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Appendix A

Table of Contents




To write of the casualties of the Colonial troops in the American Revolution might be compared to an attempt to describe one of the nebula in outer space. No complete records of these casualties were kept for so much as one year. Then, too, sickness and mortality varied greatly in different years. There was very great mortality in the Northern Army during the year 1776, while, on the same ground, the army of 1777 was remarkably healthy. Dr. Jonathan Potts reported only 209 deaths from all causes during the entire campaign against Burgoyne, in which some 15,000 men were employed. This campaign, however, was the exception: the rule was, much sickness and many deaths. And, for the entire period of eight years, some rough estimates and approximations may be made.

We know that there was much sickness, and of a serious nature: diarrhoea and dysentery, typhus and typhoid, smallpox. There must also have been measles, meningitis and pneumonia, though they are little mentioned. Intestinal diseases were nearly everywhere present and at all times, and they did cause deaths though not attended by so high rate of mortality as smallpox and typhus. Malarial fever was common, not only in the southern colonies but also about Lake Champlain. General Gates, in the fall of 1776, said that frost was the doctor that would cure the prevailing diseases. Smallpox was generally prevalent during the earlier years of the war, particularly in 1776, when thousands died from it. In the later years this scourge was less in evidence. The enforcement of inoculation and the large number of soldiers who had been made immune either by this measure of by the disease itself, rendered the army as a whole little subject to attack by variola.

Throughout the war typhus was the greatest scourge. The crowding of soldiers in barracks, prisons and hospitals; lack of ventilation and ordinary sanitary precautions; insufficient or improper food; all combined to make the deadly hospital or jail fever the most dreaded of all diseases prevailing at that time. No more was known of the means by which it spread than of its treatment and cure. Even when attempts were made to prevent crowding in barracks and hospitals, they generally failed. The disease reaped its richest harvest in prisons; as in the foul pest houses and ships of New York. But soldiers also died of typhus In tents or bivouac In Canada and on Lake Champlain. Of the prisoners at Fort Washington Gen. William Heath said:


“The prisoners were marched to New York, where being crowded into prisons and sugarhouses (many of them being militia from the New Jersey Flying Camp, who were unused to a soldier's life, much less to the poisonous, stagnant air of a crowded prison) they fell sick and daily died in a most shocking manner. It was common on a morning for the car men to come and take away their bodies for burial by loads.”

As an example, it was reported that of the 79 members of Capt. Abraham Shepherd’s Rifle Company, Shea’s Pennsylvania Regiment, 52 died.

The most pitiful feature of the three great infectious diseases, typhus, smallpox and dysentery, was that thousands of cases were contracted in the hospitals. As Tilton said, many a fine fellow going to the hospital with some slight affection, there contracted smallpox or the typhus and perished miserably. So often did this occur that the best writers on medico-military matters agreed that military hospitals, on the whole, increased the mortality of armies. Pringle, Brocklesby and McGrigor of the British Army agreed in this statement, as did also Tilton and Benjamin Rush of the Colonials. Hospitals were in truth a necessary evil. They swallowed up more brave soldiers than any or all battlefields. The wounded soldier who escaped from the field of battle with his life was obliged to run the gauntlet of a list of deadly diseases in some infected hospital. Fortunate to have escaped death by a bullet, he was doubly, trebly fortunate if he escaped dysentery, smallpox or typhus. Too often he did not escape. More soldiers died in Philadelphia during the winter of 1776-77 than in all the battles of the war. Where bullets killed one, disease killed at least ten.

Dr. James Thatcher estimated. the total deaths in the war as 70,000. He saw the whole conflict from Boston to Yorktown, was in nearly all fields of operation, was a good reasoner and careful writer, and wrote after study and reflection. His estimate is the best one made by a contemporary writer. As the period of hostilities covered seven years, 1775-1781 inclusive, Dr. Thatcher’s estimate gives a mortality of 10,000 per year.

In the preceding pages I have estimated the deaths in 1776 at 10,000. During the following year the number was probably greater, but in the later years there were probably not so many deaths yearly. It must be remembered, however, that in all the estimates the only deaths considered were those which occurred in battle, in camp or in army hospitals. It is well known, and apparent from every return, that one-half the sick were accounted for as “absent sick.” These were chiefly men who had been allowed to—-or who did—go home. Thousands of the sick regularly departed to their homes or elsewhere. These men seldom returned, and no record remains of the considerable number who finally succumbed to the protracted and exhausting diseases of that day.
The number of deaths at the hands of the enemy is scarcely more definitely known than those by disease. While the casualties in the principal battles were set down with reasonable accuracy, there was a continual succession of lesser engagements: affairs of raiding parties and outposts, clashes of irregular troops, petty affairs of all kinds, which, while causing small loss in any one conflict, probably caused in the aggregate almost


as many deaths as all the great battles. Taking into account all conflicts, great and small, and adding the large per cent of the wounded who died, it is impossible to figure more than 1000 deaths per year, or 7000 deaths in all. The actual deaths in battle were not so many; adding the deaths which followed as the result of wounds, 7000 may have been reached. That ten men died of disease to every one whose life was taken by the enemy is a safe estimate.

