Sunday, January 20, 2013

Civil War Sunday - The Most Dangerous Military Rank

Could you imagine an American general leading his troops into battle today?

It might happen, but certainly not to the extent it did in the Civil War.  In fact, I read a statistic (true or not) saying that a general had a 50% greater chance of dying in a Civil War battle than a private did.

I bought myself a Civil War calendar at the beginning of this year. Each day lists a fact, not just facts for 1863, but for all years of the war.  The fact for January 17 was this:

"Seventy-seven Confederate generals and forty-seven Union generals were killed or mortally wounded in action, meaning 18 percent of Confederate generals and 8 percent of Union generals died from battle wounds."

This is the list of Confederate generals who died (73 by my counting, which differs from the calendar page quote above).

This is the list of Union generals (38 in total, again differing from the calendar page quote.)

Whether the calendar is right or the online lists are right, it is sobering.  When I visited Antietam last September for its 150th anniversary, one of the facts presented to us by the historical reenactors was that six generals died in that one battle alone.

Another two died at South Mountain, a battle not long before, whose battlefield I also visited on the 150th anniversary of the battle.

As it happens, the number of generals killed in those two battles were - four from each side.

This is just a fraction of the over 620,000. people who died in the Civil War, of course.

Once again, this makes us ponder just how horrible those four years in our American history were, as are all wars.

And, one ironic fact.  Who was the first American general to die in World War II?  It was Nathan Bedford Forrest III, the great grandson of a Confederate general.


  1. Very, very interesting. Especially about NBF III.

  2. I'm jealous of your visit to Antietam. I've been to Vicksburg with my younger son, and I'm hoping to get to Gettysburg.


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