Why were Civil War casualties so high?

Why were Civil War casualties so high?

  • 1. Because Civil War generals employed outdated tactics?

    Votes: 25 36.8%
  • 2. Because it lasted four years?

    Votes: 13 19.1%
  • 3. Because death and sickness due to disease were common in that era, especially in cities?

    Votes: 50 73.5%
  • 4. Because the United States did not fully and properly engage its advantage in naval power?

    Votes: 3 4.4%
  • 5. Because Grant was a butcher?

    Votes: 3 4.4%
  • 6. Because Jefferson Davis did not want to admit that the Confederacy was beaten?

    Votes: 4 5.9%
  • 7. Because minie`ball wounds could not be treated with existing medical technology?

    Votes: 21 30.9%
  • 8. Because casualties of both combatants are counted as US casualties?

    Votes: 17 25.0%

  • Total voters
    68

Sbc

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Location
Easley, South Carolina
What I mean is that if there's a battle with 10,000 engaged on each side and one side suffers 5,000 while the other suffers 4,000, and another battle where one side suffers 2,000 while the other suffers 7,000, then in both cases there are 9,000 casualties at the end of the day. Both battles have been as bloody.


Now, looking specifically at Chickamauga:

Casualties and losses
∼ 60,000[6][7]∼ 65,000[8]
16,170[9][10]
1,657 killed
9,756 wounded
4,757 captured or missing
18,454[10]
2,312 killed
14,674 wounded
1,468 captured or missing


So of 125,000 men on the field there are 28,399 men KIA/WIA. This is 23%.



Borodino sees 250,000 troops involved in the fighting, which conveniently is double the number at Chickamauga.

There were 52,000 Russian troops reported as dead, wounded or missing in the battle, but of these 8,000 subsequently returned to their units and 1,000 were prisoners; this implies 43,000 KIA/WIA.
The French returns for one day of battle (the 7th) give 6,562 dead and 21,450 wounded, totalling to 29,000 KIA/WIA.
In total this comes to 72,000 KIA/WIA, discounting the French losses on the 5th (which is part of the same fighting).
French casualties on the 5th were on the order of 4,000-5,000.

In combination this is about 75,000, or 30%. The "buttress" or the number of Russian MIA who could be removed without affecting the "bloodier than Chickamauga" calculation is about 17,000.
I see what you mean then, so Fredericksburg and Cold Harbor would fit the mold in that case where the attacker suffered disproportionate loss.
Your Borodino example of total loss is therefore 28%, within a few tenths of a percentage as Chickamauga depending on sources used for combatants present at both battles. This still accords with my contention about losses in mass formations. The French artillery created a charnel house at Borodino whereas CSA guns were much less effective in the heavy woodland of N. Georgia.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Your Borodino example of total loss is therefore 28%, within a few tenths of a percentage as Chickamauga depending on sources used for combatants present at both battles.
I'm sorry? Is your argument that there were only 100,000 men on the field at Chickamauga?

Most estimates put the Confederates at 62,000 to 68,000, and the Union had 57,000 to 64,000.
So 125,000 is the middle of the estimates for both sides; there's one claim that there were only 40,000 Confederates at Chickamauga but this doesn't make sense:
The August 20 return for Bragg includes the inf divs of Hindman, Cheatham, Cleburne and Stewart (plus cavalry) and was 44,500 PFD, but did not include the inf divisions of Breckinridge, Preston, Walker, Liddell, BR Johnston and Hood which were also at Chickamauga.
 

Sbc

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Location
Easley, South Carolina
I'm sorry? Is your argument that there were only 100,000 men on the field at Chickamauga?

Most estimates put the Confederates at 62,000 to 68,000, and the Union had 57,000 to 64,000.
So 125,000 is the middle of the estimates for both sides; there's one claim that there were only 40,000 Confederates at Chickamauga but this doesn't make sense:
The August 20 return for Bragg includes the inf divs of Hindman, Cheatham, Cleburne and Stewart (plus cavalry) and was 44,500 PFD, but did not include the inf divisions of Breckinridge, Preston, Walker, Liddell, BR Johnston and Hood which were also at Chickamauga.
No it is not my argument. How exactly do you draw that conclusion?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
No it is not my argument. How exactly do you draw that conclusion?

What you said was:

Your Borodino example of total loss is therefore 28%, within a few tenths of a percentage as Chickamauga depending on sources used for combatants present at both battles.


Now, I added up the number of men KIA/WIA at Chickamauga, and I got:


So of 125,000 men on the field there are 28,399 men KIA/WIA.

Now, if 28% is "within a few tenths of a percentage as Chickamauga" then Chickamauga is very close to 28%.

Since there were 28,400 men KIA/WIA at Chickamauga by my count, then - obviously - 28,400 is 28.4% of 100,000. However, 28,400 is only 23% of 125,000.


If instead you mean that 23% is "within a few tenths of a percentage" to 28%, then that's a case of not using numbers right...
 

