The 14 Largest Battles of the Civil War

Source: Rischgitz / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Two recent surveys – one from the The Economist and YouGov and the other from the medical research distributor medRvix – suggest that as many as four in ten Americans believe a civil war in this country is at least somewhat likely within the next decade. The results come amid a widespread and unfounded belief by many Republicans, including elected officials that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump through widespread electoral fraud.

Let’s hope that 40% of Americans are wrong. Over the four years of our nation’s first civil war, about 620,000 combatants, or about 2% of the country’s population at the time, were killed on battlefields or in triage – where injured troops were subjected to archaic surgical procedures with no anesthesia or antibiotics – sometimes in battles waged on a huge scale.

To identify the largest battles of the Civil War, 24/7 Tempo reviewed information published by the American Battlefield Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to Civil War education and battlefield preservation. Our list includes only battles in which more than 100,000 forces were engaged. Casualties are defined as the number of soldiers killed, injured, missing, or captured. In most cases, the highest number of casualties are injuries, followed by deaths. Some figures regarding force numbers and casualties are rounded estimates due to a lack of more accurate historical records. 

The Battle of Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania was the most important engagement of the war, marking a turning point that sent Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and his surviving soldiers limping back to the South to fight another day.

The bloody three-day engagement, which involved about 166,000 engaged troops, inflicted more than 50,000 casualties. That included more than 33,000 injured and more than 7,000 bodies left littering the battlefields. (These are the states with the most Civil War deaths.)

Despite this the turnaround for Federal forces, the war would rage on for another year, ending with Gen. Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865, following the 292-day siege of Petersburg, Virginia. 

Though the Battle of Gettysburg was one of the largest and bloodiest of the war, two battles were even larger in terms of the number of engaged forces: The Battle of Fredericksburg from  Dec. 11 to 15, 1862, and the Battle of Cold Harbor from May 31 to June 12, 1864. Some 170,000 men fought at Cold Harbor, while Fredericksburg engaged about 200,000 forces, making it the largest battle of the Civil War. (These were the greatest battles in American history.)

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