Heat Casualties – the Other Opponent at Gettysburg

Tom Elmore

Sergeant Major
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
Messages
2,329
#1
We tend to forget the presence of a third opponent at Gettysburg, one who worked impartially and tirelessly against the other two sides, North and South. Mustering the combined forces of heat and humidity, this foe – the weather – claimed for itself a rather impressive number of casualties among officers and the ranks, often at critical moments in the battle. In order to attend to those stricken, others were taken out of the fight, further diminishing their unit’s combat effectiveness.

Although heat exhaustion was usually a temporary condition, recovery was not always rapid or steady, meaning the ability of an affected individual to function at their previous level might be impaired for some time. On the other hand, the more severe state of heat stroke could result in death or permanent debility.

Three out of the five regimental commanders in the Alabama brigade of Evander M. Law were literally felled by the heat on July 2, while a fourth who was already in a delicate condition was likely seriously impacted. This brigade had just marched 25 miles to reach the field:

-Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence H. Scruggs, 4th Alabama. Reached stone fence in initial advance … Colonel Scruggs fell from sheer exhaustion and was carried to the rear by the litter bearers, one of whom, while doing so, was killed, James H. Cooke of G Company. … Scruggs returned from the hospital on the morning of July 3, partially recovered. … Several of the men fell out during the advance on July 2, unable to go farther. One was lying face down in the wheat and did not move when lightly jabbed with the tip of my sword. (R. T. Coles, From Huntsville to Appomattox, Adjutant, 4 AL)

-Colonel William C. Oates, 15th Alabama. A number overcome by heat (fell) out while scaling the rugged mountain (Big Round Top). … (Upon retreating from Little Round Top) I was so overcome by heat and exertion that I fainted and fell, and would have been captured but for two stalwart, powerful men of the regiment, who carried me to the top of the mountain (Big Round Top), where Dr. Reeves, the Assistant Surgeon, poured water on my head from a canteen until it revived me. When I revived I turned over the command of the regiment to Captain Hill temporarily. (William C. Oates, The Battle of Gettysburg, pp. 101-102)

-Colonel William F. Perry, 44th Alabama. The Major (George W. Carey) found me at the foot of the hill, completely prostrated by heat and excessive exertion … unable to stand without support … my disability continued until after nightfall. (W. F. Perry, The Devil’s Den, Confederate Veteran, vol. 9, p. 161)

-Colonel James W. Jackson, 47th Alabama. Jackson was unable to keep up with the regiment during its advance. A staff officer rode up to Lieutenant Colonel W. J. Bulger and directed him to take charge of the regiment. Colonel Jackson was unable to meet the physical demands of his position even without the heat, but it probably exacerbated his condition. He resigned his commission after Gettysburg and died on July 1, 1865. (Joseph Q. Burton, Sketch of the 47th Alabama; Military Images, vol. XX, no. 4, January-February 1999, pp. 22-23)

On July 3, most of George Pickett’s division was exposed to the direct sun for a few hours while lying still on the ground. They attacked during the hottest hour of the day, when the recorded temperature reached 87 degrees in the shade, not including the heat generated by thousands of cannon discharges over a 90 minute period in their vicinity. I think it safe to conclude that heat alone removed the equivalent of between one and two Confederate regiments from the attacking column:

-In Company B of the 3rd Virginia Captain Hutchings and Sergeant Brownley were sun struck. Six others were likewise overcome by heat, while only one was killed by a shell, so that only six (out of 15 in the company) advanced. Private William A. Fiske advanced, but fell exhausted before reaching the stone wall, although he made it back. (John W. H. Porter, History of Norfolk County, Virginia, p. 54; Confederate Military History, vol. 3, p. 870)

-Company D of the 7th Virginia had 4 officers and 28 enlisted men in line at the start of the day; of this number Captain R. H. Bane and Lieutenant John W. Mullins were prostrated by the heat and disabled for several weeks. (David E. Johnston, The Story of a Confederate Boy in the Civil War)

-In the 11th Virginia, many men were unable to advance because of the heat. Lieutenant John T. James of Company D recalled they were “lying in a field with a heavy growth of grass (making it) impossible for any wind to get through it, and this with the intense heat of the sun produced several cases of sunstroke among our men.” (Lt. Col. James Risque Hutter, Supplement to the Official Records; account of Lieutenant John Thomas James from Company D, which deployed as skirmishers.)

