Monday, March 2, 2015

Civil War Casualties

By Robert Jones
Author & Online 19th century and Civil War antiques

Trying to understand Civil War casualties today is almost beyond the average person’s comprehension. During the mid-19th century death was a part of everyday life – being common for both old and young, usually by disease. But no one was prepared for what the Civil War would inflict upon the country.

Two and a half percent of the population would die – the battle of Antietam alone had more than all previous wars combined. It is estimated at over 650,000, but if you add in the veterans who would later die as a result of the war, it would be closer to 1,000,000. Today it would be like losing seven million – like I said, hard to imagine.

The average soldier was far from home and family and all he had was his comrades and perhaps a picture of a loved one. He would often form a pact with a friend in the event he was wounded or killed. They would write to each other’s family to let them know what happened and to make sure their love was of them when they passed.

On the evening of May 10th, 1864, as the Civil War ground on into its fourth straight year, 26-year-old James Robert Montgomery, a private in the Confederate Signal Corps, wrote a letter to his father back home in Camden, Mississippi, dripping blood on the paper as he wrote, from the horrific arm wound he had sustained a few hours earlier during the Battle of Spotsylvania, Virginia.

“Dear Father. This is my last letter to you. I have been struck by a piece of shell and my right shoulder is horribly mangled and I know death is inevitable. I am very weak but I write to you because I know you would be delighted to read a word from your dying son. I know death is near, that I will die far from home and friends of my early youth but I have friends here too who are kind to me.

"My friend Fairfax will write you at my request and give you the particulars of my death. My grave will be marked so that you may visit it if you desire to do so. It is optionary with you whether you let my remains rest here or in Mississippi. I would like to rest in the graveyard with my dear mother and brothers but it's a matter of minor importance. Give my love to all my friends. My strength fails me. My horse and my equipments will be left for you. Again, a long farewell to you. May we meet in heaven. Your dying son, J. R. Montgomery”

James Montgomery's friend, Fairfax, did write soon thereafter, forwarding some of his effects and assuring his father that he had been conscious to the end, and that he had died at peace with himself and his maker. But it was little consolation. Though the grave had been marked, the family was never able to find it, and was thus never able to realize their fond hope of bringing their dead son home.

Image: James Robert Montgomery Co. A, 11th Mississippi Infantry, and later detailed to the Signal Corps, serving with Major General Henry Heth: Written  May 10, 1864 this blood stained letter from Montgomery in Spotsylvania County, Virginia to his Father Allen V. Montgomery informing that he has been mortally wounded and expressing his desire to be re-interred in his home state of Mississippi. From Museum of the Confederacy Document of the Month.


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