A year ago, I posted three items concerning the Confederate Cemetery (click here). This year I deal with war casualties and the National Cemetery in Fredericksburg. This is the first of five in this series.
The American Civil War was our first national experience with casualties of war, both civilian and military, on an “Industrial scale”. Overall, the nation’s armies suffered more than 618,000 deaths. Reliable information on military losses is very hard to come by and accurate civilian losses are almost impossible to determine.
How does this tally of death correspond to other wars in which the nation has been involved? In the first graph, we see how all other wars pale with the civil war in comparison. Interestingly, the author of the American War Deaths table records the figure of Civil War deaths to be 618,000. When you add in wounded in action and prisoners of war we see an astronomical number of casualties for the country as a whole over a million!
In this next table, War Deaths per 1,000 of Population, the impact upon the nation boldly stands out. There was no community, north or south, which did not feel the weight of the war. It took generations for regions of the country, particularly in the south, to recover.
For forty years following the end of the civil war, the nation struggled to arrive at the numbers of casualties. They needed to show tangible evidence of the raw and unimaginable pain they had suffered during five years of war. Two Union army veterans; historian William F. Fox and Thomas Leonard Livermore, accomplished the task. In an era without computers, Fox used muster rolls, battlefield reports and pension records to arrive at his numbers. Published in 1889, his book Regimental Losses in the American Civil War provided many of the answers. Livermore working separately, wrote Numbers and Losses in the Civil War in America; 1861-65 published in 1900. He delved into questions related to Confederate casualties, especially the number of wounded. It is from these two monumental works that for generations historians have used the figure of 618,000 as the total. This was broken out as 360,000 deaths for the north and 258,000 deaths for the south. Many noted historians used this figure because they lacked anything better. More recently, there have been further attempts to reassess the casualty figures.
Interestingly, the number of battle deaths in the table still reflects the work of Fox and Livermore.
In 2010, Dr. J. David Hacker, a demographic historian from the University of Binghamton, New York made a fundamental recalculation of the number of civil war casualties.
Until Dr. Hacker’s work, the accepted death toll was 618,222, often rounded to 620,000. His new estimate of 750,000 was based upon a form of statistical analysis. He used census data from the years before and after the Civil War focusing on male mortality factors. Most of the change in numbers comes in the non-battle related death category.
In addition, the 19th century mindset was not prepared to deal with the number of deaths that could occur when the country went to war. Men from the north and south streamed to the recruiting offices in hopes of ‘not missing’ the fight, which many thought would end quickly. Hacker wrote of some of the failure to anticipate the number of deaths that would occur and the dreadful circumstances caused by the failure to do so. “Efforts to identify, rebury and count the dead began as soon as the war ended. A precise count proved impossible, however: both armies lacked systematic procedures to identify the dead, wounded and missing in action, as well as an official means to notify relatives of a soldier’s death. Men went missing; battle, hospital and prison reports were incomplete and inaccurate; dead men were buried unidentified; and family members were forced to infer the fate of a loved one from his failure to return home after the war.”
A number of years ago, I put the following data together using the 1860 US Census, to make sense for myself of the Civil War casualty figures. These help provide a national context against which the number of fallen can be measured and how their deaths impacted those left behind.
Border state enlistment numbers are reflected with the northern or southern regional side with which they aligned themselves. In general, the number of white females is equal to or slightly less than the white male population. Their numbers can be found by subtracting the white male number from the total population. For the south, one must also subtract out the enslaved population. The burden on society, north or south, as men marched off to war was at first an inconvenience that became an unbearable load as the deaths piled up. The number of widows and orphans grew with each passing year of war. For those, the statistics of death and maiming became grim reality.
I selected 15 to 45 as the military age given that this is 1860 data and the war did not end until 1865. A youth of 15 in 1860 would be 20 by the end of the conflict. US Colored Troops (USCT) are included in the enlistment figures for the Union.
In the central Virginia region (Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness and Spotsylvania) there were almost 100,000 casualties. This equates to around ten percent of the total Civil War number!
The numbers in this table, totaling 66,005 Union deaths, do not reflect deaths by disease and non-battle causes that occurred during periods of occupation and winter encampment. Those occurred from April 1862 onward when the Union first occupied Fredericksburg during the Peninsula Campaign. Then from mid-November 1862, just prior to the battle of Fredericksburg, until following the battle of Chancellorsville in June 1863 when both armies marched to Gettysburg. Finally, during the fall of 1863 and winter of 1863/4 until as both armies were in winter encampment until active campaigning began at the battles of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House in late spring 1864. Then both armies moved and fought, finally leaving the region for Cold Harbor and Petersburg. Culpeper and Fredericksburg were convenient transportation hubs for Union wounded and sick before their evacuation to hospital in Washington and points north.
During the Chancellorsville campaign, there was also fighting at Fredericksburg on 3 May 1863, sometimes referred to as Fredericksburg II. The casualty figures of this battle are normally included with those of Salem Heights. All together Chancellorsville casualties were reported to be, 17,000 Union and 13,000 Confederate. In 1864, during the Overland Campaign, Fredericksburg was the initial evacuation site for the Union. Brompton, on Marye’s Heights, as well as other buildings in town were used as hospitals. The city and the surrounding area were well acquainted with death! During the winter of 1862/3 and until the Union forces moved to Gettysburg, there were large camps located in Stafford County. Death by disease and non-battle incidents resulted in more deaths at a rate twice those associated with combat.