-Company D of the 5th Florida in Lang’s supporting brigade went into the fight with just one officer and nine men. One of these men fell down exhausted before they had advanced 100 yards. (Diary of Lieutenant James Wentworth, D/5 FL)

-Further north, on the skirmish line deployed in Long Lane, a great number of men in the 14th Georgia fainted. (Diary of George W. Hall, G/14 GA)

Conditions were the same on the other side of the field, but some men enjoyed a bit of shade provided by sparse undergrowth or tent halves they had set up:

-Brigadier General Stannard of the Vermont brigade recalled that “the weather was extremely hot during the day (July 3), and some men nearly fainted from the effects of the heat. Notwithstanding they laid flat upon the ground, I had to move some portions of my command to shelter them from the rays of the sun, before the fight actually commenced.” (He is likely referring to the 13th Vermont, which was moved forward to a small knoll covered with small trees, the 14th Vermont having been moved early in the day to lower ground with some trees and bushes). (Extract from General Stannard’s diary, Bachelder Papers, 1:57)

-Some men of the 72nd Pennsylvania near the copse put up their shelter tents as a screen against the sun on July 3. Likewise in the 19th Massachusetts, where “the men improvised shelters by inverting their muskets, with the bayonets stuck in the ground, thus making posts of them, to which, by means of the hammers, pieces of shelter tents or blankets were fastened.” (Major Samuel Roberts, 72 PA, National Tribune, September 1, 1887; History of the Nineteenth Massachusetts, comp. by Ernest L. Watt)

-The 107th Pennsylvania began the day on July 3 with 11 officers and about 72 men with guns. Subsequently two officers were wounded, one private was killed and others slightly wounded by the enemy. The weather did nearly as well, claiming three men who were carried from the field due to the intense heat. (Captain Emanuel D. Roath, Official Report, 107 PA)

-Even on July 2, the mid-day “rays of the sun and the heat which radiated from the bare road and stone walls was almost unendurable. Corporal Huggins, overcome with heat, fell down unconscious. Milan Robinson and Marsena Stout took him to the field hospital. Stout was killed by a grape shot returning to the lines. (John W. Hand, 136 NY, The National Tribune, July 24, 1890)

Both Colonel Oliver Edwards and Lieutenant Colonel George L. Montague of the 37th Massachusetts in Eustis’ brigade of the Sixth Corps succumbed on July 3. “While the regiments were actually engaged or in line of battle, the regimental officers dismounted and sent their horses to a place of safety in the rear. As they were unaccustomed to foot service, these expeditions to different parts of the field on foot and at double-quick, in such a heat, bore particularly hard on them. The result was that an unusually large number of regimental officers were prostrated by heat on that day, Colonel Edwards and Lieutenant Colonel Montague of the Thirty-seventh among the number.” (Mason Whiting Tyler, Recollections of the Civil War, p. 108)
 

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

Hussar Yeomanry

Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Dec 6, 2017
Messages
930
Location
UK
#4
As someone who has had middling level heat stroke I can definitely sympathise.

Luckily there was a lot of water around once it became clear what I was suffering from (Lack of water seems to have been an issue for both sides at Gettysburg but especially the Confederates). However I would say that my thoughts if ordered to attack the enemy while suffering from heat stroke would have gone like this.

1) Who are the enemy?
2) Where are the enemy?
3) What am I doing here?

And indeed at times (for I found that one faded in and out of awareness of one's surroundings) that most elemental of questions.

4) Err?

This may not be the most coherent of thoughts to have but it was certainly at times how I felt as around me the world was... odd... for want of a better word. Of course I accept that the people in both armies that day are likely to have been much hardier than I was/ am but even so I can vouch that it is as incredibly debilitating (if thankfully fixable) condition... and one that at Gettysburg does not get the recognition it deserves.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
18,110
Location
Central Pennsylvania
#5
Thank you! The whole heat thing has always given me the willies- but we just never hear of it. Our ridiculous patches of that kind of heat here in PA remind me every, single summer about what it was like that July. Somewhere, found an article ( probably The Adams County Sentinel ) that it didn't let up post battle, either. Can you imagine what the hospitals were like, or wounded still out on the battlefield?

Crazy about Oates, isn't it? We're familiar with his part on LRT, never knew he'd been taken out by the heat. Bookmarking the thread- like I said, that aspect of those days has always, always bothered me. How did anyone do anything at all at Gettysburg?
 

Tom Elmore

Sergeant Major
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
Messages
2,329
#9
Not to be pednatic but what was the humidity reading on those July days? Living in the South where we routinely have 80 percent plus humidity readings it makes a significant difference in comfort levels. Just curious.
Regards
David
Humidity or dew point measurements were not taken in those days so far as I know, but with showers passing through the area on July 1, and a strong line of storms (front) arriving on July 4, I suspect the humidity was quite high.
 
Joined
Feb 15, 2012
Messages
489
#10
The Confederates of General Robert Rodes Division arrived on Oak Hill at about noon, after marching all morning. They suffered greatly from the heat!

The men of the 5th Alabama Infantry were on the extreme left of O’Neal’s Brigade and had to move rapidly, frequently at a run, as the division made a right wheel from the Newville Road to Oak Ridge. Once the regiment reached the ridge, the men found that “The ground was very rough, In places the regiment moved through orchards, gardens, over wood and stone fences, which, with the rapidity of the march, fatigued the men, causing many of them to faint from exhaustion.”[1]

Private Samuel Pickens of Company D said much the same: “Our Regiment was on the left of the Brigade and as it moved forward it made a partial right wheel and thus kept us at a double quick march all the time; and as it was an excessively hot day and we were going through wheat field and ploughed ground and over fences, it almost killed us. I was perfectly exhausted and never suffered so from heat and fatigue in my life. A good many fellows fell out of ranks being completely broken down and some fainted.”[2]


[1] “Gettysburg July 1” by David G. Martin, page 218

[2] Diary of Samuel Pickens
 

Hussar Yeomanry

Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Dec 6, 2017
Messages
930
Location
UK
#11
And this must have all been exacerbated by how far some units had been required to march.

