June 01, 2011
The Civil War: Where Did We Find Such Men?
By David E. Petzal
I’ve been a student of the Civil War since I was 13 and read a book by Mackinlay Kantor on the Battle of Gettysburg. What has never ceased to astound me throughout all my reading is how so many men showed so much steadfastness through so much adversity for so long.
Total killed for both sides was 620,000. That would be the equivalent of over 3,000,000 men today. In World War II, our total military deaths numbered 416,000. As Bruce Catton pointed out, simply to be in either army was dangerous.
If you were a Union soldier, and captured, you would go to Andersonville, or some place like it. If you were Confederate, you would go to Camp Douglas, near Chicago, or Elmira (NY) Prison, which were possibly worse than Andersonville.
If you were wounded, you could lie where you fell for days before anyone came to help. If you got help, the field hospitals to which you would be taken frightened many soldiers more than death.
If you were Confederate, you would be starving and in rags for much of the war. If you were a farmer, your family would starve as well.
If you were Union, you would have a uniform and enough to eat most of the time, but you would probably go into battle with the certain knowledge that your general commanding was a fool who would throw your life away.
Several times a year, for four years, there would be a battle with casualties of 20 to 30 percent. Today, a general who suffers 10 percent casualties would be relieved. Some regiments took 70 and 80 percent casualties in one battle. Some were virtually wiped out.
And they did this for four years. To paraphrase James Michener, where did we find such men?