Sbc

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Location
Easley, South Carolina
What you said was:




Now, I added up the number of men KIA/WIA at Chickamauga, and I got:


So of 125,000 men on the field there are 28,399 men KIA/WIA.

Now, if 28% is "within a few tenths of a percentage as Chickamauga" then Chickamauga is very close to 28%.

Since there were 28,400 men KIA/WIA at Chickamauga by my count, then - obviously - 28,400 is 28.4% of 100,000. However, 28,400 is only 23% of 125,000.


If instead you mean that 23% is "within a few tenths of a percentage" to 28%, then that's a case of not using numbers right...
Now you are equivocating by not including missing and captured which brings the total to over 34,000. Please stick to your contention and provide examples to rebut the examples I have provided. Or provide some that disprove mine contention.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Now you are equivocating by not including missing and captured which brings the total to over 34,000. Please stick to your contention and provide examples to rebut the examples I have provided. Or provide some that disprove mine contention.
That was, literally, what I checked your view was.

If your argument is that Civil War KIA/WIA casualties (not missing) are high as a portion of those engaged, then we can certainly look at that. Would you say that that is an acceptable consequence of your position?
Yes essentially that is my gist in your last paragraph.
 

Sbc

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Location
Easley, South Carolina
That was, literally, what I checked your view was.
And still you cite no evidence to support your views. Claiming a Borodino/Chickamauga comparison with out missing and captured is pretzel logic.
Neither battle had any serious pursuit of the retreating enemy army, so those losses occurred primarily during the main phases of the battles. Again I emphasize the importance of the victor losses as the key factor in comparison of battles. Orderly retreat or no retreat measures the “capacity to stand pounding”. A routed army cannot separate losses in battle from those in retreat. It is already clear ACW armies were not constructed for vigorous pursuit of a fleeing foe. Please cite some battles to support your view or disprove mine.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
And still you cite no evidence to support your views. Claiming a Borodino/Chickamauga comparison with out missing and captured is pretzel logic.
But your contention was that it was killed and wounded which were higher in the Civil War. I specifically checked that before making the comparison; don't call it pretzel logic when it is simply applying numerical analysis to something you agreed with.

Do you now disagree with the statement I made in post 97, that you previously agreed with in post 98? If so, why?


Neither battle had any serious pursuit of the retreating enemy army, so those losses occurred primarily during the main phases of the battles. Again I emphasize the importance of the victor losses as the key factor in comparison of battles. Orderly retreat or no retreat measures the “capacity to stand pounding”. A routed army cannot separate losses in battle from those in retreat.
So your contention now is - and I want to be very clear about this - that what you want to do is measure the capability of an army to keep fighting despite incurring high casualties. To put it another way, what you are after is an example of an army which sustained high percentage casualties (in killed, wounded and captured/missing) and did not rout from the field.

Is that a correct statement of your position?
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
But your contention was that it was killed and wounded which were higher in the Civil War. I specifically checked that before making the comparison; don't call it pretzel logic when it is simply applying numerical analysis to something you agreed with.

Do you now disagree with the statement I made in post 97, that you previously agreed with in post 98? If so, why?



So your contention now is - and I want to be very clear about this - that what you want to do is measure the capability of an army to keep fighting despite incurring high casualties. To put it another way, what you are after is an example of an army which sustained high percentage casualties (in killed, wounded and captured/missing) and did not rout from the field.

Is that a correct statement of your position?
I think @Saphroneth has adequately advocated his point. The US Civil War casualties were not high compared to what happened previously in Europe. They were but a small foreshadowing of what was going to happen in the early 20th century. The US Civil War casualties were only shocking to Americans, who previous experience was fighting the ARW, the indigenous people, and the poorly led Mexican Army.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
That casualties that did occur could easily have been predicted based on what had happened in the US/Mexican war, and the desire of Congress and the US administration to see hard fighting, and not take complete advantage of US naval power.
 
I think @Saphroneth has adequately advocated his point. The US Civil War casualties were not high compared to what happened previously in Europe. They were but a small foreshadowing of what was going to happen in the early 20th century. The US Civil War casualties were only shocking to Americans, who previous experience was fighting the ARW, the indigenous people, and the poorly led Mexican Army.
I've been wondering -- what was the explanation that the commentator offered? (Or did I miss that?)
 
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wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I've been wondering -- what was the explanation that the commentator offered? (Or did I miss that?)
He has been blogging about that for a long time, that Napoleonic battles caused horrific casualties as the armies could not quickly detach from combat. He further stated that with respect to the French invasion of Russia, typhus, presumably caused by bad water, killed large number of French and allied soldiers.
 
He has been blogging about that for a long time, that Napoleonic battles caused horrific casualties as the armies could not quickly detach from combat. He further stated that with respect to the French invasion of Russia, typhus, presumably caused by bad water, killed large number of French and allied soldiers.
I'm sorry, what I meant was what the commentator referred to in your original post gave as the explanation. I was hoping you'd tell us when the poll closed.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I'm sorry, what I meant was what the commentator referred to in your original post gave as the explanation. I was hoping you'd tell us when the poll closed.
On that Youtube presentation the vlogging through history guy stated that the prevalence of disease was the most important factor, and then outdated tactics. But he did not want to try to explain why the war lasted four years when both sides witnessed the tremendous toll of death and destruction.
 
