the Battle of Gettysburg Resource Center
A Survey of Union and Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg
This is a general survey, rather than one which deals with specific regiments. Much research is now being conducted, facilitated by the internet, which allows for detailed examinations of individual units. In this regard, this essay might prove somewhat disappointing, although the experience of certain regiments is cited to illustrate various aspects of the fighting. In general terms, the data for the Northern army are far more available and reliable than they are for the Southern army, and this has resulted in rather too much conjecture when trying to establish reliable estimates for the casualties of Lees army at Gettysburg . That being so, some first class research has been carried out by historians, prominent among them Vanderslice, Livermore, Fox and McFarland from the later years of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, and, more recently, Stewart, Krick and Harrison and Busey, which allows for some cogent extrapolation.
Few if any battles, measured in terms of casualties, appear to have been more closely fought than Gettysburg
For the Federal army, there is an official total of 23,049 casualties, including 3,155 killed in action, 14,529 wounded and 5,365 missing. This figure includes skirmishing and a cavalry engagement on July 4th. This is the tally which shall be used for this document. There are other estimates that vary slightly, but they are all very much in agreement: roughly twenty three thousand casualties sustained by the Union army, rather more than three thousand of them being killed outright.The figure cited above is somewhat misleading, since the number posted as killed in action does not indicate the true number of fatalities. In Civil War battles, sometimes the number officially recorded as killed represented only ten per cent of the total number of casualties. When the fate of many of the missing is taken into account, and the great numbers of wounded who died is added, the true mortality of the battle amounted to a figure very much greater than the official number recorded as killed in action. At Gettysburg, where the Federal army retained possession of the field, few, if any, of the 5,365 missing were dead: this figure represented unwounded prisoners, of whom roughly two thirds were captured on the first day. But the mortality among the nearly fifteen thousand wounded was terrible .according to the meticulous study of William F.Fox, a civil war veteran who compiled the magisterial REGIMENTAL LOSSES IN THE CIVIL WAR .it appears that 5,291 men lost their lives, fighting for the Union on that field I have attached here the number of killed, as increased by those who died of wounds, three fourths of whom died within a week It would appear from Foxs research that no fewer than 2,136 of the 14,529 Federal wounded died, a mortality rate of nearly fifteen per cent.
For the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, the return of casualties is far more problematic. The official casualty return compiled by Lees medical director in late July 1863 was manifestly incomplete: a total of 20,451, comprising 2,592 killed in action, 12,709 wounded and 5,150 missing. It was apparent at the time that this was not a complete count: the trauma of defeat and retreat and the loss of many officers prevented a proper assessment: many units grossly under reported their losses, and in some cases the returns included none of the missing, and when the missing were counted, it was only too often the case that they were in reality either dead or wounded . In the absence of complete official returns, historians have attempted to estimate Confederate casualties at Gettysburg, using different methods of compilation. Prominent among these was Livermore, who, in his widely used essay NUMBERS AND LOSSES, proffered a total of 28,063 rebel casualties at Gettysburg, including 3,903 killed, 18,735 wounded and 5,425 unwounded prisoners. His method was simple but controversial .the report of the US Provost Marshall gave a count of 5,425 unwounded and 6,802 wounded Confederate prisoners in Federal hands, these men being captured between July 1st and July 5th. Livermore then cites the report of the medical director of the Army of Northern Virginia, which admitted that only 776 wounded men were left behind. Extrapolating from this, Livermore concluded that this indicates that 6,026 Confederate wounded were not reported, and should be added to the 12,709 that were counted, thereby increasing the number of wounded to 18,735. Using the ratio of killed to wounded that pertained to the Federal army in the battle, which amounted to 4.6 wounded to every one killed in action, Livermore applies this to the extra 6,026 Confederate wounded, and comes up with an additional 1,311 killed, increasing the officially reported number of 2,592 killed in action to 3,903, a rise of over fifty per cent. Few historians, it would appear, have questioned this methodology of Livermores, and it is surprising how readily the figure of 28,063 Confederate casualties is accepted at face value as a reliable and authentic report for Gettysburg. While the number of unwounded prisoners - 5,425 may be taken as accurate, the nearly 50% increase in the number of killed and wounded from 15,301 to 22,638 is too large to be accepted without circumspection . It is the number of killed and wounded that this study is concerned with ..the traumatic casualties, as they might be described. This is not to say that the ordeal of prisoners was insignificant. Even if they were unwounded, the thousands of unfortunates who fell into enemy hands suffered a fate that was generally unpleasant, and, all too often, fatal.The 4th North Carolina Cavalry, for example, yielded 89 unwounded prisoners, and, as Krick points out, 35 of those men died of disease and starvation in Northern prisons. That the number of unwounded prisoners of war yielded by both sides in the battle was so nearly equal is itself a testimony to the closeness of the battle, and this parity between losses in prisoners was, it appears, matched by the remarkable closeness in the numbers who were killed and wounded in the contending armies. Another word or two needs to be said about the losses the armies suffered in unwounded prisoners: for the Federals, two thirds of their loss in prisoners at Gettysburg were suffered on the first day, about thirty per cent on the second day, and, by comparison, very few on the third day. For the Confederates, this trend was reversed: perhaps 750 of their troops were captured on the first day, probably 1,250 on the second, and no fewer than 2,250 on July 3rd. The remainder, well over a thousand, were taken as the Army of Virginia conducted its wretched retreat on July 4th and 5th.
