Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remembering Why: Memorial Day

Memorial Day started after the U.S. Civil War as a way to honor fallen soldiers of the North and South. And to be certain, the nation was in need of healing after a four year war that was the bloodiest the nation has ever known. Combined Confederate and Union troop losses totaled nearly 750,000 dead, or 7,789,798 if thought of as a percentage of the nation's current population.  (As a further point of comparison, only 12 states currently have a population greater than this number, with Virginia being number 12 at 8,096,604.)

Although the tradition of remembering those who gave their lives in defense of the nation continues uninterrupted to this day, offered below for your consideration are two short memorials devoted to the Civil War units that bear the unfortunate distinction of having sustained the greatest percentage losses during any single engagement:

Unit: 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry
Date: July 2, 1863 
Location: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Circumstances: 1st Minnesota unhesitatingly makes suicide charge against advancing Confederate troops in order to give other Union forces the time needed to secure key terrain on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Result: Regiment sustains the largest loss by any surviving military unit in American history during a single engagement.
Description on Gettysburg Battlefield Plaque (clarification added): 
On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Sickles' Third Corps, having advanced from this line to the Emmitsburg Road, eight companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, numbering 262 men were sent to this place to support a battery upon Sickles repulse.
As his (Sickles) men were passing here in confused retreat, two Confederate brigades in pursuit were crossing the swale. To gain time to bring up the reserves & save this position, Gen Hancock in person ordered the eight companies (1st Minnesota) to charge the rapidly advancing enemy.
The order was instantly repeated by Col Wm Colvill. And the charge as instantly made down the slope at full speed through the concentrated fire of the two brigades breaking with the bayonet the enemy's front line as it was crossing the small brook in the low ground there the remnant of the eight companies, nearly surrounded by the enemy held its entire force at bay for a considerable time & till it retired on the approach of the reserve the charge successfully accomplished its object. It saved this position & probably the battlefield. The loss of the eight companies in the charge was 215 killed & wounded. More than 83% percent. 47 men were still in line & no man missing. In self sacrificing desperate valor this charge has no parallel in any war...

Unit: 1st Texas Infantry Regiment
Date: September 17, 1862
Location: Antietam Battlefield/Sharpsburg, Maryland
Circumstances: Although vastly outnumbered, the 1st Texas Infantry Regiment CSA, unwaveringly stands its ground against Union forces in order to seal a gap in the center of Confederate lines.
Result: On the single bloodiest day of fighting in the Civil War, the 1st Texas sustains the highest percentage loss by any infantry regiment during the war, North or South, with 82.3% causalities.
Description on Sharpsburg Battlefield Plaque (clarification added):
...Here in the cornfield early on the morning of September 17, the Texas Brigade helped blunt the attack of elements of Mansfield’s Union Corps.  Almost alone during this powerful Federal onslaught the Texas Brigade sealed a threatening gap in the Confederate line. In so doing the 1st Texas Infantry Regiment (sub unit of the Texas Brigade) suffered a casualty rate of 82.3 percent, the greatest loss suffered by any infantry regiment, North or South, during the war. Of approximately 850 men engaged the Texas Brigade counted over 550 causalities...

Comment: In honor of all those who have paid the ultimate price to secure the freedom of this great nation, from Colonial times to present, in "peace time" and war, know that we remember you, and will be forever in your debt.

Photo credits -  Lead: jpellgen   Minnesota Monument: wikipedia      Texas Monument: Stone Sentinels

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