On that Youtube presentation the vlogging through history guy stated that the prevalence of disease was the most important factor, and then outdated tactics. But he did not want to try to explain why the war lasted four years when both sides witnessed the tremendous toll of death and destruction.
Thanks! I can't remember what I guessed in the poll, but it wasn't either of those.
 

Sbc

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Location
Easley, South Carolina
But your contention was that it was killed and wounded which were higher in the Civil War. I specifically checked that before making the comparison; don't call it pretzel logic when it is simply applying numerical analysis to something you agreed with.

Do you now disagree with the statement I made in post 97, that you previously agreed with in post 98? If so, why?



So your contention now is - and I want to be very clear about this - that what you want to do is measure the capability of an army to keep fighting despite incurring high casualties. To put it another way, what you are after is an example of an army which sustained high percentage casualties (in killed, wounded and captured/missing) and did not rout from the field.

Is that a correct statement of your position?
You are adept at parsing words and shuffling numbers. I have stated my contention from the very beginning of this thread and listed numerous examples. You have refuted none and failed to provide any of your own. Get back to me when you actually want to debate the subject in quantifiable terms instead of sophistry.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
You are adept at parsing words and shuffling numbers. I have stated my contention from the very beginning of this thread and listed numerous examples. You have refuted none and failed to provide any of your own. Get back to me when you actually want to debate the subject in quantifiable terms instead of sophistry.
What I am trying to do is to get at a numerical consequence of your contention, clearly stated in advance, and then find whether it holds. I am also asking for specifics so that I am not misunderstanding what you have said, which is apparently easy given that you agreed to something (post 98 agreeing with my post 97) and then - when I provided an example that fit the criteria I had stated - you disagreed.
 

huds1117

Cadet
Joined
Mar 22, 2017
I did a college paper on Civil War Medicine back in the late '70's and nothing in the last 40 years would alter my conclusions.
The state of medical care in the 1860's was not up to the challenges presented by warfare. basic sanitation and sanitizing technique's were almost non-existent. Illness, malnutrition and disease killed many more than the battlefield. That said, many battle wounds from artillery shrapnel and the minnie ball were death sentences before any treatment was even attempted
 

lurid

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 3, 2019
I was watching a commentator on Youtube discuss the high casualties of the Civil War, so I thought I would give all of you a chance to contribute to the discussion.
I do caution you to keep in mind @Saphroneth 's previous comments that Civil War battle casualties were not particularly high for mass formations engaged in combat with artillery, muskets and rifles.
Other than that I will keep my opinions to myself for the time being.
Enjoy.

It appears, that you are referring to "battlefield" casualties, but people posted thinking you meant "total" casualties. First, Saphroneth is not expert on anything, especially how wars are conducted, so take his posts like he's playing Civil War fantasies. Here in America casualties are a big deal. Evidently casualties were/are a big deal, just do a study on all the American wars and you will find out every war after the Civil War casualties plummeted. It appears, that the Europeans had to become pacifists after WW2 to lower casualties. But the Americans kept on fighting wars and their own casualties kept decreasing whereas, their enemies kept increasing. Gives you something to consider.

From a pure battlefield casualty causation it had to be primitive strategies and tactics with the introduction of modern weapons. I was reading about battles during the CW where when both armies got in the "kill zone" nether one pushed forward or bugged out. They just stayed in the kill zone like sitting ducks. Insert those modern weapons and it was nothing but a meatgrinder. There's more but I'll stop...
 
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Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
It appears, that you are referring to "battlefield" casualties, but people posted thinking you meant "total" casualties. First, Saphroneth is not expert on anything, especially how wars are conducted, so take his posts like he's playing Civil War fantasies. Here in America casualties are a big deal. Evidently casualties were/are a big deal, just do a study on all the American wars and you will find out every war after the Civil War casualties plummeted. It appears, that the Europeans had to become pacifists after WW2 to lower casualties. But the Americans kept on fighting wars and their own casualties kept decreasing whereas, their enemies kept increasing. Gives you something to consider.
Well, I am an expert on geology, but this is a largely pseudonymous board. It's the weight of one's arguments which should be treated as the primary determinant on whether you think someone's correct or not.


As it happens, there is a general drop in combat casualties from major peer combatant battles (as a % of those engaged) across the board as combat becomes more modern and the "empty battlefield" develops. This happens everywhere, and is visible with for example the Franco-Prussian War (where the advent of magazine rifles, early machine guns and so on drives combat lethality up but total casualties down).


In that light, one could answer that it's simply that the Civil War is the only large American war fought while the "empty battlefield" was still developing, and if it's compared to other American wars then you're comparing wars of different periods.

Asymmetric combat (e.g. the post-WW2 wars in which the US was engaged, which you mention) is different. The battles generally involve highly lopsided casualties on one side and highly lopsided expenditure of money on the other side.
 
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