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Thread: been awhile since i studied the civil war regarding melee deaths

  1. #111

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    I'm willing to bet, though impossible to verify I guess, that most bayonet wounds went unreported. To come back to my earlier point:

    It's pretty easy to avoid getting stabbed as opposed to avoid getting shot when the bullet is already flying. If a bullet is going to go through you and you haven't ducked already you're most likely going to get hit. But if someone is stabbing towards you then most of the times you can avoid getting stabbed; by defending yourself or recoiling and retreating.

    We know from modern medicine that single stabbings very rarely lead to death, especially if the person getting stabbed can get away (e.g. run) or fight back (defend from being stabbed again since they have a weapon too). It is easy to imagine that if you get stabbed in a fight, it would be relatively easy to just run away. We also know from modern medicine that a person being stabbed rarely goes down immediately or is immobilized. Concluding from this I can only conclude that deaths from melee would be very rare as a single stab would rarely be fatal or even immobilize an opponent and someone who is wounded like that would likely flee immediately. Of course any pursuit would be out of the question since that would generally be suicide.

    We also know from history that a bayonet charge was in most cases not a medieval affair of prolonged spear fighting. With no armor and a weapon that isn't actually truly a spear and the sheer number of bayonets making it likely everyone would get wounded the prevailing outcomes were;

    a) the charging side sees the defenders off relatively quickly after making contact (e.g. not a protracted melee until one side broke).
    b) the charging side notices that the defenders do not intend to retreat and the charge is halted.

    We can see this echoed in the American's peculiar tendency to not charge but instead close in on each other and exchanging volleys as noted by European observers who were of the opinion that a charge can see a defender off quickly since just the threat of a melee is enough to make them yield ground.

    From this I must conclude that melee was more intimidation than actual fighting. No one, by that time, actually wanted to get into the business of cold steel fighting. They knew the other side thought of it the same way so they used the threat of it to try and scare each other off the field. This, in my mind, perfectly explains why historically deaths from bayonets are very low compared to other types of injuries while still great emphasis is given to the bayonet charge in military tactics. And it wouldn't make it unfeasible that even a lengthy melee would result in very few deaths; all things considering.

    This isn't the movies after all, where actors will stand still and get impaled by a bayonet through the chest in a dramatic death.
    Last edited by JohnDewitt; 11-08-2017 at 04:12 PM.

  2. #112

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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnDewitt View Post
    I'm willing to bet, though impossible to verify I guess, that most bayonet wounds went unreported. To come back to my earlier point:

    It's pretty easy to avoid getting stabbed as opposed to avoid getting shot when the bullet is already flying. If a bullet is going to go through you and you haven't ducked already you're most likely going to get hit. But if someone is stabbing towards you then most of the times you can avoid getting stabbed; by defending yourself or recoiling and retreating.

    We know from modern medicine that single stabbings very rarely lead to death, especially if the person getting stabbed can get away (e.g. run) or fight back (defend from being stabbed again since they have a weapon too). It is easy to imagine that if you get stabbed in a fight, it would be relatively easy to just run away. We also know from modern medicine that a person being stabbed rarely goes down immediately or is immobilized. Concluding from this I can only conclude that deaths from melee would be very rare as a single stab would rarely be fatal or even immobilize an opponent and someone who is wounded like that would likely flee immediately. Of course any pursuit would be out of the question since that would generally be suicide.

    We also know from history that a bayonet charge was in most cases not a medieval affair of prolonged spear fighting. With no armor and a weapon that isn't actually truly a spear and the sheer number of bayonets making it likely everyone would get wounded the prevailing outcomes were;

    a) the charging side sees the defenders off relatively quickly after making contact (e.g. not a protracted melee until one side broke).
    b) the charging side notices that the defenders do not intend to retreat and the charge is halted.

    We can see this echoed in the American's peculiar tendency to not charge but instead close in on each other and exchanging volleys as noted by European observers who were of the opinion that a charge can see a defender off quickly since just the threat of a melee is enough to make them yield ground.

    From this I must conclude that melee was more intimidation than actual fighting. No one, by that time, actually wanted to get into the business of cold steel fighting. They knew the other side thought of it the same way so they used the threat of it to try and scare each other off the field. This, in my mind, perfectly explains why historically deaths from bayonets are very low compared to other types of injuries while still great emphasis is given to the bayonet charge in military tactics. And it wouldn't make it unfeasible that even a lengthy melee would result in very few deaths; all things considering.

    This isn't the movies after all, where actors will stand still and get impaled by a bayonet through the chest in a dramatic death.
    With this all said, has anyone considered researching historically well-known bayonet charges compared to the number of prisoners taken for that particular battle, to see if bayonet charges results more commonly in a metric-shit-ton (that's a technical term) of PoW's versus deaths? This would also support the idea that it was more rare than commonly thought, to die at the tip of the bayonet. Just a thought. I have no research or knowledge to back this up, yet.

    *EDIT*
    OK, so the very first bit of simple and quick research as brought the following to light. The assault of General Lee's forces nearing 7pm on June 27, 1862, at the Battle of Gaines Mill seems to be documented as the single largest "assault" of the Civil War. Here are the numbers:

    (oh well, I tried to get the table right)




























    Battle of Gaines Mill
    Union
    Confederate
    Strength
    34,214
    57,018
    Killed
    894
    1,483
    Wounded
    3,107
    6,402
    Missing/Captured
    2,836
    108



    A quick look at the numbers should be pretty obvious, that the Union took more missing/captured, I'll go with the assumption that these missing/captured numbers was a result of the charge.

    Quote from Gaines Mill:
    “Tell them this affair must hang in suspense no longer........Sweep the field with the bayonet!” --Stonewall Jackson

    Interesting description of the moment Hood broke through Porter's Union line:
    Porter’s numbers there were at least equal to those of the attackers. With even the best infantryman able to get off no more than three rounds a minute, the exhausted defenders could not fire fast enough to halt the swift advance. The Federals in the first line panicked, turned, and fled, and in their rush to the rear blocked the fire of the troops in the second line, carrying those defenders along with them. As the blue tide surged toward the crest of Turkey Hill, Confederate infantrymen stopped to fire at last.

    “One volley was poured into their backs, and it seemed as if every ball found a victim, so great was the slaughter,” wrote a Texan. With a breach finally accomplished in the Federal center, Porter’s left and right flanks crumbled as Longstreet and Jackson widened the rupture in both directions. On Jackson’s left, Ewell and D.H. Hill outflanked Sykes’ Regulars, forcing them to fall back.


    If time permits, I may try to find stats from other well known charges to see if similar numbers result in larger than usual missing/captured. If this becomes a trend, I feel confident that we can assume more people fleed, retreated, were routed, and surrendered, instead of standing around to get stabbed in their face holes.
    Last edited by dmurray6; 11-09-2017 at 06:20 PM.
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