Examples: Evander Law's brigade (containing Colonel Oates) has a circa twenty mile march before being thrown into battle where they have to struggle up Big Round Top before having to attack Little Round Top, roads unavailable for the last part of this manouever.

On the opposing side the Sixth Corps had the furthest to travel and despite Sedgewick's reputation for caring for his troops he pushes them hard...

And of course as I write this Miles Krisman provides other examples :thumbsup:
 

Hussar Yeomanry

Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Dec 6, 2017
Messages
930
Location
UK
#12
I'm also going to add that this all ties in with something else that I don't think gets enough attention.

Fatigue.

This is a three day battle that follows a long period of marching and I would argue that the heat would be extrememly sapping of one's energy even if one doesn't develop full on heat stroke. Further were people getting full night's sleep? I think that unlikely with the enemy so close though the need for sleep can be seen by Warren sleeping through the end of Day 2 command meeting.

After all these weren't supermen. These were people. Brave people to be sure but still people and so mistakes happen. Mistakes that years later we are still analysing and criticising. Now I'm as bad at that as anyone else but I do think we need to keep things in the relevant and appalling context.
 

Tom Elmore

Sergeant Major
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
Messages
2,329
#16
Very interesting topic.

Tom, is there any documentation of soldiers faking heat exhaustion to get themselves out of the battle? I would think that heat related ailments would be something easily faked.
I think you are right. But by mid-1863, soldiers would have already established a reputation for shirking if that was their nature. I know officers kept their eye on certain men who habitually tried to avoid combat, and might use the flat of their sword to keep them in place, or even threaten them with death. The vast majority, however, performed their duty, and so if they did claim sickness or apparently fainted from the heat, they would likely be believed. But in fact, just the opposite was the norm, that is, the close bonds formed by such men with their comrades in tight situations meant they would do anything to stay with their unit, even if they were very sick or could still manage to stay upright after being wounded. One often reads of soldiers being concerned about being shot in the back, which could suggest cowardice to uninformed civilians back home, even if it was done under orders, for instance a retreat or falling back after being relieved on the skirmish line.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
18,110
Location
Central Pennsylvania
#17
Very interesting topic.

Tom, is there any documentation of soldiers faking heat exhaustion to get themselves out of the battle? I would think that heat related ailments would be something easily faked.


You live here- can't imagine the need to invent heat stroke? What always surprises me is that there were enough men out there in woolen uniforms to have a battle. This past summer was so hot and humid, every day there was mildew on the furniture- used a lot of Clorox water.

Found it- when summers are bad, they don't let up until late September.

heat aug 1863.JPG
 

7thWisconsin

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 21, 2014
Messages
1,013
#18
Summer in Gettysburg is always both hot and humid. We'll never know how many men were suffering from some level of heat exhaustion, displayed some level of confusion and were killed by conventional fire as a result. When you view the paintings of the battle in the Pennsylvania rotunda, you see a lot of soldiers fighting in shirtsleeves. I suspect that happened a lot. They threw things away they didn't need; we reenactors can't do that.
 
Joined
Nov 26, 2015
Messages
1,237
Location
Greensburg, Pa
#19
You live here- can't imagine the need to invent heat stroke? What always surprises me is that there were enough men out there in woolen uniforms to have a battle. This past summer was so hot and humid, every day there was mildew on the furniture- used a lot of Clorox water.

Found it- when summers are bad, they don't let up until late September.

View attachment 210716

My question was solely based on soldiers shirking battle duty by faking heat exhaustion. I live west of Gettysburg and I fully understand the heat and humidity of southern Pennsylvania. I am constantly amazed by the weather conditions that CW soldiers had to endure as they walked hundreds of miles and fought battles in wool clothing in the summer heat. I am sure that many truely had heat related ailments complicated by the lack of quality water.

But for those inclined to shirking, I would think that faking a heat related ailment would be relatively easy to do. Others were very aware of the weather conditions but may not know how much water was drunk (or the quality of the water).

I just wanted to understand if faking heat exhaustion was a problem at Gettysburg.
 
Joined
Aug 15, 2017
Messages
117
#20
Wool Uniform which included a jacket in the middle of summer. I'm surprised it didn't happen more often. Shirtsleeve weather !
Few Confeds had complete uniforms by this point in the war and still fewer had uniforms without holes.

The Federals, on the other hand, usually had most of their uniforms. To some degree, the Federals had another advantage: Their more complete uniforms did a better job of keeping the sun off their skin and that would have slightly reduced the need for water consumption. Read it again, I wrote, 'slightly.'
 

Similar threads




(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Top