Reverting to killed and wounded, it is clear that the Army of the Potomac records are sufficiently complete and accurate to allow for intensive study. Busey compiled a superb record of federal fatalities at Gettysburg, THESE HONORED DEAD, which lists, state by state and regiment by regiment, the names of well over five thousand Union dead from the battle, giving, in most cases, the date of death and, sometimes, the cause. As expected, more than three thousand are recorded as being killed outright, and just over two thousand as dying from their wounds, emphasizing the degree of harmony between the various reports of casualties in the Army of the Potomac.
For the Army of Northern Virginia, the existing reports have been supplemented by the research of Bob Krick, in his ground breaking book THE GETTYSBURG DEATH ROSTER. Using newspaper reports and other sources, Krick has re-assessed the casualty reports of significant numbers of Confederate units that fought in the battle .He has also taken into account, in his tabulation of killed those wounded who died after the battle, as well as those who were initially reported missing but were actually dead . It would appear from this research that the original returns of Confederate killed and wounded, set against the revised figures presented by Krick, where reliable revised statistics are available, result in an upward adjustment by an average of approximately twenty per cent. This work remains the most authoritative and comprehensive revision of Confederate casualties at Gettysburg, but it still only covers a minority of the rebel returns for the battle. The summation provided by Krick raises the total of Confederate dead to about four and a half thousand, and the wounded to roughly twelve and a half thousand, but, of course, this is an incomplete total.Unfortunately, some accounts adopt the total of approximately four and a half thousand rebel deaths and present them as killed in action, thereby suggesting that Confederate losses in killed exceeded Union losses in this category by roughly fifty per cent .the fact that this figure allows for mortally wounded is apparently not understood, or ignored .This is a prime example of the most excellent statistical research being used improperly. Kricks efforts notwithstanding, we still have to rely on a degree of supposition when it comes to reckoning the toll of this dramatic fighting on the Army of Northern Virginia
Bearing in mind the fact that well over five thousand Yankees were killed or died from wounds received in this battle, it seems reasonable to assume that at least as many rebels were fatally stricken: after all, the Southerners were repulsed, the Union held the field, the ordeal of retreat must have been lethal for large numbers of Confederate wounded.
In his fascinating book, WASTED VALOR, the historian Gregory A.Coco examines the story of the exhumation and removal of Confederate dead at Gettysburg. In his introductory chapters, Coco points out that, in his official report immediately after the battle, Meade gave the numeration of Confederate burials as 2,954 officers and men. However, this summation did not include the large portion buried by the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps, nor the unknown number the Confederates buried themselves. One cannot be sure that this total also included Southerners interred at the hospitals .. It is certain that the Confederates did bury many of their own dead, surely well in excess of a thousand, and hundreds more were buried by the soldiers of the federal 11th an 12th corps on the slopes of Culps Hill. This suggests an aggregate of approaching five thousand, with hundreds more yet to come as the wounded rebels perished, either left in the hands of the enemy, or during the harrowing retreat to Virginia. Almost exactly thirty per cent of all the Union soldiers who were struck down at Gettysburg were either killed outright or would die of their wounds ( 5,291 fatalities from a total of 17,684 killed or wounded), and it is reasonable to assume that the proportion of fatalities among the Southern casualties must have been at least as high, especially in view of the murderous repulse inflicted on Lees army on July 3rd and the sufferings of the wounded in abandonment and retreat. The question that needs to be addressed is: what was the number of Confederates who were killed and wounded in the battle? Not everyone will accept Livermores estimate of 22,638 killed and wounded for the Army of Northern Virginia it seems a high figure and is hard to reconcile with the day to day reports of the fighting and the reliable reports that some units were able to provide. On the other hand, the meticulous research of Krick in his GETTYSBURG DEATH ROSTER, and of Harrison and Busey in NOTHING BUT GLORY Picketts division at Gettysburg, backed up by the earlier research of McFarland into the frightful experience of the 11th Mississippi, gives a clear indication that the original Confederate return of about 15,300 killed and wounded for Gettysburg is understated by somewhere between one fifth and one quarter, if we extrapolate from the research and apply the overall arithmetic of the findings to the original returns. Given that any estimate of Confederate casualties for Gettysburg must be a tentative one, there is ample evidence to suggest that the overall total of killed and wounded fell somewhere between a minimum of eighteen thousand and a maximum of twenty thousand, and that a carefully reckoned assessment of 18,750 is near the mark . No doubt the current availability of research through the internet will facilitate and enhance the study of history of individual regiments in the Confederate armies, and perhaps a more precise and reliable count than the foregoing estimate will emerge, but in the meantime the figure of 18,750 is submitted, with diffidence, as a reasonable guess. The research of the scholars mentioned above actually reveals revised and reliable casualty figures for a large number of regiments in Lees army, and these show that, from a total of 9,422 killed or wounded from these units, 2,934 were killed outright or died from their wounds, a fatality rate of just over thirty one per cent, very much in harmony with the experience of the Union army in that terrible battle. If we apply that rate to the notional figure of 18,750 traumatic casualties for the Army of Northern Virginia, we can, with some confidence, estimate the total Confederate fatalities for Gettysburg at no less than 5,750. Apportioning these in accordance with the normal experience of battle in that war, we can reckon that this toll was represented by roughly 3,500 killed in action and 15,250 wounded, of whom 2,250 died from their wounds. This is admittedly a rather sweeping assessment, but it will have to suffice as the basis for the ensuing tabulations and observations. Invaluable work has been done by Busey and Martin, in their authorative analysis of Gettysburg statistics, and many of the figures cited in this survey have been presented in elaborate and comprehensive form in their book REGIMENTAL STRENGTHS and LOSSES at GETTYSBURG, an invaluable reference for any one wishing to delve into statistical matters regarding the battle...."Before examining the casualty tabulations in detail, it is worth mentioning that in general terms the battle casualties at Gettysburg, including prisoners, cost Meade a quarter of his army, and Lee a third of his. In terms of killed and wounded only, the North sustained casualties of roughly one fifth of effective strength, the South one quarter. This is based on the assumption that the Army of the Potomac engaged upwards of 90,000 men in the battle, and the Army of Northern Virginia somewhere between 70,000 and 75,000. In regard to the latter, there is controversy: a recent investigation by the University of Virginia into Southern muster rolls casts doubt on the reliability of the generally accepted estimates of Confederate strength, and points out that Lees army failed to report many thousands of its soldiers as being included in the effective strength. With this caveat, the following analysis adopts the more usually accepted figure of 75,000 for the effective strength of the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Set against that figure, the proportion of Southern soldiers killed and wounded at Gettysburg bears close comparison with that of Shiloh, Antietam, Murfreesboro and Chickamauga. In all these battles, which, along with Gettysburg, maybe considered the bloodiest and most desperate of the war, the rebel armies engaged lost more or less one quarter of their effective strength in killed and wounded, without taking prisoners into account. If the loss is confined to infantry only, then the proportion of casualties killed and wounded only reached or exceeded thirty per cent. In this sense, Gettysburg complies with the Southern tradition of extreme bloodshed in battle, with approximately 18,000 infantrymen being killed or wounded from a force that fielded fewer than 60,000 foot soldiers. By contrast, fewer than five per cent of the Confederate cavalrymen, and ten per cent of the rebel gunners, were killed or wounded in the battle.
