May 142014
 

The Battle of Paoli is the 9th deadliest battle in the American Revolutionary War. In fact there are three battles mentioned here that make up the Philadelphia Campaign of 1777.

One of the most comprehensive sources of casualty figures is Howard Peckham’s The Toll of Independence (The University of Chicago Press, 1974). Despite its age and shortage of British totals, historians still often point to this volume for American loss data.

Based on records for 1,331 military and 218 naval engagements, Peckham concludes that 7,174 were killed and 8,241 were wounded during the eight-year war.

Beyond these summaries, Peckham’s book is loaded with figures that would make any statistician drool and, of course, many historians debate.  With such a resource at my fingertips, I thought it would be interesting to list the Revolutionary War’s 25 deadliest battles, looking at engagements both on land and at sea. After all, the Revolutionary War is second only to the Civil War in deaths relative to population. This list is based exclusively on Peckham’s figures of Americans killed and wounded, which are totaled in (parentheses) and sorted in order of most killed and wounded to least. Then, for perspective, I included British killed and wounded totals from multiple sources, which are in {braces} and cited to their respective sources.

Based on Peckham’s casualty figures:

  • Camden comprises nearly 37 percent of all the Americans killed and wounded during military engagements in 1780.
  • Bunker Hill comprises 54 percent of all the Americans killed and wounded during military engagements in 1775.
  • Germantown and Brandywine, combined, account for 35 percent of all Americans killed and wounded during military engagements in 1777.

Interestingly, the 25 deadliest battles total 7,696 Americans killed and wounded, which accounts for 50 percent of all Americans killed and wounded during the entire eight-year war (using Peckham’s Americans killed/wounded war total of 15,415). That means that the other 50 percent, or 7,719 Americans, were killed and wounded during the remaining 1,524 military and naval engagements! So, the Revolutionary War’s 80-20 rule was closer to a 50-2 rule with nearly 50% of the American killed and wounded casualties occurring in 1.6 percent of the military and naval engagements.

Of course, this is all based on a numbers game and new casualty sources are regularly added and subtracted. As Peckham summarized, “If we cannot offer the final word on casualties of the American Revolution, we hope that we can at least elevate the discussion of those losses by the addition of figures that have heretofore been unknown or unavailable.”

EDITOR NOTE: To focus on the “deadliest battles,” casualties were limited to killed and wounded, but missing and captured could increase the totals or raise additional questions. As demonstrated in the introduction, war casualty figures during the Revolutionary War were often used as propaganda. Casualty data continues to be disputed and debated today. As such, we welcome all arguments against Peckham’s American casualty numbers to unfold in the comments below.

[FEATURED IMAGE AT TOP: Xavier della Gatta’s Battle of Paoli painting (1782). Source: American Revolution Center Collection]

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  One Response to “The Battle of Paoli is the 9th Deadliest Battle of the American Revolutionary War”

  1. […] We have discovered over the years many different “hot spots” of activity located along the trail and in other areas around the battlefield of the 9th deadliest battle of the Revolutionary War. […]

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