The battle of Fredericksburg is no different. While the total number of battle casualties was not large, the fact that both armies wintered over in the surrounding area contributed to the number of deaths within the region.
The Official Record found in volume XXI, provides battle casualties as:
One the challenges I faced when trying to determine accurate numbers was that the Union only provided total numbers, whereas the Confederates reported them by day. Even those numbers required referring to subsequent unit after-action reports for updates. Therefore, I chose to look at the total numbers because it was too difficult to isolate those casualties associated with the fighting on December 13, 1862. For instance, General Howard’s division was involved in the river assault and subsequent street fighting required to clear Fredericksburg of Barksdale’s Brigade on the December 11th. Howard’s division also assaulted on December 13th and provided forces to man the forward line of troops along the swale on the 14th, yet he only provides a total number of casualties.
Looking a little closer at the Union casualty data, we can see them by major military organization broken out by; killed, wounded and missing/captured. I divided the battle into three zones based upon the major terrain feature: Prospect Hill, Deep Run and Marye’s Heights. The following table displays the same level of information for each engagement area;
The ratio of killed to wounded below Marye’s Heights ran around 7.5 percent for the Confederates and 12 percent for the Union. In the battle action related to Prospect Hill and Deep Run both sides suffered around 15 percent ratio of death to wounded.
How did the armies deal with all of the bodies? Generals Jackson and Franklin held a truce in the Prospect Hill battle area on 15 December in order for bodies to be buried individually and in trenches. Not all of the Union dead within Confederate lines received the same burial treatment. The Union army retreated under cover of rain and darkness late on 15/16 December. Those Union dead below Marye’s Heights had to wait until a truce was called between Generals Lee and Burnside on 17 and 18 December. At that time, unarmed Union soldiers, under escort of Confederate units, hastily buried their dead in two trenches, in an ice house.
Shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, Quarter Master (QM) General Montgomery C. Meigs directed, in General Order number 65, QM Department officers to report on “the location and condition of Cemeteries known to them, with recommendations of the means necessary to provide for the preservation of the remains interred therein from desecration….” Specifically, the officers were to give the precise location of the cemeteries; state whether they had enclosures and headboards, and whether bodies in them could be identified; determine the existence and condition of any burial records associated with the cemeteries; and provide recommendations as to whether the Government should maintain the cemeteries or transfer the remains to some other location.”
Brevet Major Hiram F. Gerrish surveyed the Fredericksburg region. In the town itself, he estimated that each lot contained between one and seven graves. “All through the City are scattered graves in door yards & gardens,” he reported, “none of them are marked but a greater number have nothing by which they can be designated.” Many of the graves were on land in the surrounding areas that property owners intended to cultivate in the spring. If the Government wished to save these graves from desecration, it would have to act quickly. In addition to the town lots, Gerrish identified 115 parcels of land in the surrounding area with Union graves on their property. These graves were widely dispersed and largely unmarked. He carefully listed the number of bodies, marked and unmarked, at each spot. In all, he identified 8,018 graves. The Fredericksburg Fair Grounds, Mercer Square, below Marye’s Heights, topped the list with 1,363 burials, followed by the adjacent Stratton property with 560. Dr. Durrett’s farm in Spotsylvania posted the third highest total in the region with 475.
Garrish found that:
His survey did not cover the Wilderness battlefield as that had been actually worked on by a Union burial party that established two fenced burial locations. Unfortunately, this work was not thorough.
In this post, I have tried to relate how the civil war dead and associated casualties compared with other wars. I then move on to the civil war casualties and those of this central Virginia region, lastly looking closely at the battle of Fredericksburg. In this region our nation suffered two and a half years of war. Major Garrish’s report of the widely dispersed Union graves painted a grim picture. Some of these would be gathered into the Fredericksburg National Cemetery beginning in 1866. Others would be shipped to their home towns and villages. Still others lie hidden in far off corners likely never recovered. Confederate dead were similarly reburied.
In post #2, I will look at the Union burial trench located on the Stratton property.
Fox, William F., Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, Albany: Albany Publishing Co. 1889.
Groeling, Meg, The Aftermath of Battle, Burial of the Civil War Dead, El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2015, p 145-149.
Livermore, Thomas Leonard, Numbers and Losses in the Civil War in America; 1861-65, Boston, New York: Mifflin& Co., 1900. https://books.google.com/books?id=jthCAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=thomas+livermore+civil+war&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj06Lru3sXSAhUKIMAKHRfMCOMQ6AEIGjAA#v=onepage&q=thomas%20livermore%20civil%20war&f=false
Pfanz, Donald, Where Valor Proudly Sleeps, A Hhistory of the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, 1866-1933, Fredericksburg: unpublished manuscript, FRSPNMP, 2007.
US War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of Official Records of eh Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, volume XXI, (Washington CD 1888. P 129-145, 558-680.
Paul Waldman, May 26, 2014: http://prospect.org/article/american-war-dead-numbers
Guy Gugloitta, April 2, 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/science/civil-war-toll-up-by-20-percent-in-new-estimate.html
David Hacker, September 20, 2011: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/20/recounting-the-dead/?_r=0#more-105317
General casualty figures,