Every soldier who served during the Civil War became a statistic in one respect or another. All states that participated in the conflict, including Delaware, are documented according to their level of involvement and the casualties they suffered.
In 1889, William F. Fox published his tome “Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865,” which dealt with the extent and nature of the losses in Union regiments. Delaware’s statistics are revealing.
Of Delaware’s 7,888 troops furnished for a three-year enlistment in the Union army, 882 died — 383 killed in battle, while 499 died from other causes. The total loss was 11.2 percent.
The other causes included disease in general (356), disease in Confederate prisons (75), accidents and drowning (21), all other causes except battles (47). The latter category included: murdered (3), committed suicide (1), military execution (1), sunstroke (1), known but not classified (11) and not stated (30).
The federal government levied quotas on each state that remained loyal to the Union to provide military enlistments. Delaware’s overall quota was 13,935, of which 12,284 were actually furnished. Anyone who could afford to pay the government a commutation fee of $300 could avoid service altogether. Those taking advantage of that loophole totaled 1,386.
Fox tabulated that the number of white Delaware infantry troops of all lengths of enlistments was 11,236. In addition, there were 94 sailors and marines, as well as 954 colored troops that comprised the 12,284 figure. Note that Delaware’s black population had to leave the state to join units mainly in Pennsylvania, because racial restrictions did not permit organization of colored troops under a Delaware flag.
According to the 1860 census, the Delaware military population between the age of 18 and 45 totaled 18,273. Nearly 75 percent of this figure either served in the military or paid commutation.
Although Delaware organized nine infantry regiments during the Civil War, four — the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Regiments — did most of the fighting and suffered the vast majority of deaths. The 1st lost 15 officers and 264 enlisted men, the 2nd lost seven officers and 194 enlisted men, the 3rd lost nine officers and 126 enlisted men, and the 4th lost five officers and 159 enlisted men.
Those four regiments also incurred a substantial number of wounded and missing-in-action, numbering about 1,100. In other words, the units experienced a casualty rate of about 50 percent on average, with the casualties sustained at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and the sanguinary battles of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign.
The bravery and sacrifice of these men would not go unrecognized. Capt. James Parke Postles, Lt. Charles Tanner, Pvt. John Maberry and Pvt. Bernard McCarren, 1st Delaware; 1st Sgt. John Shilling, 3rd Delaware; and Capt. Samuel Rodmond Smith and 1st Lt. David Buckingham, 4th Delaware, all received the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroics on the battlefield.
On Nov. 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke about the men who fought and died at Gettysburg, but he could well have had in mind all those who sacrificed their lives during the Civil War when he uttered these immortal words:
“But in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”
While Lincoln addressed the assembled crowd that day, at least 15 soldiers of the 1st and 2nd Delaware lay beneath the soil of the newly dedicated National Cemetery. Most likely there were other Delawareans buried there who are forever categorized as unknown.
Thanks to the creation of national and state cemeteries Civil War cemeteries, the men buried there, Northerners and Southerners, will not be labeled just a statistic, but rather will be remembered for their service during the worst period of strife in our nation’s history.
Bethany Beach resident Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War” (available at Bethany Beach Books). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website: