29 January 2008

George Washington's Casualties 1

Many baseball fans, largely thanks to the impact of Fantasy Baseball, have picked up the banner of sabermetrics, originally unfurled by Bill James back in the 1970s. For those of you who don't follow such dismal sciences, sabermetrics has been defined by Bill James as "the search for objective truth about baseball".

In its original form, sabermetrics was used to answer questions that occurred to James. How many times does an event happen while this player is at that position? Is this a lot, or is he good at preventing that event? It did help us get a better understanding of players' value to their teams. In writing my book on the Revolutionary War, I wondered after doing research about the Battle of Germantown (October 4, 1777) whether Washington was a particularly profligate commander - were the numbers of killed and wounded unusually high for his army in his era?

The problem here is what statistics to use? In the end, for the purpose of uniformity, I chose to use data from www.myrevolutionarywar.com. I limited my data set to the killed and wounded as a percentage of the total strength. At this stage, I'm not after the perfect answer, I just want a value that I can use elsewhere.

Washington can be credited with commanding eight major battles. Three of them aren't all that major, but they are famous and an important part of his military reputation. A fourth battle was a joint operation, and I'm not sure how much credit Washington deserves for his French ally's losses. Anyway, here's the data - each battle and the percentage of Washington's troops that were killed and wounded.

Long Island (1776) 5 percent
Harlem Heights (1776) 6.5 percent
Trenton (1776) >1 percent
Princeton (1777) 7.5 percent
Brandywine (1777) 11.5 percent
Germantown (1777) 6.1 percent
Monmouth C.H. (1778) 2.7 percent
Yorktown (1781) 1.2 percent
Total for 8 battles 3.3 percent

If we look at the median, we can see that Washington's hovers in the 5-6.1 percent range, while his average is somewhat lower. Now we have some data, let's see what other information we can learn.

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