Here, then, are the casualty figures for Gettysburg , based on reliable Union official reports and on estimates for Confederate figures
This stark summary needs to be tempered by awareness that the true mortality of the battle vastly exceeded the six and a half thousand or so who were killed in action by the time the wounded who died were taken into account, it is probable that eleven thousand men lost their lives, and that, of the twenty five thousand or more wounded who survived, a great many would suffer permanent disablement. To illustrate the point, the official Union casualty list for Gettysburg is set out here in tabular form, Corps by Corps, with the actual fatality of each unit depicted alongside, in accordance with the research made by Fox into the number who were killed or died from wounds:
No such comprehensive and reliable report exists for the Confederate army at Gettysburg, although it is possible to make careful estimates based on the original returns adjusted by the research of Krick and others. Counting killed and wounded only, and reckoning Corps by Corps, the following estimates are feasible:
One of the most striking aspects of the figures cited above is how clearly they indicate that the Confederate army was more equitably used than its Union counterpart: both Ewell's corps, which suffered the least, and Hill's corps, which suffered the most, sustained casualties that were within one thousand of Longstreet's corps, while, in Meades army, there was a tremendous disparity between the casualties sustained by the various corps, with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd corps alone sustaining nearly two thirds of the total casualties, and the 6th corps sustaining hardly one per cent. Whatever criticism might be leveled at Lee for his conduct of the battle, it is apparent that at Gettysburg he came close to fighting his army to the utmost, an achievement in itself. At divisional level, the disparity in bloodshed was somewhat more marked than it was at corps level: Heths division suffered most, with over three thousand being killed and wounded, and Earlys division sustained the lowest number of killed and wounded, between eleven and twelve hundred. This is ironic, in so far as Earlys command was the only rebel division that was engaged on all three days of the battle. Rodes lost nearly two and a half thousand of his men killed or wounded, while the divisions of Hood, McLaws, Pickett and Pender each lost roughly two thousand, and those of Anderson and Johnson each lost approaching one and three quarter thousand killed or wounded. At brigade level,only the commands of Mahone and Posey escaped with minimal casualties, that is, well under ten per cent killed or wounded. The record of regimental casualties at Gettysburg is notorious for both armies. There are literally dozens of regiments on both sides that could be mentioned, but that would entail an excess of statistical information. Let a few examples suffice: prominent for the Confederates were the 26th North Carolina, with 615 killed or wounded from a strength of 843 (73%), the 11th North Carolina with 308 killed or wounded from 617 (50%), the 11th Georgia with 196 killed or wounded from 310 (63%), the 28th North Carolina with 200 killed or wounded from 346 (58%), the 8th Virginia suffered 118 killed or wounded from 193 taken into action (61%) and the 11th Mississippi lost 270 killed or wounded from a total strength of 592 (46%). It is apparent how severe were the losses suffered by North Carolina .indeed, this state , according to one count, furnished about 20% of the Southern soldiers for the fight at Gettysburg, yet accounted for nearly 30% of the Confederate casualties there, while Virginia supplied 27% of the troops , yet only suffered 20% of the casualties. Incidentally, for some reason North Carolina kept the most reliable statistics of all the Confederate states, and this might well account, partially, for the extremely heavy casualties she recorded. It also begs the question of how much the other states under reported their losses.
The regimental experience of casualties for the Northern army at Gettysburg rivals that of the South. The 19th Indiana: 160 killed or wounded from 308 (52%), 24th Michigan: 277 from 496 (56%) 2nd Wisconsin 181 from 302 (60%) 1st Minnesota 223 from 330 (68%) 111th New York 235 from 390 (60%), the 141st Pennsylvania 128 from 209 (61%), and all too many more .It should be noted that in both armies, the strength of the regiments was often much greater than the number actually carried into action: for example, the 1st Minnesota is supposed to have lost eighty per cent of the troops it engaged in the fight, and the 11th Mississippi approaching ninety per cent.
The same anomaly regarding unequal state sacrifice applies to New York for the Union as it does to North Carolina for the Confederacy : although the battle was fought on its own soil, Pennsylvania troops accounted for 23,412 of the Union troops at Gettysburg, and for 5886 of the casualties, whereas 23,056 New Yorkers were engaged and suffered 6,694 casualties there.
In both armies the casualty rate suffered by high ranking officers was severe, and the loss of commanders at regimental and brigade level was appalling. In the Army of Northern Virginia, of 171 infantry regiments, 78 suffered command casualties, and 19 of the 46 officers commanding at divisional and brigade level were casualties. The victors also suffered horrendous loss : the commander of the Federal 1st Corps was killed, and five of his seven brigade commanders were wounded the generals commanding both the 2nd and 3rd Corps were desperately wounded. Seventeen out of thirty seven regimental commanders in the 3rd Corps were casualties, and in the 2nd Corps one divisional and six of ten brigade commanders.
