I came across this usage when reading New York's Bloodiest Week from AMERICAN HERITAGE, an article on the 1863 draft riot in NY city,

The mob was to make its last stand on the East Side. Five thousand desperate men attacked elements of the Seventh Regiment on Second Avenue in what the Times labeled “the most sanguinary fight of the whole riot.” Bullets and bricks from the rooftops killed fifteen soldiers before another 700 troops arrived to clear the avenue with artillery and bayonet.

According to Dictionary.com, 'element' means 'a component or constituent of a whole or one of the parts into which a whole may be resolved by analysis'. So does it here refer to the 'individual soldiers' making up the 'regiment' or it bears other connotations?

  • It could mean the military soldiers or military equipment. Jul 16, 2017 at 8:24
  • @JavedAhmed I agree. It sounds more likely that it is soldiers, due to the following clause about 'bullets and bricks killed fifteen soldiers' Jul 16, 2017 at 8:27

3 Answers 3


It refers to certain groups of soldiers composing the Seventh Regiment, hence not all the soldiers in that formation.

1.3 (often elements) [usually with modifier] A group of people of a particular kind within a larger group.

‘extreme right-wing elements in the army’

  • Correct. In the given context, elements would be sub-units of the regiment, not just random groups of its soldiers. Jul 16, 2017 at 10:16

Element: An individual squad, section, platoon, company, or another unit that is part of a larger unit.


Element - 1 soldier, Fire team - 2 - 4, Squad - 8 - 14, Platoon - 30, Company - 160, Battalion - 800, Brigade - 4000, Division - 12,000, Corps - 30,000, Army - 50,000+

  • 1
    Hi Alex, welcome to EL&U, and thanks for your contribution. However, your numbers seem overly exact/prescriptive for units above the size of squad (see here), and you haven't provided any substantiation for the main point, i.e. that an element means just one soldier. I recommend you edit your answer to provide a published reference. For further guidance, see How to Answer and take the Tour. :-) Feb 13, 2019 at 4:06

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