My esteem colleague, Total Angular Momentum Coupling, who blogs as Eye of the Tyger, [Link] has a wonderful blot on the importance of tomorrow and the nature of being American this morning. The blot, derived from another referenced thereon, is largely told from the standpoint of an Englishman who, I believe speaks as human, as Englishman, and as European.
Being handicapped with the affliction of physicist, I found myself distracted by one claim,
“We stood at Gettysburg, scene of the bloodiest battle of all,”
and found myself questioning the accuracy of this statement. My memory, having visited this matter in writing The Physics of War, was that Gettysburg was noteworthy but not uniquely exceptional. So I checked my data, and produced the figure below:
This is a plot of battles. The data plotted are the fraction surviving the battle unwounded on one side versus the same on the other. The data in black dots are for the American Civil War, as given in Livermore’s Numbers and Losses, those in red triangles are drawn from Brassey’s Battles. I should mention that the accuracy of Livermore’s data are questioned but not, I believe sufficiently, to disqualify their use here. The American Civil War data span the period from 1861 to 1865. The data from Brassey’s Battles spans the period from Thermopylae to Goose Green.
Since we are plotting the fraction remaining unwounded, the values of the variable lie on [0,1], and the closer to 0 the greater the loss. The upper right hand corner represents few losses on both sides, and so the further from this point, the more losses on both sides.
This brings us to what bloodiest means. This is an old argument. Some claim it is men killed but not those wounded. Others claim it is both. Some claim it refers to one side and not both. I shall not venture an opinion, merely present the figure.
I call your attention to the black dot furtherest to the left and lowest down of its kind. This dot is Gettysburg, the battle referred to above. It does lie the farthest from the upper right hand corner of all the American Civil War battles.
I ask you to observe that there are red triangles farther from that corner than any of the black dots. In particular, I call your attention to the red triangle that rests on the horizontal axis, indicating that the losses to one side in this battle were complete or almost complete. This battle, which is of a class that one of my colleagues, Angular – Linear Momentum Coupling, and I refer to as mythic, is a small battle fought in San, Antonio Texas. In its way, this battle is almost as crucial as is Gettysburg to what makes us American and epitomizing why we revere our veterans. Such distinctions however are overly fine; no sacrifice for freedom can be measured to be greater than another.
That battle in Texas is commonly called Alamo.
I have had the honor and the experience of standing in the Alamo and atop Round Top. There are great differences between Chamberlain and Travis; there are great differences between the men who manned the Alamo and those who formed the Twentieth Maine. But one overwhelming, overriding thing makes them brothers, brothers that tomorrow we shall honor. They fought for freedom and many gave their lives for that ideal and actuality.