Historians and students of Gettysburg have long wrestled with accurately determining the losses the Army of Northern Virginia in the Gettysburg campaign and battle. The initial returns for the army were submitted by Medical Director Surgeon Lafayette Guild on September 1, 1863. Guild’s report included only killed and wounded and he gave the army’s losses at 14,278. He also included a report of casualties in the cavalry division
during the campaign, which were 1,206 killed and wounded, for Ewell’s Second Corps at Winchester, where it lost 252 killed and wounded, and for those killed or wounded in the various skirmishes during the army’s retreat, a total of 316 killed and wounded. The grand total for the campaign came to 16,052 killed and wounded. Guild amended his September 1 report with a subsequent report with no date that included captured or missing, which he reported as 5,150. Guild’s revised casualty figures gave the army’s total loss as 20,451, but owing to the failure of some commands to file a casualty return Guild considered the reported losses “be regarded as approximate.” To underscore this statement by Guild the compilers of the Official Records included a note at the end of the returns stating that the office of the Adjutant General possessed prisoner of war records bearing the names of 12,227 wounded and unwounded Confederates captured at Gettysburg, and that the number of captured Confederate wounded reported by the medical director of the Army of the Potomac was 6,802. Subtracting the number of captured and missing that Guild actually reported from the number of POW’s reported by the U.S. Adjutant General, it appears that the Confederate returns were low by 7,077 men, the difference between 12,227 and 5,150.
In 1901 Thomas L. Livermore published his widely read Numbers and Losses in the Civil War. In a rather convoluted method, Livermore determined Confederate losses at Gettysburg to be 27,823, which became the basis for the traditional figure of 28,000 Confederate casualties in the battle. Eighty years later, Bob Krick, former Chief Historian at Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park, and an authority on the Army of Northern Virginia, conducted the first systematic effort to accurately document Confederate losses by tediously pouring over records in the National Archives, newspapers, muster rolls, and other sources. The result of his research was the book, The Gettysburg Death Roster: The Confederate Dead at Gettysburg (2004), which includes tables of the casualties suffered by each regiment and battery in the battle. Krick gave each statistic, whether for a regiment or battery, or a brigade or battalion, a numerical designation that reflected his opinion on the accuracy of the figures he compiled. They ranged from a 1, which meant the numbers were based on a search of the Compiled Service Records and he was confident they were accurate, to a 4, which indicated that the numbers were no better than Guild’s original returns. The results are the best figures we have yet for Confederate losses at Gettysburg, but they remain imperfect because for 21 of the army’s 43 infantry and cavalry brigades Krick assigned their casualty figures a 3 or 4, meaning the figures for nearly one half of the army were not greatly improved over Guild’s 1863 tabulation. Krick documented 22,587 casualties, including 4,546 killed and mortally wounded.
We shall probably never know with the precision that some would like the extent of the Confederate losses at Gettysburg. But limiting our investigation of the army’s losses to only the three day battle overlooks the very heavy losses it sustained, particularly in missing and captured, between July 4 and July 14, when it crossed the Potomac into Virginia. When these losses are included it becomes clear that the Gettysburg Campaign was far more devastating to the Army of Northern Virginia than has been acknowledged. Statistics I compiled for several brigades showing their losses in missing and captured between July 1 and July 14 underscore how significantly higher Confederate losses were compared to those reported. The losses for the brigades listed in the table below were compiled using the American Civil War Research Database (www.civilwardata.com subscription required), which breaks down Confederate losses by day for many regiments.
|Brigade||Guild (Krick in parenthesis) reported losses of missing and captured||Actual losses of missing and captured July 1 – July 14|
|Scales||110 (289)||536 (226)|
|Lane||238 (448)||520 (136)|
 The number in parenthesis are those known to have been captured or reported missing from July 4 to July 14.
Based on Guild’s statistics these six brigades lost 1,029 captured or missing from July 1 through July 14, but their actual loss in this category was 3,857, a figure that is 74 percent higher. When added to the numbers of killed and wounded, compiled by Krick, it becomes apparent just how appalling the losses were that some brigades of the army suffered in the campaign. Daniels’s brigade had a June 30 strength of 2,177 from which it lost 227 killed, 583 wounded and 608 captured or missing, a total of 1,418 men or 65 percent. Pettigrew’s brigade entered Pennsylvania the strongest brigade in the army with 2,740 on June 30. By the end of the campaign it had 347 men left after suffering 386 killed, 915 wounded and
1,092 captured or missing. Lane’s brigade had approximately 963 effectives left from the 1,839 men it counted on June 30. Davis’s brigade of Heth’s division is another example, although it is not included in the table above. According to Krick the brigade suffered 1030 casualties between July 1 and July 3 from a June 30 strength of 2,446, but subsequent research into regiments of this brigade give a loss of over 1,450, or 59%. Every field officer in the brigade was killed or wounded. The 2nd Mississippi reported only 60 to 80 effectives left of the 492 they carried into action on July 1. The 55th North Carolina re-crossed the Potomac with perhaps 145 men of the 679 present on June 30. What is also significant about these losses is that they are from the combat
effectives, the best and most fit men in the regiment. A percentage of every regiment were men detailed to non-combat duties who had not gone into action during the battle. These were often men who were not up to the physical demands of serving in the line companies, they were troublemakers that company commanders sought to get rid of by detailing them to other duties, or were soldiers wounded in earlier battles who had recovered sufficiently to perform non-combat duties but not combat service.
The picture that emerges from this admittedly limited study of casualties is that the damage suffered by the Army of Northern Virginia in the Gettysburg Campaign was shocking. The June 30 muster of the army gave the army’s strength at 80,025 officers and men. A later July return, probably July 31, after the army had returned to Virginia gives its aggregate strength as 53,286 and its present for duty at 41,135. An army cannot sustain such massive losses and not experience damage both to morale and combat effectiveness. Key leaders are lost and discipline slips when less experienced or less motivated officers and enlisted men move up to fill in at positions they are not qualified or trained for.
A further drain on the army’s manpower was the high number of desertions it experienced through July and into September. Using a variety of methods General Lee managed to staunch the flow of desertions that early fall. And in a testament to his administrative and organizational skills, he reorganized and rebuilt his army so that it was ready for the spring campaign of 1864. Yet good as that army was it never again approached the army Lee led to Gettysburg in size or offensive capability.
D. Scott Hartwig,
Note: The quotation in the header is from a July 7 letter by Lt. Alexander McNeil, 2nd South Carolina, Kershaw’s brigade. The full quote is, “We came here with the best army the Confederacy ever carried into the field, but thousands of our brave boys are left upon the enemy’s soil and in my opinion the army will never be made up of such material again.”