From this rather general survey of the casualties at Gettysburg, it is now appropriate to analyze the day by day record of the battle. In this regard Buseys book THESE HONORED DEAD provides an invaluable source for federal casualties, allowing us to enumerate the numbers of Union soldiers who were killed on each of the three days of battle. No such source exists for the Confederate army, although a remarkable book by Vanderslice GETTYSBURG THEN AND NOW, attempted, with the help of veterans associations and through the establishment of battlefield memorials, to provide reasonably accurate statistics of casualties for both armies on different sectors of the battlefield on successive days. Here are estimates, set out in tabular form, of the three days of battle and their toll on the opposing armies:
Here is another table, giving details of Confederate losses in killed and wounded, day by day and Corps by Corps, incorporating the very minor casualties of July 4th into those of the third day:
These are admittedly approximations, suppositional on the part of Confederate losses, with numbers conveniently rounded to facilitate comparison and convey an impression, but they can be corroborated to a reasonable extent. What is especially clear about the Battle of Gettysburg is that on each of the three days of battle, more than ten thousand men were killed or wounded. Throughout the Civil War, there were thirteen days of battle in which in excess of ten thousand men were cut down, and for a single engagement to lay claim to three of those days is momentous testimony to the ferocity of the fighting.
The fighting of the first day has often been underrated, as if it were merely a prelude to the mightier contest of the following two days. In fact, July 1st 1863 at Gettysburg was one of the fiercest battles of the war. For the federals, the ordeal of the 1st Corps was terrible, especially in view of the high ratio of casualties to the number engaged. No fewer than 3,500 soldiers from that corps were killed or wounded, which amounted to nearly forty per cent of those who actually fought that day, and this, it must be remembered, was in addition to more than 2,000 who were taken prisoner. More remarkable still was the slaughter inflicted by those troops ..it appears that they inflicted casualties of about 4,500 on the enemy, in addition to capturing several hundred prisoners. The Confederate brigades who encountered the soldiers of the Army of the Potomacs 1st Corps suffered some extreme casualties. The 26th North Carolina regiment lost more than 500 killed and wounded of its strength of 843, while its foe, the 24th Michigan, lost 277 of its 496 men shot down. Iversons brigade of Rodes division was slaughtered by close range volleying delivered from federals concealed behind a stone wall, with 581 of its men being mown down in a few moments, and 322 being taken prisoner, a loss amounting to virtually two thirds of the entire brigade. The casualties inflicted on Daniels Brigade of Rodes division were even heavier, numerically, than those of Iverson. And in its last stand on Seminary Ridge, the doughty federals of the 1st Corps inflicted horrific casualties on the North Carolinians of Scales brigade, and on the South Carolinians of Perrins brigade. It is interesting to compare the ratio of fatalities in the different rebel brigades involved in this fighting. The 26th North Carolina regiment of Pettigrews brigade suffered a loss of 615 killed or wounded, mostly in the McPherson woods: in this case, 172 were killed outright or mortally wounded, a fatality rate of 28%.
The troops of Scales brigade, who were caught in the open by close range artillery and musketry, sustained a fatality of some 33% of those who were hit, indicating how fighting behind the cover of trees could sometimes reduce the lethality of wounds. Nonetheless, the battle in the McPherson woods between the 24th Michigan and the 26th North Carolina was deadly. The Michigan men entered the fight with 28 officers and 468 men, and suffered a loss of 363 killed, wounded or missing, of whom 94, or roughly one fifth of the entire regiment, were killed outright or died from their wounds. Eight officers were killed, and fourteen wounded. Four color bearers were killed, and three wounded, and its commander, Colonel Morrow, was wounded and captured. The situation for the 26th North Carolina almost beggared belief: Company F went in with 3 officers and 88 men. All were killed or wounded. This company had three sets of twins, and 5 of the 6 were slain in the fight. Company A went in with 92 and ended the contest with 15.