    Dr. James Tilton recognized the great mortality caused by the infectious diseases. He said:

“My brethren of the faculty will probably think it an interesting fact that more surgeons died in the American Service in proportion to their number, than officers of the Line; a strong evidence that infection is more dangerous in military life, than the weapons of war; and should be a powerful excitement, with all concerned, from motives of self preservation, as well as honorable duty, to use all possible care and diligence in warding off that greatest of all evils, the plague of infection.”

As to the annual death rate, only estimates, still more doubtful as to their correctness, can be made, both -factors which enter into the problem being in doubt. The number of enlistments is known, but not the average number of men in service for the entire time or even for any one year. Yet some estimates may he made. The table at the end of this Appendix was prepared by the Secretary of War some years after the Revolution. It shows with reasonable accuracy the number of men enlisted in the Continental Army and regular militia. The figures for the “irregular militia” are evidently estimates. At best they do not show the absolute number of men, for the same man often enlisted twice, sometimes three and even four times. The total number of men in service during the war has been estimated at 250,000, regulars and militia combined. The average strength is still more a matter of doubt. It does not appear that it could have been above 40,000 of all ranks, if as many. The average number of enlistments in each year was 32,000.

If our estimate of 10,000 deaths each year be correct, we then have an annual death rate of one-fourth, or 250 per thousand. This figure is evidently too high, for with the army continually changing, in order to maintain an average of 40,000 men in the ranks, at least 50,000 must have served for a short or long time. This estimate of strength gives a death rate of 200 per thousand per annum, or 20 per cent. This number looks high, possibly it is too high; but when we consider the northern camps, the terrible hospitals and the frightful prisons in New York we must conclude that the number is not much too high. This rate was reached by the armies in the Crimea nearly a hundred years later; and in our own war with Mexico, 1846-48, the death rate from disease reached 115 per annum.

If the total death rate was 200 per 1000 per annum, then by our other estimate the deaths in battle amounted to 20 per 1000 and by disease to 180. These rates may be compared with 33 and 65 respectively from our Civil War of 1861-65.


Various reports tend to confirm Thatcher’s estimate. In a letter to Dr. Gordon, after the war, Thomas Jefferson said:

    “I suppose the State of Virginia lost under Cornwallis̓ hand that year about thirty thousand slaves; and that of these, twenty thousand slaves died of smallpox and camp fever, and the rest were sent to the West Indies and exchanged for ruin, sugar, coffee, &c. &c.”

These were not soldiers, but their loss illustrates the mortality among men from the country suddenly concentrated in camps.    

John Adams stated that 2000 soldiers died in Philadelphia during the winter of 1776-77. It has often been stated that of the 2400 men captured at Fort Washington, only 500 remained alive to be exchanged ten months later. Thatcher believed that 11,000 died on the prison ships.

The number of men who died in the Northern Army will never be known, though it runs into the thousands. Wilkinson says that a thousand men died of typhus; still more perished from smallpox.

The records of the seaport town of Marblehead show extreme losses. More than one-fifth of the population entered the service, and when the war at last came to an end Marblehead had a thousand widows and 500 men in English war prisons. The number of voters in the town was reduced from 1200 to less than 500. In the whole of the colonies, pensions were given to 22,640 widows.

Casualties in the British Army were not so great as those of the Continental Army, either in battle or by disease. This was to be expected in an arm composed almost entirely of seasoned, regular troops, well organized and disciplined, fully equipped and having an efficient hospital department. In all these features the British army was in direct contrast to the Continental army, improvised from inexperienced militia, poorly organized and undisciplined, badly fed, clothed and equipped, and with a hospital department not superior to the army as a whole. Excellent organization, discipline, equipment and supplies could not fail, even in that insanitary age, to produce a more healthy army.

The British soldiers, and Germans as well, had a special advantage over the colonials in the matter of susceptibility to infectious disease. The former at that time enlisted for a period of twenty-one years, almost for life. The British army was made up largely of old and seasoned veterans, who had passed through and survived the dangers of infection. Recruits also had the advantage of coming from large cities, where they were accustomed to crowd conditions and had been exposed to most of the infectious diseases. Brocklesby said, “I find that 2 out of 9 soldiers have not had smallpox.”

