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21 American Civil War Facts

Updated on May 17, 2017
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Since completing university, Paul has worked as a bookseller; librarian; and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.

The Battle of Chickamauga was a major Union defeat in the Western Theater of the Civil War.  More casualties were suffered than in any other battle, apart from the Battle of Gettysburg. It was also the first major battle to be fought in Georgia.
The Battle of Chickamauga was a major Union defeat in the Western Theater of the Civil War. More casualties were suffered than in any other battle, apart from the Battle of Gettysburg. It was also the first major battle to be fought in Georgia. | Source

The American Civil War lasted from 1861 until 1865 and was essentially a conflict between Northern and Southern states triggered by the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860.

Lincoln belonged to the Republican Party, he was against slavery and was determined to keep the union together. He had the support of many northern states, but many in the south strongly disagreed with his policies and after the election, 11 southern slave states, led by South Carolina, left the Union.

The seceded southern states formed the Confederate States of America (“the Confederacy”) and in the process effectively started a bloody war that lasted 4 years.

Below are 21 American Civil War facts.

Sometimes we see the Civil War in movies and imagine these neatly aligned rows of men with muskets, walking in line to shoot each other. In reality the things that fascinated me were how absolutely ruthless and violent so many engagements were, how much suffering and how men were not prepared.

— Seth Grahame-Smith

1. More than three million men fought in the Civil War. Around 900,000 fought for the Confederacy and 2.1 million for the Union.

2. The war began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate soldiers, lead by General P. G. T. Beauregard, launched an attack on FortSumter in Charleston Harbor.

Afro-American soldiers fighting in Virginia 1864.  For many, the conflict was seen as a war of liberation.
Afro-American soldiers fighting in Virginia 1864. For many, the conflict was seen as a war of liberation. | Source

3. The North’s industrial power was evident from the start. At the beginning of the war, the value of all manufactured goods made in the Southern states totaled less than a quarter of those made in just New YorkState alone.

4. In total, there were around 6 thousand battles, skirmishes, and engagements fought during the American Civil War.

Did You Know?

The Civil War was also called the War for the Union, The Brothers’ War, and the War of the Rebellion.

General Stonewall Jackson refused to eat any food that tasted good, because he believed that if it tasted good, it was unhealthy.

5. In total, there were around 6 thousand battles, skirmishes, and engagements fought during the American Civil War.

6. In the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861, General Irvin McDowell attacked Confederate forces in Manassas Junction, Virginia. Although successful at first, Confederate reinforcements forced McDowell’s men to retreat, giving the South a victory.

I am passionately interested in understanding how my country works. And if you want to know about this thing called the United States of America you have to know about the Civil War.

— Ken Burns
Cannon used by the Southern States.  The war was essentially a conflict between northern and southern states, triggered by the election of President Lincoln.
Cannon used by the Southern States. The war was essentially a conflict between northern and southern states, triggered by the election of President Lincoln. | Source

7. Paper money first appeared in 1862. It was issued by the US Congress and named “greenbacks.”

8. At Cold Harbor, Virginia, it is said by some that there were as many as 7 thousand Americans casualities in just 20 minutes.

9. The northern population consisted of less than one percent African American at the start of the war, but by the end, blacks made up over 10 percent of the northern army. In total, it is estimated that as many as 180,000 African Americans enlisted.

10. More Americans died in the two day battle at Shiloh, on the banks of the Tennessee River, than in all the previous American wars combined.

Most historians agree that Abraham Lincoln was the most important man to ever occupy the White House because he abolished slavery and kept the states united through a bloody civil war.

— Kitty Kelley
Abraham Lincoln - Lincoln's election effectively triggered the American Civil War.
Abraham Lincoln - Lincoln's election effectively triggered the American Civil War. | Source

11. There were 3,530 Native Americans who fought for the Unionist side, 1,018 were killed during the conflict.

12. On January 1, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared the abolition of slavery in the United States with his final Emancipation Proclamation. Around 4 million slaves were set freeby Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the rest would have to wait until the 13th amendment was ratified on December 6th, 1865.

13. The civil war saw wooden navy ships become obsolete, as the "new” ironclad war ships were introduced. The first ironclad sea battle took place in March 1862, when the Monitor and Merrimack fought off Hampton Roads, Virginia.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the United States embarked on a new relationship with death, entering into a civil war that proved bloodier than any other conflict in American history, a war that would presage the slaughter of World War I's Western Front and the global carnage of the twentieth century.

— Drew Gilpin Faust

14. Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address on November 19th, 1863 to a crowd at the Union cemetery of Gettysburg.

15. The futile and bloody infantry charge led by George Pickett at Gettysburg was the first time that he had taken his division into full combat.

Civil War Reenactment
Civil War Reenactment | Source

16. General Nathan Bedford Forrest, an officer with the Confederate army, had 30 horses shot from under him and personally killed 31 men in hand-to-hand fighting.

17. General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to the Union on April 9th, 1865 at Appomattox. Lee was permitted to keep his sword and his horse, as a mark of respect.

When I was growing up in Virginia, the Civil War was presented to me as glorious with dramatic courage and military honor. Later, I realized how death was central to the reality. It was at the core of women's lives. It's what they talked about most.

— Drew Gilpin Faust
Two cannons overlook the Satatoga Battlefield in Maryland
Two cannons overlook the Satatoga Battlefield in Maryland | Source

18. Despite General Lee’s surrender, the final skirmish of the Civil War didn’t happen until May 13, 1865, one month later. Private John J. Williams was the last soldier to lose his life in the war, fighting at the battle of Palmito Ranch in Texas.

19. Over 620,000 people, equal to two percent of the population, died in the American Civil War.

Did You Know?

After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, a Confederate States five dollar bill was found amongst the contents of his wallet.

The final words of Confederate General Martin Green were "A bullet has not yet been molded that will kill me." Seconds after he was shot in the head by a Union soldier and died.

20. More troops died of disease and malnutrition during the war, than died from gunfire.

21. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C.

© 2014 Paul Goodman

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