Very different was the contest between the hapless Federal 11th Corps and the veterans of Ewells 2nd Corps. Here a rapid collapse by Howards men and a lethal pursuit by the triumphant rebels produced a shocking disparity in slaughter: nearly two thousand Union killed or wounded, against Confederate losses of barely one third that number, not to mention the capture of nearly fifteen hundred prisoners from the ranks of the Flying Dutchmen. Actually, the severe losses of Howards men in killed and wounded suggest that they did attempt stern resistance, but this proved ineffectual under the pressure of being outflanked and driven back in confusion. The Federal 1st Corps, although defeated, had retired sullenly and had the satisfaction of inflicting even greater bloodshed than it had suffered, while the 11th Corps, in precipitate rout, had failed to make a good account of itself. Conspicuous in this dramatic Southern success of the first day of battle was General Gordon and his Georgia Brigade, who did much damage to Howards 11th Corps Federals. A rebel officer asked Gordon, General, where are your dead men? Replied Gordon I havent got any sir, the Almighty has covered my men with His shield and buckler. This boast could not be maintained: by the end of the third day of battle, 112 of Gordons men had been killed or were mortally wounded.
By a curious coincidence of the hazards of war, it is apparent that Confederate losses in killed and wounded on the 1st July, 1863, at Gettysburg, were almost exactly the same as they had been exactly one year earlier, when, on July 1st 1862, Southern infantry attacks had been bloodily repulsed by massed Union artillery at Malvern Hill outside Richmond.
July 1st 1862 had been a crushing tactical defeat for the Confederates, in a campaign that was strategically triumphant for the South. July 1st 1863 was a dramatic tactical victory for the South, in a campaign that was to become a major strategic Southern defeat.
While the two armies appear to have suffered astonishingly even casualties in killed and wounded on the first day, this was definitely not the case in the contest of July 2nd. It is all too apparent, when browsing through the names of the Northern dead in Buseys book, that nearly half of all the union soldiers who were killed at Gettysburg were struck down on the second day, ninety per cent of them falling in the killing fields in the sectors around the Emmitsburg Road, the Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, Devils Den, the Round Tops and the slopes of Cemetery Ridge. These were the victims of Longstreets grand assault, delivered excruciatingly late in the day, but resulting in what Old Pete described as the best three hours fighting ever by the veterans of his Corps, backed up by three brigades of Andersons Division from Hills Corps.
Historians often describe the American Civil War as a contest in which modern firepower gave the advantage to the defender .Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, Franklin and Gettysburg itself are often cited as examples of this tendency. In this regard, the fighting on the second day of battle at Gettysburg is anomalous, in so far as the attacking Southerners inflicted many more casualties than they received. This is not to say that the Confederates did not suffer heavy casualties by the end of the days fighting the divisions of Hood and McLaws had lost more than a third of the soldiers deployed for the assault killed, wounded or missing, and the casualties of those three brigades engaged from Andersons division were even heavier in proportion. Other battles demonstrate this special Southern ability to press home the attack with great effect: Shiloh, Perryville and Murfreesboro (all battles in the Western theatre), and of course the bloody rout of the 11th Corps at Gettysburg itself, serve as examples of furious Confederate attacks that, despite stern opposition, were able to inflict disproportionately heavy loss in killed and wounded on the Federals. It is arguable that this resulted from the Union troops being caught off balance. Certainly, at Gettysburg, the imprudent move forward by Sickles exposed his troops to envelopment and compromised the entire defensive battle fought by the Federals that day: a desperate, patchwork defense as more and more Union troops from the 5th Corps and the 2nd Corps were pushed forward into the maelstrom as Sickless 3rd Corps salient collapsed along the Peach Orchard and the Emmitsburg Road. This is one of the most controversial aspects of the battle, and it is only fair to emphasize that Sickles had his supporters then, and still does now, who argue that his advance threw the rebel attack out of kilter and effectively helped to fight the Army of Northern Virginia to a standstill. Whatever view we take of Sickles, he was endowed with zeal for combat and his men put up a tremendous fight. Let the tabular statement of Vanderslice demonstrate the cost of that fighting:
These casualties, it should be noted, include the missing, but it is probable that 5,500 Southerners were killed and wounded in this fight, and perhaps 7,800 Northerners. It was certainly one of the most terrible conflicts of the war. Not even at Antietam, in the battle that raged around the Cornfield and the Dunker Church on the morning of September 17th 1862, had blood been shed more copiously.