The colonists, on the other hand, were for the greater part from country districts where they had lived in isolation. They had not come in contact with typhus, smallpox and dysentery, or even the more common diseases such as measles. They afforded new material, in which such diseases are always most violent and most fatal. Moreover, when these youths, fresh from the country, were crowded into hospitals, even in barracks and, worst


of all, in those chambers of death called military prisons, they were the helpless prey of all the most fatal infections in their most pernicious forms. British soldiers were not so crowded in hospitals and prisons and were less susceptible to the dangers of crowding.

Battle casualties of the British Army in North America may be roughly estimated from the report on losses of officers (Volume 27, Pennsylvania Magazine).

                                                                                Killed        Wounded
        Generals. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .        2    . . . . .          5
        Colonels and Lieut. Colonels. . . . . . . . . . . . .      12    . . . . .        13
        Majors. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .      11    . . . . .        19
        Captains. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .      55    . . . . .      108
        Lieutenants. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .      94    . . . . .      193
        Staff, &c. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     31    . . . . .        57
                                                                                205                   395

As the proportion of officers to enlisted men was approximately one to fifteen, casualties among the latter may be estimated by multiplying the foregoing figures by 15. The results of products are: 3075 killed and 5925 wounded. It is reasonably sure that 20 percent, or nine more than 1000, of the wounded died. The final figures then will be 4000 dead and 5000 other wounded. It must be remembered that these are estimates, not recorded figures.

Official records of the British Army show the strength of the forces in American (including Germans) on various dates, as follows:

            June 3, 1777. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33,756
            August 5, 1778. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22,554
            Sept. 15, 1779 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38,569
            May 1, 1780. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33,020
            Dec. 1, 1780. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33,766
            May 1, 1781. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33,374
            Sept. 1, 1781. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42,075
            June 1, 1782. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .40,469

                Average . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .        39,196

Roughly, the average is 39,000 of all arms. The dead, 4000, averaged 571 per annum, or 14.6 per thousand as compared with the rate of 20 per thousand estimated for the colonials. The wounded who survived, 5000, or 714 each year, give a rate of 18 per thousand per annum. This latter figure appears small.

As to the losses of the British by disease, nothing definite can be said except that they were much less than those of the colonists, and for reason already given. There was little typhus and very little smallpox. Dr. Rush referred to the fact that the British Army was not afflicted with these diseases. Dr. Schoepf of the Hessians spoke to the same effect. Their men who were captured were not confined in death traps, but were fairly well cared for and remained free from serious infections. As a rule, the British Army was quartered in cities: New York, Philadelphia, Newport and Charles-


ton, where the men were comfortably housed and well provided for. The hospitals were superior to those of the colonists. When there was sickness in the armies in the field, as at Saratoga and in the Carolinas, it was generally of a non-fatal character, such as diarrhoea or malarial fevers.

From all these facts it appears probable that the British army lost no more than one-half as many men by diseases as did the Americans, if, indeed, they lost that many. I think that a rate of 100 per thousand per annum, or a total of 27,000, is too high rather than too low.

Concerning the German contingent of the British Army we have more definite, though not classified, figures. In general the German losses from sickness were not large, for that age. Their principal medical officer, Dr. Johann David Schoepf, said:

“It is wonderful that during the whole war no contagious fevers have spread among the troops. Our men suffered principally from dysentery during the first summer and autumn after their arrival (1776). The winter is also accompanied by the host of inflammatory infections, and especially those of the chest. Quite recently the surgeons had scarcely anything to do throughout the whole winter. The Americans had double the sickness of our own.”

In February 1781 the troops at New York were considered very healthy, not more than one in twenty-four being sick and not more than 250 (of about 8000) were in the principal hospitals.

The most reliable records show that the total number of German auxiliaries coming to America, both originally and as replacements, was 29,867. Of these, the losses were stated to he 12,554: 4888 desertions and 7774 deaths. General Von Schlieffen stated, “their actual loss was much less than in European campaigns, 1800 actually killed out of 30,000.”

Dr. Schoepff again said:

“Our troops arrived in July (1775). From that time to October most of our men were, one after another, in the hospitals on Staten Island or at Harlem. There were very few who escaped without an attack of dysentery or fever. During the first 12 months we lost very many men, but during the next twelve months barely 30; and now, as a rule, hardly more than we lost in the Fatherland.”

