Casualties – An Explanation to Accompany Appendix B

With Small but Important Riots now available, I plan to include here material that had to be cut from the finished product. Working with the staff at the University of Nebraska Press and the Potomac Books imprint has been a pleasure in every respect and I am very happy with the finished product. That said, concessions, such as word counts, are a fact of life and the manuscript I initially submitted had to be cut by 10,000 words to meet my contract. Not wishing to cut my narrative, I cut several appendices, or parts thereof, and some explanatory notes, knowing I could include them here on my website. One of the appendices, concerning the court-martial of Lt. Col. David Clendenin appeared a year ago, here and here. Others will appear in future posts. Today, I am posting the explanation that initially accompanied the casualty figures in Appendix B.

Attempting to determine casualties, at any level of the Cavalry Corps, company, regiment, brigade, division, or corps, is, to some extent, an exercise in futility. But numbers of men engaged, combined with information such as core battlefield acreage helps to determine the size and scope of a battle or battlefield. Casualty numbers help to quantify the grim toll of a skirmish or battle. Efforts to answer such questions, while often unsatisfying, have contributed in some measure to the remarkable success of local preservation groups, as well as larger national organizations, to interpret, preserve and protect battlefield land in the Loudoun Valley.

Scattered throughout the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, researchers will find several tables of losses for the Cavalry Corps in the Loudoun Valley. But just how accurate are these numbers?

The fragility of regimental muster rolls means researchers at the National Archives are now, generally, prohibited from looking at them until they can be digitized. In the absence of the muster rolls, regimental rosters created after the war form a starting point in compiling the names of men killed, wounded, or captured during the fighting. Other sources, including letters and casualty lists published in newspapers, help to develop the numbers, though the latter can be especially frustrating as medical staff, correspondents, and telegraph operators often mangled the names beyond recognition. A memorial at Aldie identifies casualties from the 1st Massachusetts, and a 1st Maine memorial erected at Mount Defiance in 2019 lists the names of the men from the regiment killed during the fighting.

The figures compiled in the appendix represent an attempt to gather the most accurate accounting of casualties using all available sources, including pension files. But the soldiers left hurdles for historians to overcome. Not wishing to alarm their family, some soldiers, especially those with minor wounds, kept their names from wartime casualty lists, but later claimed the injuries to the pension board. Others never claimed a wound, even though their name appeared elsewhere as having been wounded. Some veterans never mentioned their wounds, while seeking to prove they had been stricken with less obvious maladies such as rheumatism during their service. Still others never claimed a pension for any reason. Foreign soldiers are particularly underrepresented in the pension files, possibly due to language difficulties that hampered their ability to navigate the bureaucratic process.

Other problems affect the accuracy of such tallies. In some cases, official military records, such as a soldier’s compiled service record, list a location or date where or when the soldier was wounded but not both. Such information is often wrong. In the absence of other information to correct such problems, I have not included these men in the compiled lists, as I wanted to break down casualties by battle. Some soldiers changed their names when they enlisted but sought a pension under their birth name. Aging soldiers seeking a pension often forgot when and where they were wounded, or they misidentified the location or date. Over time, some gave conflicting information as to when and where their injuries occurred, or the nature of the injury. Such problems became particularly critical with the Loudoun Valley fighting, as the battles followed each other so quickly.

The regimental rosters compiled for The Virginia Regimental Histories Series provide a wealth of information and have been essential to identifying losses in Virginia regiments. The rosters of North Carolina troops compiled by Louis Manarin also proved especially valuable. But Southern pensions files are much more difficult to access than Northern files and erroneous dates and locations are especially problematic in Southern records. Attempting to examine Southern pension files to clarify and develop the record would have added years to this project.

I reviewed more than 300 Union pension files as I worked on this volume, before the pandemic closed the National Archives and brought my work to a halt. About 25 files remained unexamined. Though often frustrating, the long process proved rewarding, as the old soldiers left many valuable snippets of information.

But I could not expect to examine the pension of every Union casualty from the fighting and bring this study to a conclusion in a reasonable time frame. For instance, I did not review pension claims from men who had been captured but did not appear to have been wounded at the same time. These men, several hundred in total, may have developed a malady during their incarceration for which they later sought a pension, but such a claim would not advance my understanding of events on the battlefields or clarify regimental losses. Regiments for which I could not locate a good roster also proved problematic, resulting in gaps in the figures.

The Union totals presented in the Official Records do not include any of the fighting related to Colonel Duffié’s scout to Middleburg or the June 19 fighting around Middleburg and Millville. The Confederate totals cover the period of June 10-24 inclusive, without being broken down by date or location.

The numbers compiled in Appendix B represent a minimum number of casualties incurred during the June 17-22 fighting, broken down by battle and regiment. Thus, sharp-eyed observers will notice that my casualty figure for the 1st Massachusetts at Aldie does not match the number listed on the regimental monument on the battlefield.

Information provided in pension files helps to identify the nature of the wounds sustained, including 135 gunshot wounds, 25 saber wounds, 21 related to artillery fire and 16 attributed to the death of the soldier’s horse or a fall from his horse. Shrapnel seems to have caused a fair amount of confusion and several records indicate a wound caused by a bullet or shrapnel.

Except for the crippling losses sustained by the 1st Massachusetts at Aldie and the 1st Rhode Island on June 17 and 18, General Pleasonton sustained fewer casualties than General Stuart, especially considering the Federals fought almost exclusively on the offensive and the Southerners generally fought on the defensive, aided by terrain and stone fences. Caught on open ground during the closing minutes of the fight on June 21, the Confederates lost a significant number of men within about 30 minutes.

Cavalrymen could not sustain mounted combat for long periods of time. The June 17 fight at Aldie entailed near constant mounted combat but probably lasted no more than one hour. The fight occurred following a long march and during the hottest part of the day, when historical records show the heat index reached at least 118 degrees.

The fight at Middleburg two days later saw several hours of dismounted skirmishing but no more than 30 minutes of mounted fighting. The June 21 battle between Middleburg and Upperville lasted nearly 12 hours but only the final 30 minutes saw the steady charge and countercharge of mounted combat. Otherwise, the men experienced a series of noisy skirmishes and artillery duels broken up by periods of relative quiet as the troops moved between positions across miles of ground. At first glance, the number of men lost in six days of fighting may seem inconsequential, especially when compared to the one-day fight at Brandy Station. However, most of the casualties sustained in the Loudoun Valley occurred during about four hours of intense combat.

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