The disparity of killing in this contest, amounting to roughly forty per cent against the defending Union troops, has been attributed to superior Southern marksmanship by Coddington, in his classic history of the Gettysburg campaign. A more recent history, the rather excellent narrative of the battle by Hugh Bicheno, offers a more sinister explanation. Referring to the phenomenal attack by Barksdales Mississippi Brigade, one of the most, if not the most successful infantry charges of the war, Bicheno writes a resolute attack reduces overall casualties. Military training has always stressed this, but it is a bone that persistently sticks in civilian throats, probably because of distaste for what happens once the two sides can see each other and begin to read body language. The less determined side begins to make subconsciously placatory gestures such as firing high and shrinking, a visual clue and not a literary trope, but this has the opposite effect. The attackers may become feral and carnage can ensue among men who have virtually ceased trying to defend themselves . This rather unpalatable explanation for inordinately high Union casualties notwithstanding, it should be noted that Barksdales Brigade reported, and perhaps understated, its loss as 747 killed, wounded and missing out of a strength of 1620, a casualty rate of very close to fifty per cent. Among these casualties was Barksdale himself, who fell fatally wounded at the head of his men. Other Confederate units engaged in this fighting reported comparable losses. Kershaws Brigade of South Carolinians was caught in flank by Union artillery, and paid a high price, the 2nd Carolina alone losing 152 killed or wounded, 37% of its strength, including 52 who were killed outright or were fatally wounded. The 5th Texas, advancing towards the round Tops, lost 166 killed and wounded from a total of 409, over 40%, of whom 54 were killed or died from wounds. The 48th Georgia , of Wrights Brigade, took 395 men into action, and lost 167 killed or wounded, more than 42%, of whom 69 were fatally stricken. This was one of the rebel brigades of Hills 3rd Corps that advanced against the Federal center on Cemetery Ridge, and the counter attack of the Union troops entailed a record loss for the 1st Minnesota, which, attacking with 262 men, lost 50 killed, 173 wounded and 1 missing, the total fatalities rising to 79 when mortally wounded were counted.This was one of the most extreme examples of slaughter of Union troops, but there were many more to be considered. The 141st Pennsylvania, one of those regiments of Sickless Corps that was overrun in its advance position, lost, from a strength of 209, a total of 128 killed or wounded, more than 60%, of whom 48 were fatalities. Nearly 40% of the infantry of the Federal Third Corps were killed or wounded in this fighting, an appallingly large number of casualties for such a short time. The regiments of the supporting Second and Fifth Corps also took terrible losses in their attempts to hold the Confederate attacks.The lethal effects of Confederate sharpshooting from the rocks of Devils Den took the lives of General Weed and Captain Hazlett almost simultaneously, and in a stark reminder that actual hand to hand fighting did sometimes occur, the commanding officer of the 4th Michigan, Colonel Jeffords, was fatally bayoneted by a rebel soldier in the Wheatfield.
Of all the regiments that fought for the Union at Gettysburg, it was the 20th Maine, in its epic stand on Little Round Top, that is most celebrated. The actual casualties of that regiment, 125 out of 385 engaged, including 42 killed or fatally wounded, were hardly exceptional by the frightful standards of the battle, but the dramatic aspect of the contest, and the touch and go nature of the combat as depicted by Colonel Chamberlain, its commander, lends the story a unique legendary quality.
Another engagement, involving a different Federal regiment at the other end of the battlefield is equally deserving of commemoration as the stand of the 20th Maine at Little Round Top. The fighting for the Union right flank on July 2nd was on a much smaller scale, with casualties running into hundreds rather than thousands. In the Cemetery Hill sector the tough veterans of Jubal Earlys division of the Confederate 2nd Corps made a bold attack that brought them into the Union gun line near the cemetery itself. The rebel casualties were surprisingly low for such a direct frontal assault, partly because the lie of the land, the slope of the hill and the onset of darkness nullified the effects of Yankee artillery. More portentous was the conflict on the extreme right of the federal line, a spot every bit as vital as the Round Tops on the extreme left. Here, a brigade of New Yorkers under the command of Pap Greene put up a magnificent defense against the rebels of Johnsons division, who managed to effect a lodgment in the federal lines. Conspicuous among the Yankee regiments here was the 137th New York which suffered casualties every bit as severe as those of the 20th Maine, including a higher proportion of fatalities. Out of 423 New Yorkers in this regiment, 137 were casualties, 48 of them being killed or mortally wounded. The presence of rebels in the Union trenches in this sector of the battlefield necessitated their expulsion as soon as possible, and the fighting for Culps Hill the following day was murderous.
