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The American Civil War claimed some 630,000 lives as either a direct result of combat or as collateral caused by wounds, disease, and infection. It was a four-year-long national tragedy that tore us apart as a nation, the wounds of which we still feel today. In the midst of those terrible, dark years, a few days in particular stand out as the very worst of an already generally unpleasant time. If you had been a soldier fighting on one of these days, the odds were good that it would have been your last.
5 April 12, 1861
On April 12, 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired when Confederate guns opened up on the Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina. During the ensuing siege, which lasted the better part of two days, only two soldiers are known to have been killed, and their deaths resulted from an accidental misfiring of a cannon being discharged in salute. But still, this was the day the tragic, bloody war began – which makes it a pretty bad day indeed.
4 July 3, 1963
July 3, the last day of major combat at Gettysburg, did its best to match July 2, 1963, with around 2,100 soldiers killed – most of them Confederates. These losses were largely due to men caught up in the courageous but doomed action now known as Picket’s Charge. More than 12,000 Rebels charged at Union lines established on Cemetery Ridge, most of them using bayonets against withering rifle and artillery fire – not the most effective tactic.
3 July 2, 1863
July 2, 1863, was the second day of the deadliest battle of the entire Civil War. The Battle at Gettysburg would end up causing nearly 50,000 casualties in all. On this second day of the battle, the fields and hills surrounding Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, were watered with the blood of around 2,600 dead and more than 12,000 wounded Americans. It was on this day that combat raged atop the now famous hill “Little Round Top,” where hundreds of Union soldiers were wounded or killed, but managed to hold their lines.
2 New Year’s Eve of 1862
New Year’s Eve of 1862 proved to be another day soaked in American blood that led to no conclusive changes in the bigger picture of the Civil War. Of the approximately 24,000 casualties, some 3,000 soldiers were killed outright during the Battle of Stones River. There were, in fact, more casualties resulting from this engagement than there were at Antietam, but fewer of those were deaths, with many more soldiers captured or “missing” after Stones River.
1 September 17, 1862
The single deadliest day of the Civil War occurred “thanks” to the battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg (Confederates named most battles based on nearby natural features, usually rivers and streams; the Union used towns or other manmade features, such as ports/landings). On September 17, 1862, nearly 22,800 Americans were either killed, wounded, or went missing, never to be seen again. Which pretty much means they were killed in action. Like so many battles of so many wars, this episode proved strategically inconclusive for both sides.