We may say, then, that out of a total of 30,000, about 1800 died of battle wounds and 6000 of disease. Although 30,000 Germans came to America it does not appear that the average strength was more than 16,000, if it was so great as that. Averaging the deaths for six years we have the following rates:

        Battle deaths. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  18.75 per 1000 per annum.
        Deaths by disease . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62.5 per 1000 per annum.
            Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .        81.25 per 1000 per annum

    These figures are more nearly accurate than any others for this war.
    If we now set down together the estimates for the three armies, we have the following death rates for 1000 per annum:


                                                      Battle          Disease            Total
    Colonials. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    20    . . . .    180    . . . .    200
    British. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    18    . . . .    100    . . . .     118
    German. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  18.75 . . . .   62.5    . . . .   81.25

These figures look reasonable, battle rates not differing much. The British disease rate is probably too high, as there was no reason why it should have been higher than that of the Hessians. The material was very similar and the troops served together. The American rate may he too high.

The striking and important fact is that out of every five colonists who volunteered and went forth to battle for the freedom of his country, one died before the year was out, and in the course of five years all would have been lost. And these patriotic youths who went proudly forward, prepared to meet the dangers of battle, in nine cases out of ten perished miserably in some wretched hospital or vile prison pen. It was not the bullets of the enemy, but the filthy straw of their pallets or the very instruments of the surgeons that were the carriers of death. Hundreds died of wounds not at all mortal except when made so by deadly infections.

On at least one occasion an army was completely crippled by disease— the Northern Army of 1776. This force, which at one time controlled all Canada except Quebec, was brought to the verge of ruin, rendered helpless and unable to defend itself, and finally compelled by disease (not by the enemy) to retreat from the country in disorder. On a small scale this debacle rivaled that of the British on the island of Walcheren in 1809.

In nearly every campaign the army was crippled and hindered by disease. Washington hesitated to approve the plan of the crowning campaign on account of the excessive amount of sickness attending campaigns in the southern colonies. Yorktown won, he hurried the army, fast falling a prey to disease, away to the healthful regions of the Hudson.


TROOPS FURNISHED BY COLONIES From a Table furnished by the Secretary of War CONTINENTALS and MILITIA


The irregular forces (104,660) were called out by local authorities or they volunteered, to guard prisoners, resist foraging parties or repel Indian raids or attacks on the frontier. The militia (56,163) was regularly called, by authority of the Congress, to the aid of the Continental Army, and joined it in the field, particularly at reorganization periods, and at Saratoga and Yorktown. Contrary to common sneering statements, it often rendered valuable service. Both in 1776 and 1777 it saved the situation while the army was being renewed amid reorganized. It was really militia that fought at Bunker Hill, one of the best fought battles of the whole war. Without the militia at Saratoga Burgoyne could have retired to Canada.


The figures for irregular militia from South Carolina (24,850) must be in error. It will be seen that for the Continental Army and regular militia added to it at various times, New England furnished one-half the men, the Middle colonies one-fourth, and all the colonies south of Pennsylvania the remaining fourth.

To rightly appreciate the death list of the Continental Army we must take into consideration that the whole patriot population did not exceed 2,000,000. Of this number 125 of each thousand volunteered for service and 35 in every thousand of the entire population died. In the great World War of 1917-19 the American death rate did not exceed one in each thousand of the population, or a total of 100,000. These few poor colonies, with a popula-


tion less than that of Chicago, lost almost as many men as the present nation of 100,000,000 people lost in the greatest war in the world's history.

Had our recent losses been on the same scale as those of 1775-81 we should have had a death roll, not of 100,000 but of 3,500,000.

The American Civil War of 1861-65 has been considered a very fatal conflict, more particularly on account of the number of deaths from disease. In it the United States, with a population of 20,000,000, suffered the loss of 350,000 men, or 17.5 per 1000 of the population; just one-half the death rate of the Colonies during the Revolution. It is therefore clear that the war which we call the Revolution was by far the most destructive of human life of all the wars in which this nation has ever been engaged. In every group of one hundred people, including, women and children, between three and four men died for the cause. If we estimate possible fighting men at one-fifth the entire population—say 400,000—then it appears that nearly every such man served and at least seventeen of every hundred of them (whether all served or not) laid down his life to aid in establishing political freedom. This was the price of the fourth victory in that great age-long war, begun amid the dykes and marshes of the Low Countries; advanced in England by the sacrifices of Naseby and Dunbar; maintained in France through years of internecine strife and foreign war, and finally in our day brought to complete and worldwide victory.

As was stated in the beginning, to this small, struggling people, scattered along the coast of an untrodden, unexplored continent, was given by the working of the unseen laws of human development, the task of defending the foundations of civilization. Here was fought the world-old struggle between tyranny and freedom. At Saratoga and Yorktown the decision was made—and not alone for America—because these few colonists had faith, because they were willing to pay with their blood the price of victory. That they did this freely the widows of Marblehead could tell; the bones washed up by the waves on Long Island sands give evidence; the graves of Continental soldiers scattered from Quebec to St. Augustine bear mute witness. Of two million people seventy thousand made the supreme sacrifice