Tuesday, April 5, 2016

History in Artifacts - The Cost of War

This simple pay receipt may not seem like much, but it proves just how efficient the Army of the Potomac had become by December of 1862 and how much the sacrifice of one soldier cost in terms United States dollars. 

This pay receipt was issued to First Sergeant Michael Grogan of Company K, 63rd New York Volunteer Infantry, better known as part of the famed Irish Brigade on December 15, 1862. He had enlisted with the regiment in October of 1862 and slowly rose through the ranks from corporal. Of course the story of the Irish Brigade has been trumpeted since the guns fell silent. They participated in almost every major engagement in the eastern theater of the war. 

On September 17, 1862 at the battle of Antietam, the Irish Brigade (including Grogan and the 63rd NY) attacked a sunken farm lane lined with Confederates. What was previously just a practical wagon track connecting local farms, was transformed into a fortress stubbornly defended by soldiers from Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia. The Irish Brigade was just as stubborn. Lt. Colonel Henry Fowler, commanding the regiment that day, said of his men, "It is now a solace to my mind, while suffering from my wound, to testify how gallantly and promptly each officer in his place and each company moved forward and delivered their fire in the face of the most destructive storm of leaden hail, that in an instant killed or wounded every officer but one and more than one-half the rank and file of the right wing. For a moment they staggered, but the scattered few quickly rallied upon the left, closing on the colors, where they nobly fought, bled, and died, protecting their own loved banner and their country's flag, until the brigade was relieved." The regiment lost 202 men, more than any other regiment in the Irish Brigade. 

Looking south towards the Sunken Road, or Bloody Lane.  The 63rd New York and other regiments of the Irish Brigade advanced across these fields towards the top of the hill.  Somewhere in these fields Sergeant Grogan was severely wounded.

Somewhere in that storm of "leaden hail," Sergeant Grogan went down with a bullet through the thigh. The Irish Brigade eventually did take the lane, which was forever after named appropriately, Bloody Lane.  He was taken to a field hospital in the rear and attended to. After a number of days he was sufficiently recovered to be transported to Washington, D.C. The wound was still bad enough that he received a furlough to go home. Grogan was transported to Albany, New York to convalesce with some members of his family for eighteen days. While there he received his commission as the Second Lieutenant of Company K for his gallantry at Antietam. He returned to the army just in time for their famed attack against the stone wall at Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, where the regiment again suffered severely. 

Looking west along Bloody Lane.
On December 15, two days after the battle, Grogan finally received payment to reimburse the expenditures that resulted from his wounding at Antietam. He received his due pay from July 1, 1862 to September of 1862 in the sum of $51.33. He was also reimbursed for travel expenses from Washington to Albany, NY on account of his wound in the sum of $12.00. Finally, he received $0.50 per day while on convalescence for subsistence or rations, totaling $9.00. Grogan was payed out in the lump sum of $72.33 by Paymaster Pomeroy.

Even if we look at Grogan's payout for convalescence and consider it at the top of the average payout, at least 9,549 Union soldiers were wounded in the battle of Antietam. Surely many of these men died in the weeks and months following the battle, but costs were also incurred with this alternative. By multiplying an average payout of $15.00 per soldier for convalescent purposes times the number of wounded at Antietam, the Federal government would have paid out (or owed) $143,235 (in modern terms, $3,282,561.27) to wounded. If we include two months pay for a private soldier and a $13.00 convalescent payout (a total of $43.00 per soldier), the price tag goes up to $410,607. Today that would be $9,410,008.98 (inflation has hiked an average of 2.05%/year). The point I'm trying to make is simply that the expense, not just in human cost, but also for the United States government was astronomical. This is only one battle and only includes wounded soldiers. Those thousands still in the ranks also needed paid. We could continue into the cost of logistical support, or destruction as well, but now my head is spinning too much!

Grogan eventually left the service for a short while in August of 1863 after attaining the rank of first lieutenant. He then re-enlisted at consolidation and served at that rank in Company "F" until being wounded again at Petersburg. He was discharged on account of his wounds on August 8, 1864.

No comments:

Post a Comment

There was an error in this gadget

Search This Blog

Follow by Email