it was reported that 27 men died from sunstroke during the day … in our division. (Musket and Sword, by Edwin C. Bennett, 22 MASS) [27 out of 4,556 equates to 0.59%]

June 18

Men fell by scores and several died in the road from exhaustion. (Diary of Chaplain Francis M. Kennedy, 28 NC)

Thursday, the hottest day I ever felt. I think there was 27 men in the division dropped dead in the road. (B. F. Hammond, Company D, 1st South Carolina Rifles (Orr’s), Pender’s division) [27 out of roughly 7,114 equates to 0.39%. Adding to the previous day’s loss comes out to 0.46%]

Other comments:

June 22, hard marching last 10 days, 70 died from sunstroke in our [First] corps. (Civil War Letters of Charles Barber, Private, 104th New York, Livingston County Historical Museum, Geneseo, New York) [70 out of 14,417 equates to 0.49%]

J. W. Spaulding of the 19th Maine was compelled for the first time to leave the ranks owing to the extreme heat and clouds of dust, and lay down under a bush. That night, a comrade, chum and messmate [named] Dave, came back for Spaulding and coaxed him into camp. (Second Reunion of the Nineteenth Maine Regiment Association, p. 10)

The weather was hot beyond endurance … We moved out early in the morning and continued a rapid march with but few minutes rest during the entire day … 800 fell in the ranks [Second Corps?] from exhaustion and the excessive heat of the sun; 100 of these never recovered. (Daniel Bond, 1st Minnesota, Civil War Manuscripts at the Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois) [100 out of 13,613 equates to 0.73%]

Tally:

Figuring one-half of one percent for permanent losses due to heat stroke in both armies, for the period June 15-18, yields:

Died or permanently disabled in the Army of the Potomac (USA): 566
Died or permanently disabled in the Army of Northern Virginia (CSA): 402

The battle claimed at least 7,786 lives, on which enough has been written to fill a library. Sunstroke, on the other hand, took perhaps a thousand lives during the campaign, and is rarely mentioned.

See also, https://civilwartalk.com/threads/heat-casualties-–-the-other-opponent-at-gettysburg.151581/#post-1925970
I checked Krick's book on the weather in Virginia during the war. For June 15-18, 1863 the readings at 2 PM in Georgetown were 92, 94, 94 and 96. Given where the A of the P was located at that point in the campaign, these readings were probably on target. If the weather was humid I'd guess that it would feel like at least 100.
 
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