The third day of battle at Gettysburg, unlike the second, testified to the lethal advantage enjoyed by the defense over the offense. This was certainly apparent in the battle for Culps Hill. Here, the federals had the advantage of position, entrenchments and firepower. Southern artillery support had been blasted away by deadly Union counter battery fire the evening before, and while the federal battle plan allowed for a counter attack to expel the rebels from their lodgement in the Union trenches, it was the rebels who launched infantry assaults against the well entrenched and competently led yankees. The severity of the Southern loss in this engagement is best exemplified by the experience of the 1st Maryland, which, taking 400 men into action, lost 174 killed or wounded, nearly 45%, of whom 56 were fatalities. The Culps Hill fighting on the evening of July 2nd and the morning of July 3rd at Gettysburg cost the South more blood than the entire First Battle of Mannnassas. Probably in excess of 2,250 rebels were killed or wounded here, and several hundred captured, against Union losses of just over one thousand killed or wounded.
Severe though the Culps Hill engagement had been, it paled beside the mighty climax of the battle: the action known as Pickets Charge.
No single action of the Civil War, perhaps of any war, has been more intensively studied, and this applies to the numbers and losses of the troops engaged. Pickets division, for example, has generally been described as going into battle with fewer than five thousand men and suffering casualties of about sixty per cent, killed, wounded or missing. The original return stated that the casualties amounted to 237 killed, 1235 wounded and 1499 missing, with the obvious inference that many of the missing were dead or wounded. In his excellent history of the action, George Stewart estimated that the division lost 500 killed and just over 2,000 wounded, and reckoned that the losses of Pettigrew and Trimbles divisions were in proportion. The research of Harrison and Busey gives a name by name survey of the entire division, which, incidentally, is credited with a strength of 6,260 well in excess of the usually stated 4,900 and finds that 498 were killed in action, 1,476 wounded (233 of them mortally) and 681 taken as unwounded prisoners. The author, however readily admits that perhaps as many as 300 slightly wounded may not have been accounted for in this study . As they stand, the results of this survey comply with the findings of Baxter McFarlands study of the 11th Mississippi, which, in the same fighting, lost 102 killed or mortally wounded out of 270 who fell. Harrison and Buseys study places Picketts loss as 731 killed or mortally wounded out of 1974 who were hit, each survey yielding a remarkably similar ratio of fatalities in excess of 37% - which attests the severity and lethality of terrific fighting at close quarters. The damage inflicted by Union artillery was a prime cause for the high mortality. At the risk of being too generalized, it might be reasonably close to the truth to suggest that, in this climactic action, Picketts division lost 2,000 killed or wounded, Pettigrews about 1,500, and Trimbles about 700, with the supporting brigades of Wilcox and Perry losing some 300. The artillery fighting and heavy skirmishing around the Bliss farm included, Southern losses for the whole day in that sector probably reached 5,000 killed and wounded, of whom no fewer than a thousand were killed outright, and the loss in unwounded prisoners exceeded 1,500. In his tabular statement of losses on different sectors of the battlefield, Vanderslice puts Confederate losses for the Cemetery Ridge fighting at 6,580, against Union losses of 2,332. Hardly more than one hundred of the Union casualties are counted as missing. It is important to emphasize, though, that the experience of the five thousand or so federal infantry who bore the brunt of this contest was also deadly. The repulse of the Confederates was decisive and sanguinary, but the struggle was not as one sided as some commentators would have us believe. Webbs Pennsylvania Brigade, for example, suffered casualties of 40%, and the proportion killed outright was appallingly high .It was a desperate, closely fought and murderous affair for both sides.
That statement could stand as an epitaph for the whole battle. Was ever a battle more closely contested, and more worthy of study? The ingredients of black powder nineteenth century warfare were exhibited at Gettysburg in dramatic form: infantry versus infantry throughout, artillery against infantry as Yankee gunners blasted rebel infantry from the one end of the line to the other, artillery versus artillery on the heroic scale as more than 200 cannons were firing at each other over the valley of death between Seminary and Cemetery Ridges, cavalry versus infantry as Buford held the high ground and Farnsworth launched a near suicidal charge at the Texans in the Devils Den, and , of course, an epic cavalry versus cavalry battle between Stuarts horsemen and the troopers of Custer and Gregg.
Within a few months of the battles end, more than 3,500 federal dead had been exhumed and buried in the new National Cemetery. We shall never know the true number of Southern dead who remained on that field, but the fact that, several years after the battle, 3,320 of them were removed and taken South, suggests how close the scale of killing had been for the two armies.
 Fox Regimental Losses